June 17, 2002

England's cricketers emerge from World Cup shadow

England's cricketers briefly emerged from the World Cup's shadow, cheered to the rafters by 2000 loyal supporters during a thrilling finish to a one-sided series against Sri Lanka.

The victory may soon be forgotten if England defeat Brazil on Friday, but, for the time being, Nasser Hussain's side can bathe in some well deserved limelight.

In normal circumstances, a victory target of 50 from six overs in the Manchester gloom would be deemed well nigh impossible, but such is the confidence of this English side that the runs were picked off with swaggering ease. The six other batsmen padded up in the dressing room were not even needed.

Hussain was understandably delighted: "That was unbelievable. I don't think I have seen an England side play better than we did during the last couple of days. To bowl out that batting line-up, on this flat pitch, without Andrew Caddick for 200 and 300-odd in two and a half days was a magnificent performance. Two-nil is a great result against these boys. I can't praise them enough.

"When Marvan Atapattu handled the quick stuff pretty well, that was a point when we thought 'hang on, he's been one of their best players all series and we only have five overs to get a wicket.' But that was the difficult part and once we got rid of him we always had a chance, although we were right down to one or two overs to go."

Crucially, in this game, it was the young fast bowling trio of Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and man of the match Alex Tudor that fired England to victory on what was supposed to be a seamers graveyard.

"The lads bowled beautifully on a really flat wicket, especially Alex Tudor who stepped up to the plate," said Hussain. "Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff also bowled well, but I am used to that now."

"I'm proud because we have beaten them 2-0 on pitches that, apart from the first morning at Edgbaston, have not been the early May wickets that they many have anticipated; we have played on sub-continental pitches with reverse swing and spin - luckily we have been in the subcontinent recently and knew what to do."

Hussain also had a special mention for Duncan Fletcher, who has worked so hard to nullify the threat of Muttiah Muralitharan: "A lot of credit must go to Duncan. You have seen how Muralitharan has gone through world-class sides. Duncan gave each player a technique to play him."

The visitors arrived in Sri Lanka on the back of a nine Test-winning streak, hopeful of breaking a reputation for failing overseas - they have only won three Test matches outside the subcontinent. They flattered to deceive after three bright days at Lord's.

Since Sanath Jayasuriya dropped two crucial catches on the Sunday morning of the first Test, their tour has gone from bad to worse. Whilst some of the damage could have been avoided - injuries to Muttiah Muralitharan and Dilhara Fernando proved crucial - the defeat reeked of self-destruction, from the indiscipline of the players to the destructive board politics at home.

The off-the-field distractions reached their nadir at Old Trafford, media leaks regarding the decision not to renew the manager's contract and Darryl Foster's unnecessary resignation as bowling coach, clearly distracting the focus of the dressing room.

Sanath Jayasuriya appeared glum when he faced the media: "We played well at times but we need to show more application. There were too many 20s and 30s. We have been down this road before and we need to come back quickly."