A sound thrashing

So England lost 5-0 and there are still those around who claim that they can win the World Cup in the Caribbean next spring. They are having a laugh. They must be, writes TED CORBETT.

You can only come to one conclusion. England are eighth in the ICC one-day ratings even though they are breathing down Australia's neck in the Test rankings because they do not value the limited overs stuff.

Yes, I know all about the injuries and the fact that they are now using their fourth choice captain — and it is more appropriate to feel sorrow rather than anger about Andrew Strauss's showing — and that Sri Lanka know a lot about one-day cricket as do India and Pakistan.

But to lose the final match of the series by eight wickets with 12 overs to spare — after making 321 — is mind-blowing. So is conceding 79 wides in five matches.

Luckily for pathetic England the sporting nation was too closely involved with the outcome of the football World Cup, the sending off of Wayne Rooney, the resignation of David Beckham and the departure of Sven-Goran Eriksson to take any notice of the happenings at Headingley.

Sri Lanka were without their regular captain Marvan Atapattu too and Muttiah Muralitharan, who is generally regarded as the second finest spin bowler in history, went home to be with his sick son half way through the series.

Did they complain? They were too busy winning and grinning broadly as they did so.

Yes, Sri Lanka were brilliant and Mahela Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya made four wonderful centuries between them. But who tried to stop their daring, who planned their downfall, who, even for a moment, put up his hand and said: "This cannot continue."

So England lost 5-0 and there are still those around who claim that they can win the World Cup in the Caribbean next spring. They are having a laugh. They must be.

There is a way in which the team could be improved. As I write Michael Vaughan is having a fourth operation on his knee and at worst it will take him six months to recover.

Let us fast forward to the end of this summer when, I assume, England will have put up a better fight in the four Tests against Pakistan, who have their own injury worries, and another five one-day internationals.

Andrew Flintoff, captain No. 3, will probably not play a big part in either of those series since late in the matches against Sri Lanka he could not run because of the pain in his ankle.

England will then play in the Champions Trophy in India under either Flintoff or Marcus Trescothick or Strauss — I am not such a clever pundit that I pretend to know — and probably have such an eye on the Ashes that they will not perform well.

If England go to Australia without Vaughan and Ashley Giles and Simon Jones — the forecasts about their recovery vary from day to day — they will be lucky to escape a good hiding.

There is half a chance that they will have some of their wounded back in action by the World Cup and if Vaughan, whose reputation grows bigger the longer he is out of the side, is fit the team may recapture the verve that brought back the Ashes.

(Actually, it is time to acknowledge that there was a bit of luck — all right, quite a lot of luck — involved in the return of the urn and that the Aussies might have all the good fortune next time.)

We can say now that Sri Lanka will have a chance of regaining the Cup they won in 1996 when they also had some good fortune. Remember that because of the bombings in Colombo there were sides who would not play Serendipity Island and forfeit points which gave Sri Lanka an easier passage than they might have had.

This Sri Lankan team is formidable. The two Jays are, if they stay fit, among the best batsmen in the world, and Upul Tharanga promises to join them in that classification. So big scores made quickly are always possible.

Their quick bowlers, who will be used to the low, slow pitches that are common in the West Indies, generally bowl to their fields and concentrate on one side of the wicket. Jayasuriya plays a key role in support of Murali. In fact Murali probably gets as many wickets for Jayasuriya as for his own analysis.

Batsmen see his club-style, functional action, over the wicket and think "This offers a few easy runs before that cunning gentleman at the other end bowls me one doosra too many. I had better get after him."

The result: four wickets to Jayasuriya, a wide grin on Murali's face and victory to Sri Lanka.

The series began without too much drama. Tharanga made 120 out of 257, it was the fast bowlers Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando who picked up six wickets as England lost, unremarkably by 20 runs.

We thought that Jamie Dalrymple, who has made big hundreds for Middlesex, might make the grade after five overs for 26 and joint top score — with Trescothick — of 67. In the second match Kevin Pietersen made 73 of 273, a respectable total, but a long way behind Sri Lanka's 319.

"We can win three in a row," said Strauss but frankly England never came close to winning one in a row. Pietersen played even though he had an injury which grew worse as he batted — England made 261, another decent score — but Sri Lanka sailed past that with eight wickets and seven overs in hand.

England were refused permission to field a substitute for Pietersen and gathered round Jayawardene to protest in language better kept on the field. He gave them the sharp edge of his tongue and the broad sweep of his bat as he scored an undefeated 126. We saw no more of Pietersen in the series.

Tharanga and Jayawardene, with his second successive hundred, were mainly responsible for the 318 for seven at Old Trafford; the top eight England batsmen all went into double figures and they still lost by 33 runs.

At Headingley, a day spoilt by the announcement that Fred Trueman had died, his memory was insulted by the worst performance I have ever seen from an England side.

I had thought that had been at Adelaide in 1982-3 when New Zealand had overs to spare as they passed 296; but at Headingley it was difficult to remember anything except the way Steve Harmison bowled. He went round the wicket and produced five overs for 35. Then he returned and his final figures were 10 overs for 97, the worst bowling in England's history.

Harmison is England's senior bowler, once bowled out seven West Indies batsmen for 12 and yet as the whitewash became a reality he had bowled two no-balls and five wides. Yet he was not the worst bowler on the field at the end. Kabir Ali sent down six overs for 72.

Half way through the innings it seemed that the man of the series Jayasuriya — making 152, his second century in five games — had the choice of belting wide balls down the offside or leaving them to collect the extra.

Amateurish is the only word to describe such bowling. For it to win a World Cup will require a miracle.

THE SCORES

Headingley, July 1: England 321 for seven in 50 overs (Marcus Trescothick 121, Alastair Cook 41, Andrew Strauss 26, Vikram Solanki 44, Jamie Dalrymple 30, Lasith Malinga four for 44) lost to Sri Lanka 324 for two in 37.3 overs (Upul Tharanga 109, Sanath Jayasuriya 152).

Old Trafford, June 28: Sri Lanka 318 for seven in 50 overs (Tharanga 60, Mahela Jayawardene 100, Farveez Maharoof 58 not out, Malinga Bandara 28 not out) beat England 285 in 48.4 overs (Trescothick 44, Cook 39, Ian Bell 30, Strauss 45, Dalrymple 33, Liam Plunkett 29).

Chester-le-Street, June 24: England 261 for seven in 50 overs (Trescothick 36, Strauss 32, Bell 77, Paul Collingwood 33, Dalrymple 35) lost to Sri Lanka 265 for two in 42.2 overs (Tharanga 41, Jayawardene 126 not out, Kumar Sangakkara 58 not out).

The Oval, June 20: Sri Lanka 319 for eight in 50 overs (Jayasuriya 122, Jayawardene 66, Sangakkara 51, Steve Harmison three for 31) beat England 273 in 46.4 overs (Bell 40, Kevin Pietersen 73, Collingwood 56, Dalrymple 37, Jayasuriya three for 51).

Lord's, June 17: Sri Lanka 257 for nine in 50 overs (Tharanga 120, Harmison three for 52) beat England 237 for nine in 50 overs (Trescothick 67, Dalrymple 67, Malinga three for 26, Dilhara Fernando three for 51).