Honouring the loss of Phillip Hughes

Sri Lanka bowler Thisara Perera celebrates the dismissal of Eoin Morgan. Picture: AP

Sri Lanka bowler Thisara Perera celebrates the dismissal of Eoin Morgan. Picture: AP

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SRI Lanka won the second one-day international comfortably and the history books will record that. However, this match was about more for the players. It was about honouring an opponent, competitor and friend and that is why the result matters less than usual and the fact that the match was played a lot more.

As Phillip Hughes’ funeral arrangements were being announced in Australia, England and Sri Lanka were preparing to play a match. Next week, as the service is going on in Macksville, New South Wales, England and Sri Lanka will be on the pitch. It will be hard for thoughts to remain on the game. Moeen Ali played with Hughes at Worcestershire, Steven Finn and Eoin Morgan with him at Middlesex, the currently injured Sri Lankan talisman, Lasith Malinga, with him at Mumbai Indians and the rest against him in various tournaments around the world.

Brendon McCullum, the New Zealander, opened with him in the Big Bash League and earlier this week delivered the perfect response to his grief, the kind Hughes would have liked, a magnificent double century.

It is fitting that, after a period of grieving, the rest of cricket will get back to the game. Changed certainly, it is difficult not to be, but determined to play the game as he did, hard and with joy.

And when they do England will have some familiar failings to address, namely working spinners around in one-day cricket to keep the scoreboard moving.

Having won the toss and batted, Alastair Cook would have hoped for a better effort than 185, particularly considering the fireworks of the first match when they raced towards 300.

The architect of that chase was Ali and he failed trying to hit Tillikaratne Dilshan over the leg side. It looked the shot of a mind elsewhere. It probably was. Angelo Matthews shrewdly marshalled his bowlers and introduced two spinners into the opening power play which had been reduced to nine overs due to a smattering of rain.

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England, or mostly Cook, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan, faltered. The ball hardly spun and yet a succession of England batsman fretted in the crease, prodding and poking until getting out. Joe Root worked the ball and scored 42 in 57 and Ravi Bopara continued his excellent form, too, with a decent half-century, but too many of the supposed big names are just not good enough in 50-over cricket.

Cook is stilted as soon as pace is off the ball, Bell is struggling for form, but the biggest disappointment is Morgan. He has the mental capacity and range of shot to dominate one-day batting, but he has averaged 17 in his last 12 innings. That is appalling. All that is keeping him in the side currently is memories of his excellent batting in seasons past.

Bopara has been dropped frequently before for such lapses and yet time and time again he proves himself to be an excellent one-day player. Why are players like Bell, Morgan and, dare one say it, the captain, Cook, not treated similarly? There is a confusion in England’s selections and policies and that manifests itself most obviously in the performances.

There is no such indecision in the Sri Lankan side. Finn bowled short first ball and an attempted hook shot was edged high for four. The first two overs brought 17 runs, some good, others not so, but there was an urgency and dynamism to the batting. Bowlers knew they could take wickets, but also knew they were under big pressure.

The start was too good and even though Dilshan and Kusal Perera were dismissed, the old pairing of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene cruised to an easy win. No issues for them rotating the strike or attacking the bad ball. They bat like a surgeon operates, clinically and with precision.

Further analysis of this defeat can wait, though, as what was really important was the friends of Phillip Hughes getting back on the pitch and playing the game he loved.

The next match on Wednesday will be hard for all involved.

Minds need to be cleared and emotions returned to equilibrium.

Only after that can normal service be resumed.

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