Sri Lanka vs England report: Confused England fail again despite James Taylor's ray of light

Sri Lanka win by six wickets

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The Independent Online

First, the absolutely spiffing bit. James Taylor was asked, albeit grudgingly, to bat for England at last today and responded with a refreshingly imaginative innings of 90. Eoin Morgan, standing in as captain for the suspended Alastair Cook, contributed his first half-century for 17 innings.

Second, the gloomy addendum. Those endeavours were to little avail as Sri Lanka won the fourth one-day international by six wickets and took a 3-1 lead in the series. It is not yet unassailable with three matches to play but expectations should be kept muted.

There were only two balls to spare when Angelo Mathews ensured the victory with a four drilled through midwicket but that fails fully to convey that Sri Lanka were ahead for most of the match. England, who picked an odd team, will be pleased, if hardly thrilled, to have taken it so deep after making a porridge of their innings (again). But this is a team still casting around for formulae, of personnel and strategy, which may avoid total and utter embarrassment in the World Cup. Winning it should not at present concern the rational mind.

Taylor has given them plenty to ponder. He was summoned today only because of Cook’s enforced absence. His previous one-day international experience had been limited to two matches, both against Ireland, two years apart, the most recent 18 months ago.

That hardly equates to a player who is winning the selectors’ hearts and minds. How England might have squeezed him into the starting XI without Cook’s misdemeanour over the team’s bowling rate in the third match last week is probably best left unexplored.

Taylor was in early when Alex Hales was caught at slip, driving extravagantly but with the appropriate licence at his first legitimate ball. The beginning was a little hesitant – a close call for lbw, a near edge behind – but what followed was an impeccable transfer of Taylor’s county form for Nottinghamshire to the international arena.

Chris Woakes reacts during the fourth ODI

To erase any doubts that it could be done, Taylor played one of his trademark bottom-handed drives for six over wide midwicket, fetching the ball from outside off stump. Two thirds of his runs in an innings spanning 109 balls were scored on the leg side and his running between the wickets was fast and furious, belying his lack of height.

Perhaps Taylor knew he had no option. He can hardly be omitted after that display which means the selectors will probably drop Hales to ensure that Cook can be fitted back in at the top of the order. England are in a bit of a pickle.

England’s dilemma in this match was embodied by their decision to leave out the off-spinner James Tredwell on a pitch that demanded slow bowling. Sri Lanka used four spinners who between them sent down 36 overs. The tourists had two who bowled 16.

But they need to see players such as Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes perform because they need to make judgements imminently on the World Cup squad. Jordan bowled with aplomb today, Stokes was dreadful but then he must wonder what the management are expecting of him given the way he is being used as both batsman and bowler.

Morgan said: “We made the decision we were going to give guys a chance – as we did with James Taylor – to come out today and prove themselves, on what we knew was going to be a slower wicket than we’ve played on.

“I had input on the team but, no, I can see the bigger picture as to why we went down the other route. Ben, in particular, has been in and out of the side and hasn’t really had a run in a while. We have to pick a squad before Christmas – and if you take guys away on tour, you have to give them a chance. Otherwise, there’s no point in bringing them.”

At 170 for 3 after 35 overs England looked dangerous. Taylor and Joe Root had shared a pleasant, assiduous partnership of 93, England’s highest of the series, and now Taylor and Ravi Bopara were going smoothly. Within five balls both departed, Taylor by then inhibited because of cramp in his arm.

Morgan at last spent some valuable time at the crease and by the end looked something of his old self. But the total looked at least 20 short and so it proved. With Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara batting together for the 141st time and sharing a partnership of more than 50 for the 46th, an eight-wicket defeat was in prospect.

When that was avoided, the rate slowed as did the pitch and had Hales held Mathews low at third man in the 46th over, the possibility of 2-2 in the series might have been realistic. But he did not and Sri Lanka had too much in hand.