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June 28, 2006
This was a celebration for Sri Lanka. It would be easy to say their flamboyant and expressive cricket stemmed from the fact they had the series safely in the bag and could let their hair down. But it was just a continuation of how they have carried all before them during the one-day matches and made England look very second rate.
The catalyst was again their captain, Mahela Jayawardene, who gave England another lesson in how to build a one-day innings. When England attempted to chase, the failings that have blighted the series shone like a beacon next to Jayawardene's innings. The top four all made between 30 and 45, only Ian Bell has much defence for being dismissed, and England made 285 without a half-century.
"It's certainly frustrating because we have identified the areas we need to improve and haven't done that," said a weary looking Andrew Strauss. "There were no scores over 50 and you aren't going to chase 300 very often if you don't do that. There were plenty of starts but we didn't build on them."
Whereas England haven't learned from their mistakes, Sri Lanka have managed to improve on different areas of their game with each match; this time they found a telling contribution from the lower order. At Lord's and The Oval (even though they made more than 300) higher totals were on the cards before losing their way slightly. A similar situation was unfurling here as a brief rain break allowed England to gather their thoughts and respond with 5 for 54 either side of the stoppage.
Then up stepped Farveez Maharoof - who showed his batting potential during the Lord's Test - to firstly steady, then launch, the innings. He timed his final onslaught perfectly and tucked into the final four overs to the tune of 50 (more on Kabir Ali later in a moment) and boosted the total well past 300. The mini-jig of delight on bringing up his first ODI half-century captured the Sri Lankan spirit they have brought this summer.
"It's been a fantastic two months," said a delighted Tom Moody. "We will certainly leave England a better team than when we arrived. But I still think we can play better," he added ominously.
Matchwinners have jumped out all over the place for Sri Lanka; it is hard to know where to start with England. There were more dropped catches - Jayawardene on 7 and 27, sloppy ground fielding and shoddy bowling as another 21 wides were accumulated. The stage has been reached where it is almost easier to say `insert previous match comments here.' However, the one bonus today was that the four changes England made - two forced through injury and two through team balance (it is impossible to say form as it is perilously thin on the ground) - at least meant there were some different faces dishing out the wides and long hops.
When Kabir was called into the squad as a replacement for Glen Chapple he must have thought his World Cup dreams were alive again. However, if he was penciled on any possibles lists the eraser is now at the ready. He has certainly been through a strange one-day career. His average - in the high twenties - is very reasonable but his economy, approaching six, is way off the mark.
In previous matches Justin Kemp has taken a liking to his low full tosses as have Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina. Here it was the turn of Maharoof to cash in as Kabir suffered at the death, the last over of the innings being dispatched for 20 and his last two for 35 - more than the difference at the end. After five balls of the over he headed towards the umpire to ask for his cap but he was given bad news - there was still one to come. He looked a broken man.
However, he isn't alone in being a broken man among England cricketers. This team contains only four first-choice players - Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Geraint Jones and Steve Harmison. There were nearly as many as that watching on from the corporate boxes as Chapple, Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson soaked up the atmosphere of their home ground. The last two of those would make a huge difference but, while they could enjoy the hospitality in the ground, Sri Lanka continue to feast on the hospitality in the middle. They want to finish in style and the party isn't quite over yet.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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