Sri Lanka’s 87 run win over England in Colombo did more than just seal a convincing 5-2 series win in their favour. It unreservedly and irrevocably pointed to a complete lack of growth in the manner in which England approach the one-day game.
No single player quite epitomises this as well as England captain Alastair Cook. Whilst he did at least manage 32 runs today, it came off a disappointingly slow 49 balls, and, in truth, he could have been caught twice before posting even that most meagre of totals. Upping the tempo of the batting does not appear to come naturally to him.
The run rate seems to be the most significant cause of England’s problems in ODIs. The pace of the game has changed significantly to the point where teams must regularly threaten to breach the 300 runs mark. In the past, such a score was an exception. In today’s game there are times when it simply appears to be par for the course.
This is true for the majority of the top teams, with England a disappointing exception. A potent concoction of inexperience, conservative batting, and a lack of form have combined to leave England with exceptionally grim prospects as the World Cup fast approaches.
Too often singularly impressive batting displays have gone unrewarded. Moeen Ali’s brilliant 119 in the first defeat of the tour was left unsupported until Ravi Bopara’s late 65 offered some hope. In the final act, Joe Root’s 80 (achieved in spite of an ankle injury) was the one decent total for a side that never threatened Sri Lanka’s 302.
So where can England go from here? Questions will once again be raised over Cook’s place in the side. His captaincy has been scrutinised regularly but his form as a batsman in recent times has left much to be desired and there are genuine questions over his suitability for a format that demands a higher strike rate than he currently seems able to provide.
Cook can, in all honesty, be used as a reasonable metaphor for the England side in its totality; talented, certainly, but without much flair or panache and ultimately inspiring little confidence in even the most optimistic of supporter.
Whilst England certainly appear rudderless, there seems little hope in any major shake-ups to the structure of the side as the World Cup approaches. The management seemed to have picked their man in Cook and the captain himself has shown little sign of being prepared to walk away from the job.
Credit to Sri Lanka who, behind Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 101, firmly put away inferior opposition, as they have done all series. They will rightly be confident going forward. As for England, barring a severe change of fortune, it looks set to be a long winter.