At the start of this one-day series against Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook talked of drawing a line under the disastrous tour of Australia and constructing a new-look England team, yet on the evidence of yesterday’s resounding 157-run defeat at Chester-le-Street, things have got worse not better.
Cook might be absolved from blame given that a groin injury prevented him from playing, but the team that appeared in his absence plumbed depths that were not even touched Down Under as they collapsed to a dismal 99 all out with almost half of their overs to spare.
The score was England’s lowest in 11 matches at Durham Emirates ICG, ‘beating’ the 101 that was posted against New Zealand ten years ago, and was the side’s sixth-lowest total ever recorded in a 50-over international.
Given that only two batsmen made it into double figures – and one of them, Ian Bell, only scored 12 – it is safe to say that the responsibility for the debacle was shared. Far too many batsmen threw their wickets away cheaply, and a collective lack of confidence and form has to be a huge concern ahead of the remaining three games of the series, not to mention the forthcoming Tests against Sri Lanka and India.
While the whole of English cricket wants to move on from the Kevin Pietersen saga, it is impossible to do so while one of the best one-day batsmen in the world is forced to watch on television as his erstwhile team-mates fail to score three figures.
England’s reply to Sri Lanka’s 256-8 started badly, and got worse from thereon in. Skittled for 99, it is safe to say that the hosts were well and truly licked.
Four wickets fell inside the opening seven overs, with Nuwan Kulasekara wreaking havoc simply by pitching some unremarkable fast-medium paced bowling on a decent line and length.
There were no demons in the Chester-le-Street pitch, no favourable atmospheric conditions to help Kulasekara rip through England’s top order, just a succession of batsmen who should have known better, queuing up to give their wickets away.
Michael Carberry was the first to go, feathering a catch to wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara even though he hadn’t really got himself set when he decided to go chasing after runs.
Ian Bell, promoted to the top of the order in place of Cook, was even more slapdash, wafting at a wide delivery from Kulasekara to present Sangakkara with his second catch in the space of three overs. For a batsman whose forte is supposed to be the patience that is required in the five-day game, it was a particularly poor dismissal.
Sadly, from an English perspective, the sloppiness did not end there. Yorkshire pair Joe Root and Gary Ballance departed in successive overs, with the former being undone by the pace of Lasith Malinga as he doubled him up in front of his stumps and the latter playing around a straight one from Kulasekara that trapped him leg before.
Root’s form, in particular, is a major source of concern, with the 23-year-old looking a pale imitation of the tyro who burst on to the scene so spectacularly in the winter of 2012.
Ravi Bopara has never looked especially comfortable in an England shirt, and his 24-ball resistance ended meekly when he was bowled through the gate by off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake, who eventually finished with career-best figures of 4-13.
Senanayake also accounted for Chris Jordan, James Tredwell and James Anderson, and while England’s top order failed spectacularly, the length of the tail beneath them must be a source of concern as new head coach Peter Moores attempts to assemble a one-day side capable of challenging at next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The only batsman to offer any kind of resistance was stand-in skipper Eoin Morgan, who at least gave an 11,000-strong crowd something to shout about with two flamboyant sixes off Dhammika Prasad before he fell on the boundary rope going for another big shot.
Sri Lanka’s innings was comprised of three distinct sections, with the tourists starting effectively, suffering a wobble shortly after the 30-over mark that threatened to undo their earlier good work, and then rallying to post a total that ultimately could have been 150 runs lower and still been sufficient.
When they were 127-1 at the end of the 30th over, with Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan both well set, Sri Lanka would have been eyeing something close to the 300-mark, but they were forced to reassess their ambitions when both batsmen departed in the space of three overs.
Lahiru Thirimanne had already gone by that stage, the opener edging Anderson to Tredwell at second slip to depart for ten, but Dilshan and Sangakkara calmly set about laying the foundations for a late assault by putting on 96 runs at better than four runs an over.
Dilshan was the senior partner, bringing up his 35th ODI half-century with precious few scares, other than when he scampered through for a single on 22 to offer up a half-chance for a run out that went begging when Anderson missed the stumps.
Patience was the watchword for the bulk of his innings, although the shackles finally came off shortly after he claimed his fifty as he produced one of his trademark ramp shots to scoop a Bopara delivery over his shoulder for four.
At the other end, Sangakkara was more cultured and conventional as he kept the scoreboard moving without really having to force anything, although he too might have been run out cheaply when Carberry missed a clean shot at the stumps after a breakdown in communications left the left-hander out of his ground.
Sangakkara could only manage a first-innings duck and a scratchy 14 when he made his solitary Chester-le-Street appearance for Durham, but the 36-year-old, who is second in the world ODI batting rankings, looked much more at home as he stroked his way to 40 yesterday.
He only scored two boundaries - one, a flick back over Tredwell’s head, was a thing of considerable beauty – but looked ready to press on when, from nowhere, he skied an attempted sweep to present wicketkeeper Jos Buttler with a simple catch.
Mahela Jayawardene departed cheaply two overs later, idling as he attempted a third run to enable Buttler and Ballance to combine to run him out from close to the boundary rope, and when Dilshan was also dismissed with the score at 161-4, it appeared as though England had halted Sri Lanka’s momentum at a crucial stage.
Had they pressed home their advantage, they might not have felt under quite as much pressure in the early stage of their chase, but a succession of missed opportunities enabled Angelo Mathews and Ashan Priyanjan to add 66 in what proved a critical fifth-wicket stand.
Priyanjan should have gone for five, but he was dropped by Harry Gurney as the youngster came in from the boundary rope. The cost of the error became apparent in the very next over, as the explosive Priyanjan smashed two huge sixes off Tredwell that reenergised the Sri Lankan innings at a stroke.
Mathews was dropped five overs later when Bopara allowed the simplest of opportunities to slip through his hands, and with England serving up 15 wides, not to mention a succession of misfields, sloppiness in the field was rife.
A late clatter of wickets, with Mathews, Priyanjan, Dinesh Chandimal and Kulasekara all going in the final four overs, might have boosted England’s bowling figures, but Sri Lanka’s lusty late hitting had already ensured their opponents would face a testing chase.
And within seven overs of England’s reply, it was already a chase that was as good as finished.