The mother-in-law of all spankings
Thirty-six hours have passed since England were unceremoniously plonked in a box, wrapped in a ribbon and posted back home, first-class. After their dramatic roller-coaster ride through the group stage, many had thought that England were destined to go all the way to glory. Unfortunately, due to a contractual dispute over working conditions and image rights, Destiny walked out on a one-day strike in Colombo on Saturday.
Reality was called in as a temp to cover for Destiny, and England, after winning three and losing two of their group matches by the finest of margins, and tying the other one by no margin at all, were given the mother-in-law of all spankings. The roller-coaster derailed, flew off the tracks, and landed in a tree.
This had seemed to have all the makings of a close game. However, you can have all the makings of a succulent roast lamb for your Sunday lunch, but still end up with an undercooked doner kebab instead. Ultimately, their lack of boundary-clouters in both top- and middle-order proved costly. As did their inability to take the initiative against good-quality spin. As did injuries to, and loss of form by key players. As did their lack of bowling experience in the subcontinent – of the five bowlers in Colombo, Swann had played 10 ODIs in Asia before this World Cup, and the rest had mustered 7 between them.
All these factors proved costly, totting up to an enormous and ultimately unpayable bill. England had been living on credit throughout the group phase. Their cards were cancelled in Colombo.
Sri Lanka played an outstanding match, suffocating England with the ball, then batting with aggression and calculated risk to decide the game in the early overs of their innings. Tharanga and Dilshan became the second pair of openers both to score hundreds in the same World Cup innings, following on from their predecessors Dilshan and Tharanga two weeks previously in Pallekelle. (It was the 23rd time this has happened in an ODI, and remarkably Sri Lanka have been responsible for five of them within the last five years, with Tharanga involved in four.)
If the cricket proved one-sided, there was an intriguing clash of statistics. Much was made of the fact that Sri Lanka had failed in nine of their last 10 chases at the Premadasa under lights (and only succeeded in a facile overhauling of Kenya’s 142 at this World Cup). Less was made of the fact that they had succeeded in nine of their last 11 chases of 200 or more in all ODIs, or that their two failures had been in pursuit of scores much higher than 230. Statistic B romped home to a convincing victory, proving once again the only theory that every stat has an equal and opposite counter-stat.
Tactically, however, you have to ask questions of England. The masterplan ‒ not to hit the ball very hard so that it would not become roughed up and assist Malinga’s reverse swing ‒ was, in hindsight, an ill-conceived gamble. And not taking any Sri Lankan wickets at all made absolutely no strategic sense whatsoever.
England can also point to considerable back luck with key bowlers being absent. Broad went home injured, Flintoff had retired, Botham was busy doing telly work, Trueman, Laker and Larwood all failed fitness tests, and probably England’s key bowler, early 20th-century legend S.F. Barnes, demanded too much money. The ECB had no choice but to pick Luke Wright instead. If only those men had been available, it could have been a very different story.
England supporters should not be too downhearted, however. Australia went out at the same quarter-final stage, so, as holders, England keep the Ashes. And at least the players will have been relieved to arrive back in London to find that the ECB had not organised a 5-game ODI series with Croatia starting on Thursday, as they must have feared would be the case.
● I went to the PCA in Mohali yesterday to see the Indian team practise. The game might have been three days away, but I thought I would take the opportunity afforded by my press pass to try to see the likes of Sehwag and Tendulkar at close quarters. I have to report that they looked in dreadful form. Well short of international standard, with little control over where the ball was going.
Admittedly, they were playing football. Not cricket. So we should probably not read too much into it. I can confirm, however, that when the young Sachin decided to focus his sporting attention on cricket rather than football, he made the right decision. Without any doubt. Whatsoever.
● A sad casualty of England’s defeat is the much-anticipated Hollywood blockbuster based on their rocky road to World Cup redemption through turbulent ups and downs before culminating in a heroic against-the-odds victory over the Soviet Union in the final. Production has been put in abeyance, at least until 2015.
Action hero Vin Diesel can start taking pantomime bookings again – he is not going to be spending next winter filming his role as Ian Bell. Diesel’s agent reported that the star is “devastated”. Scarlett Johannson, meanwhile, is reported to have withdrawn from her part-time evening course learning how to speak with a Yorkshire accent. Her lifelong dream of depicting Tim Bresnan may now have to wait until his biopic is made.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer