England cruised to a comfortable victory between the showers at The Oval on Thursday (May 22), the winning margin of 81 runs not flattering it, as Man of the Match Chris Jordan’s aggression with both bat and ball and Gary Ballance’s composed innings giving England’s new management a successful start in 50-over cricket, with Sri Lanka clearly playing in unfamiliar and unfavourable conditions.
Alastair Cook, back on home territory for England, was comforted to receive respectful applause walking to the crease, having lost the toss and been invited to bat by Angelo Mathews. He was soon feeling even more comforted, having offered a sharp chance to Tillakaratne Dilshan at backward point, the Sri Lanka veteran springing well to his right, but failing to hang on. However, Cook failed to make the tourists pay, chasing a wide one from Nuwan Kulasekara and feathering an edge to Kumar Sangakarra for 11.
In initially benign batting conditions, Sri Lanka’s seamers bowled a disciplined line and length and were met, as often as not, with straight, defensive bats, England showing no inclination to force the pace in the Power Play overs. A scoreboard showing 39 for 1 off the first ten overs suggested that England’s new coach Peter Moores subscribes to the mantra that advocates building a platform for a late assault. Mathews’s rotation of his pacers was good evidence to believe that he was happy to see England go at about four per over, and the match had progressed to the 18th over before Sachithra Senanayake’s spin was introduced.
Almost an hour of nondescript cricket had passed before England showed any aggressive intent, Bell lifting Thisara Perera for the cleanest of straight sixes. That, along with the clouds that began to scud across The Oval beckoning Messrs Duckworth and Lewis forward, spurred England on and the scoring rate was raised above five as Ballance took a single on a misfield that posted three figures in the 20th over.
Bell immediately flicked Mathews to Lasith Malinga, lurking round the corner apparently out of mind as much as out of sight, and the heavens opened with England 101 for 2 off 20.4 overs. Bell, far from his fluent best, had amassed 50 runs from 56 balls and was poised to get his strike rate over 100, so it was another frustrating innings from so gifted a batsmen.
Some two and a half hours later, play resumed, the umpires having decreed that the match was now 39 overs a side, meaning that England had 18.2 overs to get their score up before Duckworth and Lewis would have their say in adjusting Sri Lanka’s target. Eoin Morgan strode out to take the first ball after the resumption, promoted ahead of Joe Root, but he was too keen to get on with it too quickly, tying himself in knots as he played on essaying a cut to a Senanayake delivery that was much too close to him.
Ballance reached a composed half century off 62 balls, making his case to replace Jonathan Trott at No. 3 in ODIs and, just maybe, in Test cricket too. A most un-Trott like six, picking up Suranga Lakmal, showed that he has the weight of shot demanded of today’s one day batsmen too, though he couldn’t get the ball over the head of Dinesh Chandimal at cow corner, gone for a handy 64 off 72. Ballance’s progress will be an interesting sub-plot of England’s summer. Ravi Bopara did not last long, trapped leg before by Sachithra Senanayake.
Bopara’s departure proved a blessing in disguise as it brought Chris Jordan to the crease to join Jos Buttler. They put on 54 in the last 3.3 overs, as the ball disappeared all round South London. Jordan hit five fours and two sixes in his 38 not out from 13 balls and Buttler smashed his one maximum on to the second level of the OCS stand – not something often seen at this grand old ground. A strangely out of sorts Malinga was the main sufferer, his eight overs going for 71, including four wides; Sachithra Senanayake’s full allowance went for just 30, the spinner picking up three wickets too.
England’s 247 for 6 off 39 overs looked a highly competitive score, more so when the Duckworth-Lewis method meant Sri Lanka had to chase down 259. England’s coaching staff will have noticed that the established batsmen (Cook, Bell, Morgan and Bopara) contributed 67 from 88 balls with the new guard (Ballance, Root, Buttler and Jordan) delivering 173 off 146, which bodes well for the future.
In the first over of the reply, Lahiru Thirimanne looked uncomfortable as James Anderson steamed in, moving the ball in and out, so it was no surprise when umpire Rob Bailey raised the finger, the ball ducking back into the left-hander to strike him in front of middle. The Sri Lankan opener compounded matters by using his team’s one review, the umpire’s call on height not sufficient to save him.
Sangakarra was next to go, failing to move his feet and chopping on to the impressive Harry Gurney. That left a significant rebuilding job for old pros Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardena, but nothing they haven’t seen before. Though the asking rate was stiff at over seven, it never got away from the batsmen, so Sri Lanka was always in the game.
The rain returned with the scoreboard showing 60 for 2 (Dilshan 32, Jayawardena 16), Sri Lanka requiring 199 runs off 25.3 overs, England had its nose in front (27 ahead on Duckworth-Lewis), but knew that a couple of good innings would be enough for a successful chase. When play got under way again, seven overs had been shorn from the original 39 and Sri Lanka’s target revised to 226; so it needs 166 off 18.3 overs to go one up in the five-match series. (When England returned after its rain break, it had one ball fewer left in its innings).
Dilshan switched straight into T20 mode but skyed a leading edge off Jordan down to third man, where Balance pouched it easily, and was gone for 33 off 40. That brought Mathews, the current captain, to the crease to join Jayawardena, the former captain, who immediately started looking for boundaries while never losing that trademark elegance. Five days off his 37th birthday, the great Sri Lanka batsman showed no sign of diminishing powers, until he clipped James Tredwell straight to Morgan at short mid-wicket to be dismissed for 35 off 41.
It was do or die as the 20th over started, with the match now certain to have a result and Sri Lanka well behind on the D/L par score. Chandimal swiped at Jordan’s short stuff getting a top edge through to a grateful Buttler. That same combination struck later in the over to dismiss a slogging Kulasekara for a duck, as the required run rate got on top of the batsmen. Jordan got his reward for carrying through the same aggression with the ball that he displayed with the bat – something well received by an appreciative crowd, a budding all-rounder always the apple of an England fan’s eye.
Captain dismissed captain when Cook provided the day’s champagne moment, sprinting full tilt from short third man to catch Mathews’ reverse swept skyer, keeping his eye on the ball as it dropped over his shoulder – Cook may still run like Toy Story’s Woody, but his fielding improves every season. That catch exemplified the belief that characterised England in the field, the home team looking as suited to the longer one day format as the visitors had looked to the game’s shortest format two nights earlier.
There were a few slogs from the Sri Lanka tail, but the result was never in doubt as the clock ran down. England, led by a generation of players picked with the World Cup (just nine months away) very much in mind, had outplayed a much more experienced Sri Lanka side and will go to Chester-le-Street for Sunday’s match brimming with confidence.
(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)