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Sri Lanka beat England by two runs
Prem Panicker | April 04, 2007 21:13 IST
Last Updated: April 05, 2007 03:29 IST
Sri Lanka took a huge step towards sealing a berth in the semi-finals of the World Cup after scoring a thrilling two-run victory over England in a Super Eights match on Wednesday.
Replying to Sri Lanka's 235 all out, England looked like pulling off victory after Ravi Bopara (52 off 53 balls) and Paul Nixon (42 off 44) put up a partnership of 87 runs to rally the team from a precarious 133 for 6.
But Nixon was dismissed in the 49th over and then Bopara was bowled by Dilhara Fernando with the last ball of the match and England ended up with 233 for eight from their 50 overs.
Sri Lanka have six points while England only two, and now face a tough task of making it among the top four in the Super Eights.
Sri Lanka innings
It is a game both teams want to win. Just how much, was evident in pre-match comments.
England captain Michael Vaughan described the game, somewhat surprisingly, as "the start of our World Cup".
Mahela Jayawardene jumped feet first on that statement, with a relish that almost reprises Arjuna Ranatunga at his vitriolic best: "Every game is a big game, so if they've waited this long to say that this is the time to start their World Cup, I don't know if that's the right way to go about it."
Irrespective of the respective form of both teams and even their relative strengths, the first half of the Sri Lankan innings ended with honors pretty much even.
Michael Vaughan won the toss, under bright sunshine at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, and decided to bowl first. A wicket on which bald patches and grassy ones interlocked in weird patterns that resembled nothing so much as a cut-price Persian carpet may have had something to do with his decision. Or maybe not.
There was some pace and bounce - more bounce than noticeable pace, really - early on, and Sajid Mahmood in particular exploited it to pose questions to the batsmen. While James Anderson stuck to lines and lengths, Mahmood tended to vary things a lot more and, while being more expensive, looked the more threatening as well.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga batted well within themselves at the outset, with Tharanga in particular playing in a fashion contrary to his normal ebullient self. Whether recent failures dampened his ardor, or whether it is part of a predetermined game plan, is indeterminate.
Jayasuriya as always took his time to get a bit of a sighter, then opened out in the 7th over against Anderson. He first rocked back and cracked the bowler up and over point; when Vaughan brought up a fielder to cover that gap, the batsman later in the over went across his stumps, changed the line of a middle stump ball, and flicked to fine leg - from where Vaughan had removed the fielder to populate deep point.
When the batsman then top edged a fierce hook at a Mahmood bouncer, sending the ball over the ropes, it looked like Lanka's premier batsman was beginning to build up a good head of steam. Mahmood applied the brakes two balls later, with a beauty - a quicker delivery, just around off and seaming in to go through Jayasuriya's defensive push and crash into the off stump (25/26; 37/1).
Tharanga and Sangakkara settled down to tick the board over at a relaxed pace, almost exclusively through well judged singles. It was a curious passage of play, that seemed to suggest Sri Lanka had a fair idea of the kind of total they felt they needed - and it was nowhere near the 300 mark.
Sangakkara fell, in the 19th over, when Mahmood sold him a dummy. What the batsman saw was a wide full toss - a gimme that he sought to massacre square on the off; what he did not see was the split-finger grip on the seam. The Lankan southpaw hit too early at a slower ball and patted it tamely to Paul Collingwood at point (17/33; 69/2).
Mahela Jayawardene, looking more fluent than in recent times, and Tharanga, seemingly unable to buy a run for love or money (the last five-over period has produced a mere 3 runs), took the team to the halfway mark on 103/2. Not much in terms of runs, but Chamara Silva, Tillekeratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold are capable of late acceleration, and will likely need to weigh in during the second half, in a big way.
At this stage, you are reminded again of Vaughan's pre-match comments: "We've proved over the months," said the England skipper, "that if we do turn up and play, we can be a match for any side in the world. But we're going to have to raise our performance compared to what we have had already in this tournament."
