Hapless, hopeless, humiliated

Cricket World Cup: Illingworth and Atherton head home to reflect as Sri Lanka expose lack of planning and adventure
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The Independent Online
ENGLAND are on their way home from the World Cup, and judging by the standards of recent performances, no one will be more relieved than the players themselves. To play poorly occasionally is one thing, but yesterday's thrashing at the hands of Sri Lanka was like a mercy-killing after suffering a long, incurable illness.

This is the first time in the World Cup that England have failed to contest a semi-final. Mind you, they have not deserved to, having looked slipshod and out of sorts since losing the final Test in Cape Town in the first week of January. Yesterday's loss, however, was far more comprehensive than the five-wicket margin suggests, and England looked out of their depth.

Once malaise sets in it can prove difficult to shift, and neither Ray Illingworth nor his captain, Mike Atherton, have been able to raise standards sufficiently for England to be able compete against the better teams out here. This was their ninth consecutive defeat against Test- playing countries.

"The side that came to this World Cup has played poorly," Atherton said after the match. "That has been disappointing, but we've done all the right things and prepared in the right manner."

That was a claim Illingworth supported, though he refused to accept that it was a disastrous result for England. "I don't think it's a black day, just a sign that some other countries have caught up," the chairman of selectors said.

"Sri Lanka have taken it to a new level. They are treating the first 15 overs as though they were the last 15. Bowlers will have to come up with new tactics and captains must think about their field placings. They tell me there's a lobby at home to get rid of me," Illingworth said. "I've said all along I'd like to carry on next summer. But everything is open now and we'll what happens."

Preparation, or a lack of it, is something that Illingworth would do well to reflect on. It was surely unprofessional for England not to practise - as Sri Lanka had done - at the Iqbal Stadium on Friday. Instead they netted at a small ground next to their hotel, clearly opting for convenience before their most important match so far in 1996.

Atherton has stated already on this tour that he will not resign. When asked the question again yesterday he demurred, saying he would: "Go back home and reflect on the winter." He then allowed himself a rare rueful smile, before adding that he had about 10 days to do so before going on tour to Jamaica with Lancashire.

When he does reflect, he will discover that the simple truth is that with only solitary wins against the United Arab Emirates and Holland to their name, England have allowed themselves to be complacent and have fallen behind on basics such as fielding, as well as the particulars such as pinch- hitting.

That it was Sri Lanka, admittedly on a hot streak, merely amplified the fact that England's cricket is not only staid and unimaginative but positively archaic when placed next to the pyrotechnics of yesterday's opponents.

Having won the toss, Atherton clearly felt England's best chance was to bat first and score around 300 in the hope of putting pressure on Sri Lanka's big-hitting batsmen in a run-chase. The plan began well with him and Robin Smith getting off to a brisk start, scoring 24 runs off the first five overs. But the tempo slowed as England slumped to 59 for two after 15 overs.

Ten years ago, that would have been considered a reasonable score. But against Sri Lanka yesterday it was hopelessly inadequate, a point they proved by being 37 for one and 121 for two at the same stages.

Considering that they had ample warning of their opponents' ability, England's lack of planning and adventure was staggering. When Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka's left-arm opening bowler, pitched the ball wide of off- stump, England's openers shouldered arms and left it. When Peter Martin or Darren Gough did likewise to the Sri Lankans, the ball was smitten with condescending ease to the boundary.

Even with this prior knowledge, England's attack was helpless. The reliable Richard Illingworth, who opened the bowling, was treated with utter disdain and he conceded 72 from his 10 overs.

Once again Sanath Jayasuriya, who has been in daunting form, was the man responsible, and he gleefully continued his sequence of wristy power- hitting, scoring 82 runs from only 44 balls - a feat he made light off when asked about England's bowling, saying: "I had to go after it."

Despite losing his opening partner, Romesh Kaluwitharana, in the second over, the 26-year-old left-hander from Matara did not stray from his mission of belting England's bowlers as often and as far as possible.

Incredibly, 74 of his runs came from boundaries, three of them sixes. One was a monster blow off Phillip DeFreitas, sailing high over long-off, where it bounced off the Star TV satellite dish sited on the pavilion roof.

It was the final episode of a mixed day for DeFreitas, who had been dropped for the previous game, against Pakistan. Playing his 101st game for England, he batted at No5, scoring a plucky and sweetly struck 67 from 64 balls, his first one-day 50. If he savoured the milestone, his feelings would have been short-lived, for he conceded 34 runs from 3.4 overs of seam and off-spin.

Unsurprisingly, the tempo slowed - though not enough for England to create an iota of pressure - when Jayasuriya was out, brilliantly stumped down the leg-side by Jack Russell off Dermot Reeve. Significantly it was the delivery after Reeve had bowled him off a no-ball.

Before this game, Sri Lanka's captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, had said that the problems his team had encountered in Australia, such as the constant sledging, the accusations of ball-tampering and the incidents when Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled for chucking the ball, had helped weld his team together after a disappointing tour.

However, it is difficult to see that their abject performances here are about to do the same for England, and all they have got to take back with them to the old country are bad memories and gaudy carpets.

Night at the end of the tunnel, page 23

Scoreboard from Faisalabad

(England won toss)

ENGLAND

R A Smith run out 25

(direct hit at bowler's end)

*M A Atherton c Kaluwitharana b Vaas 22

(edged loose shot outside off stump)

G A Hick c Ranatunga b Muralitharan 8

(casual flick off his toes to short square leg)

G P Thorpe b Dharmasena 14

(missed hoik to leg-side)

P A J DeFreitas lbw b Jayasuriya 67

(missed attempted sweep)

A J Stewart b Muralitharan 17

(bowled through gate)

R C Russell b Dharmasena 9

(bottom edged sweep shot)

D A Reeve b Jayasuriya 35

(yorked straight ball)

D Gough not out 26

P J Martin not out 0

Extras (lb8, w4) 12

Total (for 8, 50 overs) 235

Fall: 1-31, 2-58, 3-66, 4-94, 5-145, 6-171, 7-173, 8-235.

Did not bat: R K Illingworth.

Bowling: Wickremasinghe 7-0-43-0; Vaas 8-1-29-1; Muralitharan 10-1-37- 2; Dharmasena 10-0-30-2; Jayasuriya 9-0-46-2; de Silva 6-0-42-0.

SRI LANKA

S T Jayasuriya st Russell b Reeve 82

(brilliant leg side stumping)

K S Kaluwitharana b Illingworth 8

(bowled behind his legs sweeping)

A P Gurusinha run out 45

(bowler kicked ball on to the stumps)

P A de Silva c Smith b Hick 31

(top-edged cut to backward point)

*A Ranatunga lbw b Gough 25

(played across line of straight ball)

H P Tillekeratne not out 19

R S Mahanama not out 22

Extras (lb1, w2, nb1) 4

Total (for 5, 40.4 overs) 236

Fall: 1-12, 2-113, 3-165, 4-194, 5-198.

Did not bat: W P U C J Vaas, H D B K Dharmasena, G P Wickremasinghe, M Muralitharan.

Bowling: Martin 9-1-41-0; Illingworth 10-1-72-1; Gough 10-1-36-1; DeFreitas 3.4-0-38-0; Reeve 4-1-14-1; Hick 4-0-34-1.

Umpires: I A Robinson and Mahboob Shah.

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