England are in tatters after compounding a shocking day of sterile tactics and poor bowling with a dire batting display, says Mike Atherton.
Set a victory target of 350, Alastair Cook’s side closed day four of the second Test at Headingley in disarray on 57-5, routed by Dhammika Prasad's 4-15.
The seamer’s salvo ensured that skipper Angelo Mathews’ five-hour 160, which propelled Sri Lanka up to 457 in their second innings, achieved maximum impact.
And former England captain Atherton told Sky Sports that the home side only had themselves to blame for focusing on dislodging stubborn number nine Rangana Herath (48) rather than showing more adventure and striving to dislodge Mathews.
“Sri Lanka have been outstanding – they’ve had a great day today, helped by a shocking day for England,” reflected Atherton.
“Most of the focus will be on the first five hours of the day, as opposed to the final hour, because by the time the final hour came England had to chase more runs than has ever been chased before in the fourth innings by England – and more than ever before at Headingley – so history is very much against them.
“They fluffed it in that final hour but the damage had been done beforehand through a combination of sterile tactics and poor bowling.
“England were repetitive against Mathews, continually setting the field deep and not trying to get him out but concentrating on Herath. They didn’t bowl Moeen Ali for 90 minutes at Herath, when he’s just got two left-handers out the night before, and there was some poor bowling as well with the new ball.
“It just seemed like they were hypnotised, doing the same thing over and over again hoping that they would come up with a different result – setting the field back for Mathews, not trying to get ehim out, and trying to get Herath on strike; but Herath only faced 82 balls in the best part of three hours.
“Mathews farmed the majority of the strike as best he could. Mathews is an easy man to underestimate because you’ve got Sangakkara and Jayawardene in the side, who are great players, and he doesn’t play in a typically Sri Lankan way with wristy shots and flair and then he bowls quite humdrum medium pace but he’s been an absolute rock on this tour.
England batsman Ian Bell – bowled by a beauty from Prasad that cut back through the gate – said: "From the position we were in - we were outstanding for the first two days - we should be better” and Atherton was in full agreement.
“England will go to dinner tonight wondering ‘how the hell are we in this position?’. If you think about it, they gave Kumar Sangakkara four lives on the way to 79 in the first innings; they should have run him out before he’d scored and then they dropped him three times.
“So they could have bowled Sri Lanka out for 150 and not 250 and they themselves were 311-3 at the point Ian Bell got out on the second evening and then 365 all out. So the differential between the sides after that first innings could have – and should have – been greater.
“That was compounded today by an absolutely shocking day in the field and with the ball throughout those three hours when Mathews and Herath were playing beautifully. England were appalling and that compounded the earlier errors and that’s why England are in the position that they are in.
“They were in tatters tonight with the bat but the damage had kind of been done before that.”
See if Sri Lanka can claim a famous Test and series victory over England from 10.30am on Sky Sports 2 on Tuesday.