England extended their wretched sequence of injuries and form to Twenty20 cricket last night.
Not only were they beaten by a Sri Lankan team who rested their two best bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, but Ed Joyce had to be rushed to hospital after rolling over on his right ankle.
The game had seemed to be tilting towards England when they reached the last over with nine runs needed. But Sri Lankan paceman Dilhara Fernando kept the ball straight and full, and neither Geraint Jones nor debutant Tim Bresnan could produce the big boundary hit that was required.
England's defeat, by two runs, showed the drawbacks of playing a short batting order. The top four were all recognised international batsmen. But in positions five to seven they had two novices in Bresnan and Jamie Dalrymple, plus Jones, whose run supply has dried up.
At least there was some reassuring news from the X-ray machines that scanned Joyce's ankle, and revealed nothing more serious than a bad sprain.
The accident happened on the 12th ball of the match, when an uppercut from Sanath Jayasuriya flew towards the third man boundary. Sprinting to his right, Joyce lost his balance while stretching, and his right ankle turned over.
It was a horrible moment. The ground went eerily silent as Joyce clutched his face, then gesticulated furiously to the dressing room. The game was halted for 12 minutes while the pitch was cleared and the ambulance emerged onto the outfield.
Perhaps England were disconcerted by Joyce's injury, but whatever the reason, they certainly made a poor start. They gave the first over to Bresnan, the 21-year-old Yorkshire all-rounder, who had come into the team as a replacement for another injured newcomer - Glen Chapple was sent back to Lancashire yesterday for treatment on an abdominal strain.
Bresnan started with a sequence of three wides in four balls, and was whipped out of the attack after suffered some withering blows from Jayasuriya. It was much the same story with England's other young cadets, Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood, and at 75 for none in the eighth over, the Sri Lankans were threatening to run away with the game.
Andrew Strauss was in a tight corner, but he opted for the only sensible course: taking the pace off the ball. Paul Collingwood came on, with a repertoire that seemed to consist entirely of slower balls, and picked up outrageous figures: 4-0-22-4.
Despite a couple of middle-order cameos, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 163 on the last ball of the 20th over.
England's reply was over-dependent on Marcus Trescothick, who played slowly at first - at least by the standards of Twenty20 - but struck a fusillade of boundaries in the 17th over to give his side hope. His bizarre run-out, effected by Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakarra, was the key point of the match.
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