England – by general agreement the best one-day team in the world – were badly beaten in Colombo on Tuesday, having already comfortably won the five-match rain-affected series. Should we, therefore, concede to them the excuse of mental detachment from the task at hand? Even those ruthless Mark Taylor/Steve Waugh-driven Australian teams were guilty of defeat at the hands of teams they had dismissed with contempt while the contest was “live”. Mainly, this sort of lackluster performance is the result of the subconscious; you think you’re all in but you’re not, you’re cruising. Cruising never won the much international sport. Defeat is a reminder of small margins.
You might have won easily but to do so, you have had to play at somewhere near your best. When you fail to do so, the gap between you and the opponent is not so wide as you have made it appear and the rebound can be embarrassing. In short, the only way to keep your foot on the enemy’s throat is to keep your foot on the enemy’s throat. Anything less and you get what England got – a sharp reminder of mortality.