England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as Cook’s men freeze
England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as Sri Lanka beat England by 157 runs in the second ODI
England freeze in the shadows of Lumley Castle
England are supposed to go gathering wins in May. By the time summer is in full flow, the pitches have lost a bit of their juice and one could at times be playing anywhere in the world; but May in England tends, like no other Test nation in the world, to bring to mind the scene from Cool Runnings of the Jamaican bobsled team’s arrival in Calgary. While none of the Sri Lankans today revealed the inter-layer hot water bottle as preferred by Sanka Coffie, Tillakaratne Dilshan emerged for the England innings with his ears hidden beneath a thick woollen muffler, and Lasith Malinga was not the only man caught by the cameras with hands thrust deep into pockets clutching hand-warmers for dear life. Graham Onions, meanwhile, the local boy commentating for Test Match Special, had toyed with wearing shorts. It was England, though, who froze. Their catching, an increasingly nagging issue in recent years, was once again not the best, while their batting was suggestive of minds being elsewhere. Ian Bell angled a nondescript ball straight to the wicketkeeper, while Joe Root played back to a ball which was, if anything, marginally overpitched, before prodding down the wrong line and losing his off stump. Gary Ballance found his pad in the way of a half-hearted attempt at a leg side nibble and Ravi Bopara flapped at a drifter from Sachithra Senanayake, by which time it was all over bar the shouting. Eoin Morgan, on winning the toss at the beginning of the day, had put Sri Lanka in with half an eye on the skies, but it was Nuwan Kulasekara who found the most nip of anyone, while Senanayake, nominally an offspinner, was essentially getting inswing. In recent years around here, the nearby Lumley Castle has unnerved Shane Watson, and travelling teams from both West Indies and India have checked out of stays there for fear of the native spectres. The ghosts are walking; today the England team – save for back to the pavilion – were not.
The old masters
There are perhaps three main stages to a prolonged international career. Players such as Ballance, Jos Buttler and Chris Jordan are in the first – the emergence, the raw promise, the hope and the hype. Jade Dernbach is perhaps in the second, defined by knockbacks and backlash as they are ‘found out’, and the watching public starts to bandy around that most banal of phrases, ‘not good enough’. Lasith Malinga, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillekeratne Dilshan – actually, for that matter, most of the Sri Lankan team – are in the third, and carry the easy confidence of experience. England have been playing one day international cricket for a little over forty years, and have played 619 matches. Sangakkara and Dilshan, whose partnership comprised only three runs less than the entire England innings, have between them played 648. For much of the Sri Lankan innings, one felt as if England were in control. The runs were ticking rather than flowing, and at what appeared to be important times, wickets were falling. Halfway through this match, the prevailing opinion was that England were, if anything, marginal favourites. This Sri Lankan team, though, is rarely ruffled.
England’s pace options
Let the home fans and management, though, not give up hope. Harry Gurney is yet to play his fiftieth match in any form of the game, but he has found a way to the top level and continues to demonstrate good control and a cool head. His current bowling average in both first class and List A cricket remains a shade over 33, but these are early days, and, what is more, he is a left-arm paceman, a key point of variation and an area in which the English cupboard has historically been bare. Only two of the breed, Ryan Sidebottom and Alan Mullally, have taken over 100 international wickets – give Gurney a couple of years, and he could very well join them. Chris Jordan, meanwhile, increasingly looks like a cornerstone of the next generation, in all formats of the game. It was he who led England to victory last time out, and he had the pace and wherewithal today to find a way through the defence of a man on 88. And then of course, there is James Anderson (2-38), perhaps England’s greatest ever bowler, and as masterful as ever today. The batting may have been flaky; but England’s bowling remains in rude health.