England rue 'off day' against SL's spinners
There had been less than an hour of play but England's hopes of a place in the semi-final of the Under-19 World Cup were slipping away. By the end of the day, they were spun out for 184 and questions were raised of their tactics against slow bowling.
England have been one of the most attractive teams to watch with their big-hitting top-order batsmen and stump-hitting fast bowlers. Take Jack Burnham for instance - their No. 3 batsman is No. 1 run-getter in the tournament. He has abided by the team's policy to play straight, especially against spin, and yet today he walked all around a legbreak and was dismissed for 11 by Wanidu Hasaranga. Burnham has toured the subcontinent before with his county team Durham. For him, the in-form batsman with previous experience, to make such an error was out of tune.
"Burham's been great in terms of getting in and going big," England captain Brad Taylor said. "He would have been disappointed at not getting a big one today."
Sri Lanka chose to bowl only six overs of pace, all of which were up front, so wickets to the spinners was always bound to happen. Except so many were soft dismissals. Sam Curran swept across the line and was caught off a top-edge for 25, Ryan Davies popped a gentle return catch, Ben Green premeditated a sweep and was bowled off a ball that pitched at nearly yorker-length and Taylor himself was caught plumb in front after playing around a straight ball. As a result, England fell from 120 for 4 to 136 for 7.
That score suggests there may seem a case for one batsman to dig in so the others can play around him, but Taylor preferred that his men played the way that came naturally to them.
"We back our batters to play their own game. We would never pinpoint any of them to be anchors. They are very aggressive players. I guess, you know, you have days when it doesn't come off. They are very talented batsmen and they will score runs in the future."
But there was certainly room to make a few adjustments, the major one being cautious early on and getting set before they started looking for the boundaries. "I think we need to get in before we play more extravagant shots," Taylor said. "We need to play straight early doors, try to hit down the ground and get to the pitch of the ball.
"I still believe it [winning the toss and batting first] was the right thing to do. The whole team was backing that decision. At our best in this tournament, we have been getting guys in and getting lots of runs but it didn't happen [today]"
England had dominated the group stages, but they hadn't really faced quality slow bowling yet. Today Sri Lanka tested them with two left-arm spinners in Thilan Nimesh and Damitha Silva, a legspinner in Hasaranga, offspinners in Charith Asalanka and Shammu Ashan and in Kamindu Mendis, both an offbreak bowler and a left-arm spinner. It was this variety that contributed eight wickets - although ball that had Callum Taylor lbw had pitched outside leg - and an easy target for their batsmen to chase.
However, their tournament has had several success stories. Dan Lawrence had hit 172 to start his campaign. Burnham struck back-to-back centuries. Fast bowler Saqib Mahmood is the top-wicket taker at present and the loop, turn and dip in Mason Crane's legspin has turned more than a few heads.
On the day it mattered most, though, Taylor and his team were not at the top of their form. "I genuinely believed we just had an off day," he said. We played a lot better in the group stages with bat and ball. We were here to win the tournament so of course it is disappointing."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84