England facing record One-day series loss

Published: Thursday, June 29, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Manchester:"Things can only get better" was the upbeat if unconvincing message from stand-in captain Andrew Strauss as England were left on the brink of their worst One-day international series whitewash by yet another dominating Sri Lanka display.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene's second hundred in as many matches was the cornerstone of his side's 33-run win here at Old Trafford that put them 4-0 up in the five-match NatWest Series ahead of Saturday's final match at Headingley.

England have been beaten 3-0 on several occasions in the past but the only time they've crashed by five defeats in a One-day campaign was when losing 6-1 away to South Africa in 1995/96.

All the failings that could scupper any hopes England have of winning next year's World Cup in the Caribbean were on show again in Manchester, the bowlers delivering 21 wides between them and no batsman making 50, let alone a hundred.

England were, admittedly, without several injured first-choice players including regular captain Michael Vaughan (knee), talisman Andrew Flintoff (ankle), batsman Kevin Pietersen (knee) and all-rounder Paul Collingwood (thigh).

But while strength in depth remains a long-term concern, England's performance at Old Trafford could not be explained by injuries alone.

"It's certainly frustrating," Strauss said after a reverse Wednesday which meant England had lost nine out of their last 10 One-day Internationals against Test match opposition.

"We've identified the areas we need to improve and we haven't improved them so far. We've got to bowl straighter and we need our batsmen to get hundreds like theirs have done - they (Sri Lanka) have got four in four games.

"There are a lot of guys in our squad who've got one game left to show what they can do."

Based on current form, home fans may stay away and instead watch the England football team's World Cup quarter-final against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen, set to kick-off Saturday during what should be the second innings at Headingley.

"All I can say is we've got one more opportunity to put on a good display and if we get everything right, there's no reason why we can't put on that performance," insisted Strauss.

"I still maintain any time you captain your country it's a great honour. I think I've learned a lot and things can only get better."

Meanwhile Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody was understandably pleased by the way his side had once again proved they were "not a one-man band" in the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan, who'd left the tour to be with his ill son.

This victory made it six wins out of six in all matches against England after Sri Lanka had squared the Test series at 1-1 and coming out on top in a one-off Twenty20 clash.

"It is very easy to take your foot off the pedal," former Australia international Moody said.

"There are still some areas we need to improve. but it's nice to play good cricket, especially good cricket away from home. There's no question that when we leave the UK we are going to be a better side.

"Hopefully, we'll be in good shape to seriously compete in nine months' time."

And if Jayawardene keeps justifying his promotion to number three with big scores, Sri Lanka could yet repeating their 1996 World Cup triumph.

"He's played sensationally well. These four games he's really expressed himself as a shot-player," said an admiring Moody of Jayawardene, whose 100 followed on from his 126 not out at the Riverside last weekend.

"We identified the 20 overs, powerplay time as an area we wanted to improve and we felt giving Mahela his head to play his shots was the way forward."

Moody's only concern at Old Trafford was a middle-order collapse that meant Sri Lanka needed an unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 68 between Farveez Maharoof (58 not out) and Malinga Bandara (28 not out) to take them past 300.

"The middle order were poor. We were saved really by some very good hitting at the end. Maharoof's a good clean hitter of the ball. He's only 21 and he will improve."

England's performance was summed up by the display of Kabir Ali, whom Moody coached when he was in charge of English county Worcestershire.

Kabir, recalled because fellow paceman Sajid Mahmood had proved expensive previously, saw his 10 wicketless overs cost 77 runs, 35 coming off his last two as Maharoof and Bandara cut loose.

"Any player needs the confidence to know they are going to have a run and I don't think he's had that," said Moody of Kabir, later run out first ball.

"You need a decent run to establish yourself. There are very few international cricketers that hit the scene and don't look back."

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