England coach blames injuries for defeat

Published: Monday, July 3, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Leeds:England coach Duncan Fletcher insisted any side in the world would have struggled to cope with the injury crisis that affected his team during their 5-0 One-day series whitewash by Sri Lanka.

Just when he must have hoped things could only get better, Fletcher saw England humiliated at Headingley as Sri Lanka rewrote the record books on the way to chasing what appeared to be a testing target of 322.

But that was too many even for England's wayward attack to defend, the visitors winning with 75 balls to spare after a One-day International record opening stand of 286 between Sanath Jayasuriya (152) and Upul Tharanga (109).

Defeat was England's 15th in 18 One-day matches against Test playing nations - a worrying trend ahead of next year's World Cup in the West Indies.

"It doesn't reflect our ability," Fletcher insisted of the Sri Lanka thrashing. "It would be very interesting if Sri Lanka were missing eight of their players and we had eight of our players back."

Entering this series England were without captain Michael Vaughan, all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, spinner Ashley Giles and fast bowler Simon Jones - all of whom played in the team that tied last year's Lord's triangular final against Australia.

James Anderson and Ian Blackwell - the natural stand-ins for Jones and Giles respectively - were both ruled out with long-term injuries and, after England named their 15-man squad, newcomers Ed Joyce and Glen Chapple joined the casualty list.

And during the series itself star batsman Kevin Pietersen (knee) and all-rounder Paul Collingwood (thigh) sustained knocks which meant the duo were both left out, ahead of England's Test series against Pakistan, while Sri Lanka recorded thumping wins at both Old Trafford and Headingley.

"Take the (England) football team. There were a lot of queries as to what it would be like if just Wayne Rooney was missing for the World Cup.

"Just one player missing; we are missing eight of our top players; a very influential captain, a very experienced spin bowler, the number one all-rounder in the world.

"How long did it take us to build that cricket side that went on to win the Ashes? It took three or four years to build that," the former Zimbabwe captain added. "You don't just pull people in and suddenly have a world-class side."

But Fletcher's off-repeated argument that a lack of experience was the root cause of England's limited overs ills was undercut by the sight of senior quick Stephen Harmison, in his 44th one-day international, being outbowled at Headingley by Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga, appearing in only his 13th.

After Malinga (four for 44) had performed with distinction, Harmison saw his 10 wicketless overs go for 97 runs, breaking Derek Pringle's 19-year-old record for the most expensive return by an England bowler in a one-day international.

And while Jayasuriya, a veteran of a world record-equalling 362 matches at this level was as experienced as they come Tharanga, his 21-year-old opening partner, was appearing in just his 26th.

England's cause was not helped by stand-in skipper Andrew Strauss's decision to delay Harmison's entry into the attack until the fifth over, by which time Sri Lanka were already 54 without loss.

Fletcher and his fellow selectors, must pick a captain for the upcoming first Test against Pakistan at Lord's and the coach insisted he still had faith in Strauss's leadership abilities.

"Even in India there were a lot of players missing and he got a victory there," Fletcher said. "You must give him credit for some of his captaincy under such difficult circumstances."

For all Fletcher's belief in experience, he was less than enthusiastic when asked about the chances of Darren Gough, England's most successful One-day bowler, being recalled for the One-day series against Pakistan later in the season, saying only: "We have not slammed the door on anyone."

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