Sri Lanka vs England: Wretched defeat leaves Cook’s side in familiar World Cup fug

Sri Lanka win by 87 runs

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There are 58 days before the start of the World Cup. England have lost by 5-2 a series in which they competed intermittently but started badly and ended disastrously.

Their captain scored 119 runs in six innings, their vice-captain, the man who would be king were the throne vacated by abdication or coup, 90 in seven and the team were bowled out in five of the seven matches.

All of England’s seam bowlers went at almost six runs an over or more. There was a distinct lack of potency in the early and middle overs, Sri Lanka were three times above 120 before losing their second wicket.

England lost the seventh and final match last night – for which they might as well have phoned in their performance from the airport – by 87 runs, which followed the 90-run defeat in the sixth. Chasing 303 to win, the tourists were dismissed for 215 with 31 deliveries unused.

It would be difficult to put any kind of spin on this to suggest that England have a prayer against Australia in their first game on 14 February – or many other sides in their group in the tournament.

The best that the England and Wales Cricket Board has come up with so far is that England never go to the World Cup as favourites and we jolly well must start taking one-day cricket more seriously, what, old boy. The selectors will meet on Friday to pick their World Cup squad. Cook is expected to lead it.

“We’ll be finding out in a couple of days’ time but I think we can surprise people,” said Cook, surprising a few people by saying that. “No one has got any divine right to play for England. This year in the one-day game certainly I haven’t been good enough, I can’t have any complaints if the decision goes against me.

“We’re going to have to play a whole lot better than we have done here, but there is a huge amount of talent in the squad, we have made some good strides on this tour, we have worked incredibly hard. There’s no reason why we can’t, in better conditions for us, we are just going to have to play better than we did here.”

There are plenty of reasons, of course, most connected with the fact that England’s players may either have seen their best days or have their best days still to come. This was a bad place to be to shed the one-day blues.

If there is any tradition more firmly established than England being dreadful in the World Cup it is that they are usually hammered in Sri Lanka. No sound judge realistically expected them to repeat on this tour their improbable victory of six years ago. They did not quite say as much but it was more about team bonding and preparation.

It is to be hoped that the bonding and the preparation went spiffingly because the results were wretched. Quite whether they are directly pertinent to either sides’ prospects in the World Cup is doubtful but they can hardly persuade England that they have found the route to glory.

Cook, whose leadership looks set to be reconfirmed on Saturday, went out more or less as he came in. He made 32, his second-highest score of the series, which was neither nothing nor something. Eoin Morgan, designated as his vice-captain, whose form has plunged into the slough of despond alongside Cook’s, was dismissed lbw for four, his fifth score of five or below in this series.

By that time, Moeen Ali, who started the series in a blaze of glory, had been out for the third time in the second over and the recalled Alex Hales was yet again left wondering whether to stick or twist, knowing that the drop probably awaited him again sometime soon.

Sri Lanka’s total was around par on the pitch with Tillekeratne Dilshan, in his 300th one-day international, scoring his 18th hundred. Thisara Perera was ferocious at the end, though Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, in their final home ODIs, holed out. Moeen was England’s best bowler with 2 for 39.

The match finished with Sangakkara stumping James Tredwell off Jayawardene’s gentle spin, the old warriors combining for the last time on home soil.