At least Trott gets it
Mirages are best known for appearing in the desert but midway through another sizzling day, one appeared in the middle of the Galle stadium. It seemed that England had a chance to begin atoning for a dire start to their Test year by achieving a record fourth-innings run chase. Then, however, just like reaching the water and finding it is not there at all, that chance vanished in the blink of an eye.
With Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior taking their controlled fifth-wicket stand to 81, England had almost pushed their requirement into double figures. Then a moment of huge misfortune as Prior swept firmly and short leg managed to cling on in his midriff. It is the sort of blow that can change a match and England conspired to lose their last six wickets for 31 in another dismal collapse. While Prior can rightly rue his misfortune there was, for the eighth innings in a row, some highly questionable batting against worthy, but far from lethal, spin bowling.
But take nothing away from Sri Lanka, this was a hugely impressive victory for them and suggests they are coming to terms with life beyond Murali. Mahela Jayawardene stayed calm as the required runs were ticked off steadily, knowing that with England in their current state one wicket could open the floodgates. It came in an unorthodox manner, but he was proven to be exactly right.
It is the first time since 2006-07 that England had suffered four consecutive Test defeats and unless they can conjure a turnaround in Colombo - where conditions are likely to be quite similar to Galle - they will match their run from the Ashes whitewash. That series was Duncan Fletcher's last Test assignment and though there is no question of Andy Flower going the same way even with a 2-0 defeat in Sri Lanka the start to 2012 has shown up some stark home truths for England. In Asia they remain a very poor batting team.
You could even argue that the current run is worse than the nadir they hit against India in 1992-93 when they were whitewashed 3-0. During that era the England team did not have the millions spent on it for preparation and training they do these days. They also had little regular exposure to the subcontinent. Nowadays players are given every chance to prepare in foreign conditions and tours are far more regular. Despite that England's batting in these conditions has come nowhere since they were last here in 2007.
When asked about whether England had a terminal problem, Mahela Jayawardene tried to be diplomatic. "They have lost four Tests in a row in these conditions against spinners so maybe, yes. It's about adapting I guess," he said. "It's all about conditions. They dictate things, it's not just the spin bowling it's how you play in certain conditions.
"It's been tough. Even though we beat them last time here it wasn't easy and today was nothing different. We had to work hard, so rather talking about England and how they can improve I'd rather talk about us getting better."
Trott showed what was possible by finally registering England's first Test hundred of 2012. It was an innings as masterful as Mahela Jayawardene's 180 in the first innings. In terms of elegance at the crease Trott and Jayawardene are not in the same bracket but that is of no significance apart from aesthetics. Instead of hoicking to midwicket like Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen or driving to cover like Samit Patel, Trott knuckled down and played to his strengths, learning from his mistake in the first innings when he was stumped and left lying on his back fearing a neck injury after a collision with wicketkeeper.
"Jonathan Trott's innings in particular was a huge exhibition of skill, technique and application and he certainly didn't deserve to be on the losing side," Andrew Strauss said. "Generally we left ourselves with too much to do in the fourth innings and that was a result of too many mistakes earlier in the game both in the field and with the bat.
"I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to work out where things have gone wrong. We haven't got scores on the board and you're not going to win too many Test matches if that is the case. I thought we showed in the second innings that technically and gameplan-wise, there is a lot of skill in our dressing room against spin bowling but we didn't apply ourselves in the right manner in the first innings.
Jayawardene tried to stifle Trott with smart 6-3 leg-side fields that included two catching midwickets. Apart from a couple of early bat-pad shouts against Suraj Randiv, Trott was barely troubled by them until being smartly caught at leg slip by Tillakaratne Dilshan. The blow to firmly seal the demise. Up to then he had flicked, driven, cut and swept (and reverse swept) with more confidence than any England batsman in the last four Tests.
As England pick through another defeat Trott at least gives them a template to work from, not in terms of style - each player will always bat in a different way - but in terms of shot selection and judgement. But whether the others will learn in time for the second Test in Colombo is an entirely different proposition.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo