Sri Lanka v England, 4th ODI, Colombo October 10, 2007

Collingwood's men confound expectations

Toiling with reward: James Anderson and his team-mates have delivered an impressive series win © Getty Images
Some might say it is typical of England that they should finally crack 50-over cricket at precisely the moment that the rest of the world is tiring of the concept. But nevertheless their achievement in Sri Lanka over the past two weeks has been noteworthy in the extreme. Paul Collingwood's men have just completed England's first series victory in the subcontinent since 1987, and overturned the Sri Lankans on home soil for the first time ever.

This result follows on from England's impressive 4-3 home victory against India in September, and is further evidence of the steely streak that has been injected into England's game by Collingwood, their first specialist limited-overs captain since Adam Hollioake (who, coincidentally, was the last man to triumph anywhere in Asia, in Sharjah in 1997-98).

More's the pity, therefore, that England blotted their limited-overs copybook in the World Twenty20 last month. But that side was as experimental as the format itself, with specialist selections such as Darren Maddy and James Kirtley enjoying mixed success on their return to top-level cricket. This squad has brought back men such as Ian Bell, who now exhibits a sense of belonging, and shown the sort of solidity that England's one-day side have lacked ever since Graham Gooch's mob failed to win the World Cup in 1992.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, remember this - Sri Lanka were World Cup finalists in Barbados six months ago, and deservedly so. No other side in that interminable competition was fit to lace the Australians' boots, and even in defeat it's arguable that Sri Lanka contained the best allround bowling attack on show, with the stalwarts Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando allied to the two key impact players, Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan.

Murali of course has been missing from this competition, and without him Sri Lanka have struggled for variation on a selection of stodgy wickets. But Malinga has been mastered almost throughout - his spells have been milked at almost a run a ball, and he's taken no more wickets in the entire series than he managed in four deliveries against South Africa.

Set against such shortcomings, however, is Sri Lanka's formidable record on home soil - which ought to have been worth at least a 2-0 lead. Until the second match at Dambulla, England had not won a single ODI against Sri Lanka at home since 1982, but they were hardly unique in their lack of success. Since 1994, Sri Lanka had lost only two bilateral series out of 11, and dropped only five games in those contests - three to Australia in a hard-fought five-match series in 2003-04, and two to Pakistan in March 2006.

It was Pakistan's superior bowling attack that delivered that last win, and that was the difference between the sides once again. England's pace attack of Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson and Stuart Broad was insuperable, providing pace, hostility and above all, accuracy. The days of Sajid Mahmood, Liam Plunkett and Steve Harmison, whose guileless scatterguns helped Sri Lanka to a crushing 5-0 victory in 2006, seemed a distant and troubling memory.

Between them, Sidebottom, Broad and Anderson kept Sri Lanka's top four completely under wraps - they mustered just 348 runs between them and two half-centuries, which is barely any more than the 286 that Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga added for the first wicket at Headingley in 2006. Between them they ensured that Andrew Flintoff - the pre-series talking-point - was barely worthy of a footnote.

Nor was Flintoff missed for his allround qualities. Graeme Swann's ice-cool return made Monty Panesar an equally redundant topic of conversation, while Collingwood's confidence in his own abilities on Sri Lanka's dead wickets elevated him almost to frontline-seamer status, with five economical wickets at 28.20, more than any of Sri Lanka's bowlers bar Fernando. Even at the lowest reaches of the order, England brimmed with confidence, with Broad and Sidebottom seeing England home in a tense third game at Dambulla.

Sadly for England, their best overseas ODI result in years (leaving aside their astonishing CB Series win against a tired and pre-occupied Australia) comes at precisely the wrong time for anyone to take any interest. The World Cup (50-over or 20-over) is too far over the horizon for any of this to be remembered in the long run, while a World Cup of another kind is currently stealing all column inches back home. But Collingwood and his men will savour this triumph. If 50-over cricket really is in its death throes, then at least they've turned up in time for the wake.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nalin on October 11, 2007, 14:44 GMT

    Sri lanka lost because they did not have a batsmen to bat through the innings. After Sanath and Aravinda no one has contributed more to sri lanka's success than Marvan. Even though his style of batting is totally different to sanath his presence in the middle always helped the team to built a good score more often than not and many of his big scores were contributed to victories. His partnership with Sanath, in ODI's, is one of the best in the world. If you go back to the 2007 world cup, most matches sri lanka won were largely due to the good bowling. So it is very much clear that when Sanath fails more often sri lanka fails in batting. I do not want to mention here the influence of Murali as it is a well known fact. Finally I have to say this, if you take out the performances of Sanath, Murali, Marvan & Vaas in the past 6 years then you have very little to talk.

  • Jai on October 11, 2007, 13:25 GMT

    It amuses me that this column spent considerable time bemoaning the pointlessness of 50 over cricket after England lost the first match to Sri Lanka. If this is true, why would Collingwood care that he has won in such a pointless format? It seems that Mr Miller is advocating that the popularity of 50 over cricket is proportional to English success, which is strange considering the powerhouse of cricket (in terms of money and spectators) is reputed to be in the subcontinent.

  • Ibrahim on October 11, 2007, 12:42 GMT

    England have always been a fine ODI side--they just underrate themselves. It's like another Australian sportsman said, they set up these mental roadblocks by overly criticizing themselves. Before Collingwood's arrival as captain, the English press used to nitpick--even if England won a match, they'd start looking into details such as "did he complete his century?" and "was he there at the finish?" and just downplaying their own side. Take 2006-07--England did a brilliant job coming back from the Ashes whitewash to take the Commonwealth Bank Cup from under the Aussies' noses; not many teams could have done that and any other team would be rapturing about it for years. Not England though--it was like the Fredalo incident gave them an excuse to criticize themselves again, they did it so eagerly.

    By the way, no one besides yourself thinks 50-over cricket is dead, Mr. Miller. If you don't like it, don't watch it--grow up.

  • Chhimi on October 11, 2007, 10:11 GMT

    Sri Lanka are awesome at home, but if I remember correctly, when Australia won in Sri Lanka it was not a hard fought series. They won the first 3 matches and then rested key players and gave others in the squad a go in a dead series.

    As much as England confounded expectations, they should not get ahead of themselves because if they lose the test series this will be forever forgotten. Also, why is England's win in Bangladesh not counted as a win on the subcontinent?

  • Andrew on October 11, 2007, 9:21 GMT

    These wins - laudable though they are - still don't give me much hope of England overhauling 300 in good batting conditions. All of these matches have been attritional and England have adapted well - considerably better than the home side. Pietersen (and an in-form Freddie) excepted, England don't really have the power to clear the boundary in the same way as Gilchrist, Gayle, Dhoni etc.

  • Nathan on October 11, 2007, 8:13 GMT

    I assume the author has surveyed the majority of the cricket following world before coming up with statements such as 'the rest of the world is tiring of the (50 over game) concept'. If not then he is using his opinion and perception and passing it off as fact, and rarely are facts and a journalist's perception the same thing. Most people that I have spoken to, in Australia and abroad, still prefer the 50 over format. It seems to me that the majority of people who prefer 20/20 are people new to the game who have not been brought up watching tests or 50 over games, people with limited attention spans, and the english. How audacious and arrogant of the author of this article to presume to speak for the entire cricketing community!

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