Cook’s Torment continues unabated

Vic Marks in The Guardian, December 2014,, where the title is “Kumar Sangakkara stars as Sri Lanka crush England to seal series”

The torment of Alastair Cook intensified under the Sri Lankan sun, which has had the good grace to make an appearance in the last few days. Here, the captain endured another England defeat, a numbing one by 90 runs, which means that the series is now lost. Sri Lanka are 4-2 up with one more game left, in Colombo on Tuesday. Cook dropped the simplest of catches to allow Kumar Sangakkara to celebrate his last one-day outing a few miles from his birthplace with his 20th ODI century. Then Cook succumbed for one – lbw yet again to a gentle off-break from Sachithra Senanayake – in the first over of England’s reply.

 Sri Lanka v England  Sri Lanka’s Sachithra Senanayake celebrates with captain Angelo Mathews after taking the wicket of England’s captain Alastair Cook. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

“It was a frustrating day all round,” said a grim-faced Cook. “Days like this don’t make the job any easier.” Inevitably he was asked whether he would be leading England in the World Cup. His reply was monosyllabic. It was “Yes.” He acknowledged: “Dropping that catch was the turning-point; there is no hiding from that.” When reminded that many prominent figures are calling for him to be replaced as captain he said: “Fortunately I’m not on social media and the internet is not great here.”

After signs of a few green shoots in the past week, England delivered another horror show, their second in six matches out here. They were lacklustre and error-strewn in the field and hapless with the bat in Sangakkara’s backyard. Consequently, they were incapable of denying the local hero a most memorable farewell. Sangakkara confirmed that this would be his last ODI series in Sri Lanka; he might play two more Test series next year and he confirmed that he was hoping to play for Surrey next summer.

It all started so promisingly for England. Mahela Jayawardene, promoted up the order, was soon caught at mid-off from the leading edge off Chris Woakes. After 10 overs the score was a modest 27 for one. But neither Sangakkara nor Tillakeratne Dilshan, 688 matches between them, was too bothered about that. They regrouped at their own pace and gradually the run rate increased.

The critical moment came in the 24th over, the first bowled by Ravi Bopara. For once Sangakkara drove loosely and the ball looped to Cook at mid-off at shin height. To say that most members of the Observer’s occasional cricket XI would have caught this catch highlights how straightforward it was. Cook spilt it. Sangakkara, on 41 at the time, would not make any more mistakes until he had reached three figures.

There would be more blemishes in England’s worst fielding display of the tour. The ball seldom stuck in the hand if there was a run-out chance; throws at the stumps only hit when the batsmen were yards in and there would be one other mishap that would have schoolboys suing if it was described as one of their errors. A top edge from Seekkuge Prasanna was looping gently towards James Taylor at short fine leg. However, Jos Buttler ended up trying to catch the ball, sprinting backwards then diving desperately for the ball, which barely touched his gloves. The next two deliveries went for six and four, highlighting England’s ineptitude.

While Sangakkara cruised along, hitting some wonderfully precise lofted drives against Moeen Ali, Dilshan, by his own standards, was pedestrian. He did not time the ball as crisply as usual yet his 68 would be a vital contribution in the 153-run partnership with Sangakkara.

Eventually, Dilshan was caught at long-on off James Tredwell but the Sri Lanka innings never lost its momentum. As ever there were some eccentric shots and some eccentric field settings and it was a trial for the bowlers at the end since Sri Lanka had so many wickets in hand in their closing overs. Unlike England.

Cook was lbw to his second ball. Once again the man with 8,423 Test runs was unable to put bat on ball after Senanayake had propelled the gentlest of off-breaks. This time he was on the back foot trying to nurdle the ball on the leg-side. In this series he has been dismissed by an off-spinner in four of his five knocks, in which he has scored 87 runs.

This time Taylor could not prevail, Senanayake from around the wicket beat his outside edge and the ball clipped the off-stump. Otherwise he would have been stumped. Moeen played some sparkling strokes before gloving a snorter from Dilshan. Bopara flickered again, Buttler ran himself out when looking good and Joe Root, after a diligent half-century, attempted the scoop and lost his middle stump in the second over of the powerplay.

A smiling Sangakkara was asked about the pitfalls of captaincy and Cook’s problems. “You have to keep trusting yourself, to relax and get on with the job,” he said. “I’m sure Alastair is strong enough mentally to get over it. Things turn if you keep working hard.”

Simple sense from Sangakkara, but nothing seemed simple for Cook.

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