It's a somewhat bizarre way of phrasing it, suggesting among other things that often, England just does not turn up to play. Whatever - thus far, they have turned up, and it has been all good. Tight bowling, committed fielding and sharp captaincy has contributed to England taking a good grip on the game thus far.
Sri Lanka are nowhere close to where they normally like to be in terms of run-rates, with Tharanga's go-slow one of the prime reasons. Against that, the two batsmen look reasonably relaxed out there, as if they know what they are doing, where they are headed. The second half of this innings will tell us if that is for real.
Progression: Overs 1 - 25
5 overs: 19/0 @ 3.93 (Jayasuriya 11/12; Tharanga 7/19)
10 overs: 44/1 @ 4.40 (Tharanga 15/32; Sangakkara 2/3)
15 overs: 60/1 @ 4.00 (Tharanga 19/44; Sangakkara 11/22)
20 overs: 80/2 @ 4.00 (Tharanga 23/54; Jayawardene 8/10)
25 overs: 103/2 @ 4.1 (Tharanga 26/31; Jayawardene 26/31)
Overs 26 - 50
From around the 30-over mark, Sri Lanka began to pick up the pace, almost imperceptibly - yet, in keeping with the mood of the entire innings, the idea seemed to be to eschew risk.
Jayawardene and Tharanga ran quick singles, bustled about to disrupt the lengths of the bowlers, and tapped runs on to the board at a rate of close to seven an over.
Just when it looked like the batting team had regained the initiative, Michael Vaughan in a good bit of captaincy brought back Freddy Flintoff in place of Monty Panesar, who went for 31 in his first five.
The bowler went around the wicket, got cracked to third man for four, then produced a bouncer that lured Tharanga into the pull but kept climbing on him, forcing the top edge to Pietersen at mid on (62/103; 160/3; 91-run partnership).
It was a totally uncharacteristic knock. While it did help set up a platform, 60 dot balls in 103 faced seemed a touch excessive; the team's overall run rate suffered thanks to his inability to rotate strike for large chunks of his innings.
Jayawardene, who in this innings batted close to his fluent best, fell just when he was looking to really open out. He whaled into a ball slightly short in length, angling to off; the attempt to hit against the angle of the ball came a cropper as he holed out to Ed Joyce at midwicket 56/61; 175/4).
This World Cup has, just every now and again, produced the outstanding bit of fielding that has turned matches on its head. Here, it was Ian Bell's turn - in the 43rd over, Chamara Silva drove to cover, Bell dived, stopped, recovered and, with one stump to hit, hit it clean to catch Dilshan out of his ground (5/6; 193/5).
Sri Lanka's innings assumed inexplicable proportions around this period - when the need was for a push, Lanka ambled, seemingly in no particular hurry to get anyplace. The England bowlers, operating without the sort of pressure you expect at the death, held their lines very well; Vaughan helped the good work along by keeping enough men in the ring to prevent a rapid turnover of strike.
Flintoff, who had bowled well throughout the day, came back for his final spell in the 46th, and removed Chamara Silva with his first ball - a superb yorker at pace, bowled from wide of the crease and angling into the base of middle stump (24/37; 215/6).
Worse was to follow, when Chaminda Vaas pushed at a Flintoff delivery, later in the same over, and Paul Collingwood at backward point (his positioning there was another good bit of work by Vaughan, who on the day didn't miss much at all) dived to his right, hand fully outstretched, and took a beauty (4/5; 219/7).
In the final over of the innings, Mahmood began by banging one down; Malinga swiveled into a hook, merely managed a top edge, and Paul Nixon ran a long way back to hold (2/7; 219/7). Two deliveries later, Arnold flicked a full toss out on the on - great timing, but didn't really put power into it, and the lofted shot went straight to Ed Joyce, close to the line at midwicket (20/22; 231/9).
A run out off the last ball meant Sri Lanka were bowled out for 235 in the allotted 50 overs.
