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Sangakkara slams 'appalling' fielding

Nuwan Kulasekara bends his back Associated Press

After such an ebullient start, Sri Lanka have somehow pushed themselves to the very brink of this tournament, with a little help from England and New Zealand. Their 38-run loss today to New Zealand to end their group phase now means their fate is in the hands of others; having kick-started the Champions Trophy with a wonderful opening-day win against the hosts South Africa, it is a fate not many expected to befall them. Little about this tournament has been easy to predict.

Sri Lanka gave the game away in many areas today. Having dropped Muttiah Muralitharan and brought in Thilan Thushara, their new-ball pair began poorly. After getting back into it at 161 for 5, again the bowlers threw it away, though Kumar Sangakkara directed his gaze elsewhere.

Though widely considered the best fielding side in Asia, Sangakkara thought his men were "appalling" in the field and have not been much better over the last few months. "A real minus is our fielding. It has been sometimes appalling and not up to international standard. So we've got a lot of work to do to compete. That will be a real bugbear in the next tournaments. Individuals must take responsibility. The real difference between the sides will be fielding," said Sangakkara.

In hindsight there will be other concerns. Sri Lanka's pace bowling - which was to be their trump card - was unable to adjust to conditions in South Africa and their start and finish to New Zealand's innings was poor. Nuwan Kulasekera and Thushara, so lethal in home conditions, have failed to translate that form here.

"It probably has to do with the lengths we have to bowl here," Sangakkara said. "We have played a lot of cricket at home where lengths are different. Here we have to go back to basics and see, especially with our fast bowling, where the right lengths are and also how to hit them with aggression. Unfortunately most of our bowlers aren't the tallest but at the same time they are quality bowlers. We have to adapt."

Chief among the strugglers was Lasith Malinga, who went for 85 runs in his ten overs and whose poor mid-innings spell allowed New Zealand to bring themselves back in the game, from 161 for 5. "The skiddy length he bowls in the subcontinent, the ball doesn't skid here, it holds up. This was not a quick track, it's got carry but it has tennis ball bounce. We need to hit the deck rather than just run in and drop it on the spot."

Sri Lanka's batsmen also gave away starts, none more so than the opening pair, who kept them up with the rate initially. By that time the wicket wasn't so difficult to bat on, as Mahela Jayawardene and Kulasekara's first fifty proved, and certainly lacked the assistance that had prompted Sangakkara to bowl first. But ultimately there weren't enough partnerships all of which requires Sri Lanka to wait on other results and hope to improve all three aspects of their game.

"Mathematics can be peculiar," said Sangakkara. "If England win all games with healthy margins we've probably got an outside chance to come in. But it's not nice to wait to see which side loses and depend on run-rates. We should've put it away today and we didn't. We got outplayed. All three departments we have a lot of brushing up to do. We had lots of individual performances but as a team we need to brush up."