Report by Neil Robinson 24/11/03
Itís not been a good week for the pommie-bashers, but any Australian readers seeking solace (apart from those already celebrating their triumph in Rugby League) will have taken comfort from the England cricket teamís performance in the one-day series in Sri Lanka this week.
Following their overwhelming superiority against the minnows of Bangladesh, England were unable to raise their game to match an improved opponent in a form of the game in which they remain regrettably naive and inexperienced. In damp conditions occasioned by a late monsoon and poor scheduling, England succumbed to one of their worst ever ODI humiliations in the first match in the steamy jungle of Dambulla, bowled out for a meagre 88 which the hosts managed to rattle off in under 14 overs. The touristsí hopes for a swift recovery were then frustrated by tropical downpours which led to the remaining two matches being washed out without a ball being bowled.
In truth, England were (un)lucky to get on the field even for that one game. The 60 overs bowled at Dambulla constituted just about the only dry period since they arrived from Dhaka just over a week ago. Blue skies managed to get a hold for a few hours on Sunday morning when the third match was scheduled, just for long enough to allow optimistic souls to hope that the sodden ground might dry out and some form of game be possible. In that sense it was slightly reassuring that cricket followers could be as naive and credulous as the England one-day team. Or indeed, those responsible for the scheduling of this tournament. Disbelieving locals protested that monsoon rains are a weird rarity this far into November, but the fact that a one-day tournament has never before been scheduled in Sri Lanka at this time of year speaks for itself.
England made one significant change to their successful team from Bangladesh, Middlesexís Andrew Strauss coming in as Marcus Trescothickís opening partner in place of Vikram Solanki, whose further failure in a warm -up game here, coupled with an impressive fifty from Strauss, proved too much for the selectors to ignore. Sadly, his debut was not to be a happy one. Perhaps seeking to impose himself sooner than he should, he played too firm a stroke at a good length ball from debutant Dinusha Fernando which sat up on the sticky surface and prodded it straight back to the bowler. That made it 8 for 1, and if skipper Michael Vaughan wasnít already regretting his decision to bat first on a notoriously dodgy pitch, he surely was a few moments later when he found himself trudging back to the pavilion after being bowled for just 2 by the increasingly joyous Fernando.
Meanwhile, Trescothick, Flintoff, Clarke, Blackwell and Read all fell in single figures, only that accomplished nurdler Paul Collingwood (NB, a man of North-East England like a certain other sporting chap with the initials JW....) remaining unmoved with a face-saving 31, while Ashley Giles weighed in with a typically inside-out 21. It sounds bad, but it could have been so much worse. Oh, poor, heartbroken Aussies, read it and recuperate: England 12-2, 17-3, 26-4, 36-5, 44-6, 45-7, 59-8, 67-9. Just like old times isnít it? Had it not been for the infuriating Giles and Anderson adding 21 for the last wicket, they wouldnít even have made it past their own lowest ever one day score, 86 at Old Trafford in 2001 against...wait for it....Australia.
And even though they scraped past that low point, at least that means Australia remain Englandís ultimate nemesis.
Going into what ex-captain Nasser Hussain regards as the toughest overseas tour of the modern era, handing out a routine beating to Test Cricketís whipping boys was never going to be much preparation, but England here gave the impression of a team which didnít understand the necessity of changing its approach. On a difficult pitch, against higher quality bowling, they were no longer able to just sit back and wait for the four-balls as they had in Dhaka and Chittagong, but only Collingwood seemed able to tailor his game to the conditions.
Perhaps the bowlers had more of a coherent game plan and perhaps they would have stuck to it. But with only 88 to defend there was never much hope and what little there was they squandered by sticking to the same tactics with which they had unsettled Habibul Bashar & co., namely a barrage of short balls which proved more intimidatory to the spectators on the deep square leg boundary than to Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. The veteran openers raced to the target in 13.5 overs, inflicting upon England probably their most humiliating defeat in one-day internationals. The two wash-outs which followed meant that Sri Lanka had, bizzarely, become the first side to win a one-day series without losing a wicket, a record which should stand at least until England decide to host Bangladesh at Old Trafford in March.
While the Aussie nation relaxes in its armchairs over a tin of VB or a glass of Wolf Blass or whatever its chosen tipple might be, reflecting no doubt that this result proves that God is after all in his heaven and all right with the world, England themselves can probably afford to write this one off to experience. They can cite the unwelcoming weather, the two-paced pitch, the sudden step-up in standard after Bangladesh, pretty much anything they like to explain this one away, secure in the knowledge that their preparations for World Cup 2007 are far more advanced than those of their current opponents who are still opening their innings with the same pair who won the World Cup for them back in 1996. Relieved thay may also be for the fact that one-day failures still attract far less criticism in England than Test Match failures, and for the fact that the focus of the sports pages was directed more on Sydney than Colombo at the time.
Not that the tourists are without their worries going into the forthcoming Test series. Steve Harmisonís back problem has been aggravated by his own enthusiasm during a practice session in the nets at Loughborough and he will be out of the entire series. James Anderson then turned an ankle playing squash with James Kirtley and looks set to miss the First Test. Kirtley and Richard Johnson are to provide back-up during this further, seemingly inevitable injury crisis among the England seamers. At least Simon Jonesí recovery continues apace and he still aims to be available for next Springís tour of the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, back in the corridors of power, the nasty rumour that Clive Woodward might be the next England cricket coach, sparked by his interview in Novemberís Wisden Cricketer, has rather beeen overtaken by events . Current smart money has him becoming either England soccer coach, UN envoy to Iraq or Pope. Personally, I could never work out why that final accolade never went to Douglas Jardine.
First ODI, Dambulla, November 18th
England 88 (46.1 overs) (Vaas 3-15)
Sri Lanka 89 for 0 (13.5 overs) (Jayasuriya 46*, Kaluwitharana 36*)
Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets
Man of the match
The second and third ODIs in Colombo were both abandoned. Sri Lanka won series 1-0.