On the day, England turned up for the match in force; ironically, it was the Sri Lankans who seemed inexplicably well below their best. On balance, its closing score is a good 30 runs, maybe ten more, below where it needed to be, on this track, against this opposition - then again, Sri Lanka believes it has a well rounded, all-weather bowling attack, and will look to the bowlers to pull this one out of the fire.
England earned brownie points after a lackluster performance in the Cup thus far - from Vaughan's captaincy both in terms of field placing and bowling changes, to the fielders, catchers and bowlers, everyone turned up and were switched on, in a highly professional performance.
Progression: 26-50 overs
30 overs: 132/2 @ 4.40 (Tharanga 45/81; Jayawardene 37/43)
35 overs: 161/3 @ 4.60 (Jayawardene 48/50; Chamara Silva 0/1)
40 overs: 183/4 @ 4.57 (Silva 12/18; Dilshan 1/2)
45 overs: 209/5 @ 4.64 (Arnold 13/11; Silva 21/33)
High drama at the start, then a punchy counter-attack: the first half of the England chase has turned out to be reasonably high voltage.
Michael Vaughan went early, and a touch fortuitously. Sangakkara called for the helmet, came up to the stumps, and to the very next ball, Vaas sent one down the leg side that Vaughan tried to flick. The keeper took, there was an appeal, and Billy Bowden after some thought raised his finger.
Thus much is clear. What is not, is whether Vaughan got a touch. He looked unhappy, but that is not in itself indicative. There was a faint noise audible as the ball went through, which is a better indicator. But no major spikes showed up on the snickometer - it was all a bit iffy, and Vaughan could with reason count himself unlucky (0/3; 1/1).
There was no doubt about the next dismissal. Lasith Malinga sent down a ball at top pace, on a full length and Ed Joyce, playing at it without much movement of the feet, was beaten for pace and a fraction of late movement, and nailed in front 10/21; 11/2).
Kevin Pietersen took a while to settle down, but began turning it on in the 11th - with Vaas, unusually expensive on the day, as the primary target (while on that, it seems a trend during this World Cup for rival batsmen to target opening bowlers who are good with seam and swing, but not right up there with pace - Pollock, McGrath, now Vaas.).
`KP' first blased Vaas square with a searing drive, then produced a stand and deliver strike, leaning his weight back after coming onto the front foot, and hoisting Vaas back over his head, and over the straight boundary for his first six.
Once he got those two good strikes in, Pietersen changed up the gears, tapping singles, blazing the ball into and through the outfield, and providing an aggressive edge to the England innings. Bell, circumspect till then, eased into the KP slipstream and coasted along, running hard (if occasionally riskily), producing the occasional boundary with sweet timing square on the off, and helping to keep the run rate ahead of the requirement.
For Sri Lanka, Malinga was unusually disciplined in line and length; at the other end and as unusually, Vaas went for runs bowling both sides of the wicket. Dilhara Fernando, too, was a few notches below his usual effectiveness - and with Muthaiah Muralitharan limping around in the outfield with some unspecified niggle, Jayawardene held back the third power play, and turned to Dilshan and Jayawardene to apply the choke.
The ploy has worked, to a point - the rocketing run rate was reined back (the progression paints the picture) and the England batsmen have been forced to work harder for their singles, while the boundaries have dried up.
Against that, it is the Lankans who need to make something happen - and neither bowler has shown signs of being able to strike. There was one opportunity, when Pietersen drove to mid on and called for the run, Jayawardene dived, stopped, and threw while prone on the ground. Bell was well short of his ground, but the throw was off target, and Sangakkara couldn't reel it in cleanly.
On balance, the advantage is with England - more so, because there is a power play that remains to be taken. In the 25th over, Lanka introduced its trump: Muralitharan, round the wicket to the right handers - and the real battle has been joined.
At the 25 over mark, Sri Lanka were 103/2; England are 100/2, needing 136 more from the second half of the innings. The pitch has gotten a tad slow, but is otherwise behaving itself.
