Jayawardene accuses England of giving up
England's hopes of squaring their series against Sri Lanka are all but over, after an abject second-day surrender at Galle. The city's seventeenth-century walls have withstood mightier invaders than have been on display these past two days, and by the close of play, England's tormentor-in-chief, Mahela Jayawardene, had taken to goading them from the ramparts. Not content with locking them out of the contest with a steadfast and brilliant 149 not out, he accused them afterwards of lacking the will to win.
"At times I felt they came hard at us but then gave up pretty easily," said Jayawardene. "I was surprised. When you're one-down you should try to attack more and create more opportunities. But they were a bit negative with their over-rates so I knew they were not pushing us that much. We took that advantage away from them and put the pressure back on them, which happens when a side is in a negative frame of mind. It's quite easy to push for a win now."
At 147 for 4 overnight, Sri Lanka's position at the start of play was precarious. England had not bowled especially well on the opening day, but they papered over their inadequacies by showing great heart in sapping heat. Second-time around, in cooler conditions and beneath heavy cloud cover, they capitulated. Thanks to an overnight tropical storm, the ball zipped around in the first session much as it had done on the first morning, and it remained playful all day long. But England's only breakthroughs came via Ravi Bopara in a pre-tea giveaway.
"We batted through some difficult conditions," said Jayawardene. "We were in a bit of a bother last night, so my target was to get Sri Lanka out of a dangerous situation and take the game away from England. The wicket still had quite a bit even when Ryan [Sidebottom] was bowling with a 70-over old ball, but they didn't bowl that straight to me so I managed to be pretty patient. With the movement on this pitch you can create opportunities, and hopefully our guys will be better than that."
A spate of dropped catches undermined England's efforts, but the bottom line was that they were not equal to the challenge that Jayawardene posed. "We've no complaints," said their coach, Peter Moores. "The pitch has done enough for us to bowl them out, we just haven't bowled well enough. We went chasing wickets, got a bit too full and weren't consistent enough. And we've had chances and we missed them."
The first of those opportunities came as early as the tenth ball of the day, when Alastair Cook failed to cling onto a sharp chance in the gully, and things went steadily downhill from there. Matt Prior endured another rough day with two misses diving to his right, taking England's series tally of misses in the slip cordon to six. A wealth of expertise in that area has been lost in recent months - Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss were permanent features in Duncan Fletcher's heyday - but nevertheless, Moores admitted that the quality of his team's close catching was a growing concern.
"We've been working very hard on our fielding full stop, and we've made some reasonably good moves, but it takes time to improve when you change people," he said. "We've lost some of our natural slippers like Fred [Flintoff], but it's an ongoing thing. The ECB have signed a fielding coach [Richard Halsall] because we know it's something we have to address, not just at international level but all the way down. It's a key area of top-flight sport, and we're not hiding from that fact. When you drop a catch it's the worst feeling in the world."
However, the fact that England are being asked to comment on such basic areas of their game in the middle of a match emphasises the gulf that has grown between the two teams over the course of this series. England's youthful exuberance kept them in the contest for the first three days at Kandy, but since then Sri Lanka have displayed their greater expertise at every critical juncture. "Sri Lanka are a good team, there's no doubt about that," said Moores. "England are a growing team with lots of changes, which is quite exciting. We've got a couple of debutants and we've lost a couple of senior players, that's part of international sport. We've been put through some proper tough cricket and we've got to find some answers."
The first task is to battle through to the end of a tour that, on today's evidence, has already proved tougher than most of the English participants had bargained for. Only Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood have had prior experience of the Galle blast-furnace effect, and after ten hard-fought days at Kandy and Colombo, it was a weary band of cricketers who went through their paces in the field.
"Fifteen days' cricket in 22 is hard work, but we're not into making excuses," said Moores. "You take the good days with the bad days as a sportsman. We always knew it was an intense schedule, but it's the same for both sides, and it's one we signed up for."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo