Sri Lanka v England, 1st ODI, Dambulla November 18, 2003

Not just bad losers ... horrible ones

Reverse charge? The scoreboard tells the sorry story
© Getty Images

For one reason or another, the English have long been accused of being bad losers. Today, they fully justified that tag. This loss was not just bad, it was horrible. Not only did they crumble to their lowest one-day score overseas, they did so despite avoiding the perils of Dambulla's new floodlights, after Michael Vaughan's first successful toss in 95 days had enabled them to bat in good oldfashioned broad daylight.

So much for kicking on after their heroics in Bangladesh last week. Before the first 15 overs had been bowled, England were facing precisely the same situation that Bangladesh had made their trademark in those three matches. And they couldn't even muster an equivalent recovery. Like the Banglas before them, they battened down a few remaining hatches, and survived until well into the final ten overs. But even Bangladesh rattled along at more than two runs per over.

In all, England totted up nine single-figure scores out of 11, which were recorded on the scoreboard with a preceding '0', like an oldfashioned dialling code (Chris Read even got an international one: 000). As a third of these read 03, presumably that's the number for Coventry. That is certainly where the stadium officials would have liked to send the England team, had the match failed to reach the floodlit part of the evening. Otherwise they would have had to rewrite their commemorative plaque at the entrance to the grandstand.

One of the recurring themes of the last six weeks has been the unresponsive nature of Bangladesh's pitches. It doesn't help their development, and neither, it seems, does it help the opposition. Chaminda Vaas, who seems to have been around forever, took great delight in reminding England what it is to play on a wicket with a bit of nip. England's bowlers, on the other hand, looked listless, still striving to make things happen instead of using the conditions. Admittedly, under the circumstances, they had little alternative.

For Andrew Flintoff, it was rather a heavy landing after his effortless dominance of the last few weeks. A timid batting demise was followed by a ruthless dissection at the hands of Romesh Kaluwitharana, and he conceded almost half as many runs in 3.5 overs (27) as he did in the entire Bangladesh series (63).

As the fans filed out of the ground and the team skulked off to lick its wounds, those nice new floodlights were at least put to a better use than England had found for them. A local school commandeered half the pitch, erected some mini-rugby posts, and began a late-night tournament. With the World Cup final fast approaching, England have one last chance to persuade their travelling fans that Sunday's match is worth braving the hangovers for.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be accompanying England throughout their travels in Sri Lanka.