Progression: 1-25 overs
5 overs: 11/1 @ 2.20 (Bell 1/8; Joyce 10/19)
10 overs: 33/2 @ 3.30 (Bell 9/19; Pietersen 14/17)
15 overs: 69/2 @ 4.60 (Bell 32/42; Pietersen 27/24)
20 overs: 84/2 @ 4.20 (Bell 39/56; Pietersen 35/40)
25 overs: 100/2 @ 4.00 (Bell 46/70; Pietersen 44/56)
Overs 26 - 50
Watching a master spinner operate against an attacking batsman has to be one of the pure pleasures of cricket, even in the shortened variety.
The contest was shaping up into a battle of wills between Murali and Pietersen - and by way of heightening the drama, the entry of one of the protagonists was delayed for a long time. Murali limped around in the outfield during the first half of the England chase.
During that phase, it was all Pietersen with the bat, and Jayawardene with his captaincy. He knew when to delay his powerplay; having made the decision, he brought on two part time spinners and set the field with one objective: to rein in the run-scoring.
That was accomplished, and Jayasuriya provided an unexpected bonus in the second ball of the 26th, when he ran out Ian Bell. Pietersen drove straight, Jayasuriya flicked it back into the stumps, and Bell, who had hastily grounded his bat, was desperately unlucky in that the bat hit the ground, and bounced, just as the ball crashed into the stumps (47/71; 101/3).
Bell had played a very good hand, backing Pietersen's heroics and keeping his end going, with occasional glimpses of flair.
Having gotten the breathing space he wanted, Jayawardene swung into the attack, bringing on his master spinner and signaling the power play. That set up the battle royale: Murali went around the crease, and in his first over was unlucky to have an LBW shout against Pietersen go the other way.
That mode of dismissal has become one of the current favorites for the offie: he goes around, bowls an off spinner, bowls a doosra or two, mixes it all up and then drifts one in the air, angling from off to off and middle across the right hander, pitching, and straightening to nail his man plumb.
With a slip and a silly point backing him - again, Jayawardene right on the money there - Murali bowled a masterly spell. Pietersen faced 14 deliveries; try as he could, he couldn't get the spinner away, and 11 were dots. There was one brief flourish, when he went a long way across and swept through midwicket, but there was not much conviction in the shot.
Murali first concentrated on strangling the batsmen, his first three overs including a maiden, and going for just four runs. He then decided to change things around, and came back over the wicket, posing an entirely new set of problems.
A couple of big turning off spinners, then the doosra - and Pietersen, looking to turn the off break off his pads, misread the other one, got the leading edge, and Murali on the follow through stayed low, and held (58/80; 126/4).
Pietersen had, yet again, commanded against pace, got off the blocks with effortless ease, before being stymied by some very accurate bowling. He had gotten his team back into the game, but yet again, he left without being able to seal the deal.
The wicket put the skids under England - and Jayawardene continued to demonstrate his rapid improvement as a captain. He had earlier brought on Malinga, who jolted Pietersen with two scorching yorkers before losing the plot a bit and being cracked for two boundaries by Collingwood. Jayawardene immediately pulled him off, and brought the steady Fernando on.
In the 34th over, Fernando struck - hard, and twice. The first ball of the over was the slower one; Flintoff looked to loft over the infield, misread the change down in pace, and holed out to Malinga, at the end of the circle at mid on (2/7; 133/5).
Two balls later, Fernando went the other way - he ratcheted up his pace, beat Collingwood with the extra speed, and nailed him plumb in front of middle stump (14/20; 133/6). Collingwood had, in the previous over, danced down beautifully to drive Murali inside out through wide mid off, and was looking in touch, his dismissal, and an asking rate that had climbed above 6 rpo again, put England on the back foot.
Nixon, who reverse sweeps so often it is like a right hander playing, and Ravi Bopara, a busy, if unspectacular, batsman who brings to the batting crease the calm demeanor, and even some of the mannerisms, of Robin Singh took England to the 40 over mark on 159/6 (Sri Lanka at this point, 183/4), needing 77 from the last ten.
It is the kind of thing Lanka revels in - choking the life out of chasing teams; they have the method down to a T, and began employing it by rote: Murali, Malinga, Dilshan, Malinga, Murali - rapid rotation of bowlers to keep the batsmen from targeting any one in particular, and after 45, the ask was 49 off 30.
Much of the credit for keeping England in the game during the first half of the slog belongs to Bopara, who in his first extended hit in the middle looked to have a very cool head under pressure. He ticked the runs over and, at least once an over, produced the four that kept the game on.
Nixon, at the other end, was one of those pesky players that put you off your game - he reverse sweeps, he walks across his stumps and, on more than one occasion, he strolled down the track like he was taking a constitutional, each of these moves upsetting the rhythm of bowlers and forcing errors, that he was quick to cash in on.
The two did enough to ensure that England never really was out of the chase. It was the classic standoff; something had to give and, incredibly, it was Murali, in the 48th. Nixon first reverse swept him for a stunning six, something you could have bet was a physical impossibility given the long square boundary, then reversed again and got four more. It testifies to the pressure that even Murali, with all his experience, having seen Nixon reverse time and again, did not go around the wicket to the left hander to change the angle and defeat the shot. 13 runs came in the 48th, leaving England needing 19 from 12.
And then, Malinga broke through. The first two balls, yorkers both, could only be worked for singles. Bopara stepped away to make something of the third, but Malinga saw him and swung it wide and out of reach. The fourth produced another single, and the ask was going up too quickly. Nixon tried to break free, giving himself room and looking to hoist straight; Malinga's speed and late swing meant he only got the toe of the bat to the ball, put it up high in the air, and was held by Jayawardene at cover (42/44; 220/7; partnership 87 at 5.67).
It was a combative innings, coming at a time when England's finest had tamely given up the battle; it stopped just short of hauling the team across the finish line. Bopara, however, created more hope, showing incredible cool in stepping away from his crease, going down on his knee to get low to the line, and smashing the last ball of the Malinga over through point for four (12 needed off the last 6).
The first ball of Fernando's last over produced a single to Sajid Mahmood. The next ball was paddled, superbly (imagine the calm it took to play that shot, then) by Bopara over the head of short fine leg, to the fence. Ball three was driven to wide mid off; two more and Bopara reached his 51 off 51 balls, but no one noticed.
The fourth was slammed through cover - but found the sweeper, and just the one, leaving Mahmood to get four from the last two. The batsman edged onto pad, they scrambled the single, and it was done to three off the last ball.
Fernando ran in, went through the delivery stride, and held on to the ball - the tension had gotten to him, he figured he wasn't ready, and had the steady head to abort the release.
In he came again - and bowled straight, fullish, quick. Bopara had backed away looking for the slash through point; the flailing bat missed, and the off stump went back to end Bopara's brilliant innings, and England's hopes, off the very last ball.
The Bopara-Nixon fightback must have served as a wake-up call for England - its higher rated players have sleep-walked through this tournament thus far. In this game, Sri Lanka was vulnerable - it hadn't put enough runs on the board, and England had the platform in place. You could credit England for mounting an improbable fightback, or Sri Lanka for managing to hold its nerve as the tension ratcheted up.
The pre-game favorites won - but more, so did the World Cup, for it finally got a game that deserved the big stage.
Progression: 26-50 overs
30 overs: 121/3 @ 4.03 (Pietersen 54/76; Collingwood 8/10)
35 overs: 138/6 @ 3.94 (Nixon 3/6; Bopara 1/3)
40 overs: 159/6 @ 3.97 (Nixon 11/20; Bopara 12/19)
45 overs: 187/6 @ 4.15 (Nixon 19/32; Bopara 31/37)
The Cup: The Complete Coverage
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