A master class in Sri Lankan batting and a superb bit of forward thinking from the islanders ensured that the jamboree cricket tournament in England kept its flair and excitement after a damp squib between Australia and New Zealand ruined the fun on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka outclassed England to clinch a seven-wicket win as they chased down 294 with 17 balls still remaining to ensure that all the teams from Group A can still qualify for the semi-final of the competition.
Kumar Sangakkara hit an unbeaten century, while Nuwan Kulasekara hit 58 off 38 after being promoted up the order as a pinch-hitter to seal a remarkable win for a side who were written off at the start of the competition.
As superb as the Sri Lankan batting was, England’s bowling was equally poor, if not worse. The grit they’d shown at Edgbaston had seemingly disintegrated and the ghost of it had turned up to laugh in their face. With all the Sri Lankan batsmen making a fool of England’s pace, the hosts had forgotten that the slower ball existed in their arsenal and they paid the price.
The Sri Lankan danger men came together and clicked for the first time in the tournament with Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara all putting on such a superb show of batting that even England’s bowlers might have wanted to stand and applaud.
While the top order all pulled their weight, it was Sangakkara who stood out. It wasn’t that Sangakkara was superb as much as he was simply spell-binding, leaving everyone – including the opposition – in such awe of his skills that there might have been phases where the pain from the twisting dagger of defeat was briefly forgotten.
Sri Lanka had won the toss and elected to bowl first and managed an early breakthrough, but failed to take regular wickets early on and allowed England to get ahead of scoring just a little bit.
It was Ian Bell who was the first to depart and as delicate as he had been in his previous innings against Australia, he was the exact opposite on Thursday, with his innings lasting just 37 balls before he was put out of his misery by Shaminda Eranga. And if that was going to be the tone of the afternoon, everybody who had turned up at The Oval was in for a dreadful day out.
Fortunately for patrons and press alike, the destiny of their entertainment didn’t depend on Bell and Alastair Cook was there to speed up the afternoon, helped along by Tillakaratne Dilshan who dropped the English skipper thrice as the hosts pottered along at a steady pace.
The captain reached his 50 off 72 balls, but managed just a further nine runs before the English sweeping sickness reared its head once more and he was sent on his way too.
Cook, sweeping off Rangana Herath, was trapped leg-before and despite a review, his lot was to march back to the dressing room. But the foundation had been laid and the brickwork was beginning to build.
Jonathan Trott, batting well above his usual strike rate, had also contributed a 50 before he too was doomed to the sweeping illness that had gripped the English in foreign conditions about a year ago.
Joe Root, who continues to prove that he’s wise beyond his experience, could do nothing but look on as the score slipped to 218-3 after 42 overs. The young Yorkshireman followed in the footsteps of his senior top-order men and notched up a 50 before he too departed and the imminent English collapse was in full flow.
The hosts collapsed, losing five wickets for just 36 runs and it was only a late lesson in slogging through the line from Ravi Bopara that lifted them to 293-7 in 50 overs.
Bopara’s knock was, for all intents and purposes, grotesque. Thick edges flew to the ropes with gay abandon and his general disregard for any sort of elegant shot would leave many a Test-match fundamentalist turning in their graves.
In terms of the state of the match, though, it was pure genius. His unbeaten 33 off 13, including three sixes and two fours, was a lesson in how to go out swinging. Managing to get close to 300 looked a good score at the end of the innings, but when ordinary meets extraordinary, there’s bound to be fireworks.
Sri Lanka’s chase got off to much the same start as England’s, with opening batsman Kusala Perera departing for six off 11, but England were soon to be left breathless as a Sri Lankan quartet holding more than 1,000 caps between them came to the party.
It was Dilshan who first set the tone with 44 off 56 and Jayewardene with his 42 off 43 did well alongside Sangakkara. But it was the former skipper who left England breathless with an unbeaten 134 off 135 balls, in a knock that will surely go down as one of the classiest of his career.
The former skipper also credited the way Kulasekara played in his pinch-hitting role. While decisions like promoting players up the order can often combust, he applied himself superbly, especially during the power play and it was another reminder of the brand of cricket Sri Lanka are capable of playing.
It’s fearless, it’s breathless and it’s pretty damn entertaining on the days that it comes off. DM
Photo: Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara hits out watched by England’s Jos Buttler during the ICC Champions Trophy group A match at The Oval cricket ground in London June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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