SO much for cruising through to the semi-finals then. England crumbled to their lowest World Cup score as they were embarrassed by Sri Lanka at Headingley, with their failure to reach a victory target of 233 leaving their hopes of lifting the trophy for the first time hanging in the balance.

Having been dismissed for just 212 as an inability to handle pressure once again proved their undoing, Eoin Morgan’s side will now almost certainly have to win two of their remaining three group games against Australia, India and New Zealand just to make the last four. Play like they did yesterday, and they might as well start packing their bags now.

All looked well when Jofra Archer and Mark Wood shared six wickets as Sri Lanka laboured to 232-9, but the difficulties inherent in a slow-paced, nibbling Headingley pitch were quickly apparent as England’s reply became bogged down from the off.

Jonny Bairstow suffered a second first-ball duck of the tournament, and wickets continued to fall at regular intervals as Lasith Malinga rolled back the years to produce a pace-bowling masterclass that saw him finish with 4-43.

Joe Root’s 57 held things together for a while, with England’s five-day skipper reverting to Test mode as he attempted to guide his side to victory with a patient, watchful approach.

However, his departure, as he feathered a leg-side catch to wicketkeeper Kusal Perera, sparked a dramatic mid-order collapse as England’s batsmen failed to cope with off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva.

Displaying a frailty against spin that had supposedly been solved, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid went in a three-over spell that yielded just eight runs.

Ali’s dismissal was especially senseless, with the supposed all-rounder holing out to Isuru Udana at long on as he attempted to follow a huge six over square leg with a second successive maximum.

That left Ben Stokes to guide England home, but while the Durham all-rounder thrashed superbly to delay the inevitable, his final-wicket partnership with club mate Mark Wood was destined to fail.

The pair needed to put on 47 when they came together, and after Stokes was handed a life when Kusal Mendes spilled a diving catch in the deep, a rare moment of sloppiness in an otherwise excellent Sri Lankan fielding display, the linchpin of the England innings decided to cut loose.

Headingley roared its approval as he clubbed successive sixes into the new Rugby Ground stand off Udana, and when he plundered 24 runs off just nine balls, the most unlikely of escapology acts looked on.

It wasn’t to be though, with Wood nicking behind to Kusal Perera off Nuwan Pradeep. England have looked majestic when thrashing the likes of Afghanistan and Bangladesh all over the place, but in their two tightly-fought matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, they have come up short.

On both occasions they were chasing rather than batting first, and that is clearly a worry given that their remaining three group games pit them against the three sides currently sitting alongside them in the top four. There is every chance they will also be close encounters, and England cannot rely on winning the toss to bat first.

They would have batted first had they been offered the choice yesterday, but must have been anticipating a stroll to victory when Sri Lanka’s batsmen struggled to find any attacking rhythm.

Sri Lanka’s total of 232 looked woefully insufficient, although it only took a few overs of England’s reply to prove that the difficulties of the pitch had played a major role in their opponents’ failure to post a big score. Nevertheless, the sight of the Sri Lankan batsmen scratching around still served to underline just how far England’s opponents have slipped since they were conquering the rest of the world at the 1996 World Cup.

Back then, the Sri Lankans’ pinch-hitting approach at the top of the order transformed one-day cricket, paving the way for the kind of sky-high scores that are commonplace today. Yesterday’s Sri Lankan innings was more akin to a Test knock, with the scoreboard meandering along at around four-an-over and wickets falling with undue haste whenever there was an attempt at acceleration. Ultimately, though, they still amassed sufficient runs to finish triumphant.

The slow-paced nature of the surface was largely to blame for their failure to reach 250, although credit must also go to the England bowling attack, with Jofra Archer in particular continuing to cement his position as one of the world’s best one-day pacemen.

Archer’s three wickets took him to 15 for the tournament, elevating him alongside Australia’s Mitchell Starc at the top of the wicket-taking rankings. At the start of the World Cup, the Barbadian’s fast-tracking into the England squad after the ECB relaxed their eligibility rules proved a source of considerable controversy. Now, the main discussion point concerning Archer relates to his possible promotion to the Ashes Test squad that will face Australia this summer.

Archer can be relatively expensive, but he is a wicket taker who frequently exceeds speeds of 90mph. As this tournament is proving, that makes him an asset in any form of the game.

He forced Sri Lanka onto the back foot in his first over yesterday, luring opener Dimuth Karunaratne into the thinnest of edges that flew to Jos Buttler.

There was a chance of England running away with things in double-quick time when Kusal Perera’s mistimed drive off Woakes left the Sri Lankans reeling at 3-2, but some lusty hitting from Avishka Fernando, including one huge six off Archer that deposited the ball into the middle of St Michael’s Lane, prevented a collapse.

Fernando eventually fell for 49, guiding a short ball from Wood to Rashid at third man, and his exit heralded a spell from England’s spinners that put a brake on Sri Lanka’s scoring.

In the 20 overs that followed Fernando’s departure, England conceded just four boundaries, with Ali, who did not serve up a single four, and Rashid strangling their opponents’ attacking intent.

Rashid claimed two wickets in the space of two balls to remove Kusal and Jeevan Mendis, and while the Yorkshireman was unable to complete a hat-trick in front of his home fans, England’s fast bowlers returned to complete the job.

Archer’s pace accounted for Dhananjaya de Silva and Thisara Perera, before Wood removed Udana, who skied a catch to Root, and Malinga, who was beaten all ends up by an excellent yorker, to ensure he also finished with a three-wicket haul.