Sangakkara keeps Sri Lanka in the hunt

Sri Lanka’s seven-wicket win over England means all four teams in Group A are still in with a chance of making the semifinals

A magnificent unbeaten 135-ball 134 from Kumar Sangakkara and three stroke-filled contributions, including an audacious 30-ball half-century from Nuwan Kulasekara, led Sri Lanka to an emphatic seven-wicket win against England at The Oval on Thursday (June 13). Needing 294, Sri Lanka won with 17 balls to spare, a result that ensured that semifinal places from the group would only be decided after the final round of matches on June 16 and 17.

For half the innings, England bowled relatively tightly and fielded brilliantly. Then, as Sri Lanka’s two most experienced batsmen piled on the pressure, they fell apart. Kulasekara merely delivered the knockout punch.

Sri Lanka had lost Kusal Perera early, lofting James Anderson to mid-on, but Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sangakkara kept England’s potent pace attack at bay while adding 48 in the Power Play overs. Deliveries that strayed on to the pads were punished, and Sangakkara crunched a couple of lovely strokes through point and cover as the score started to mount.

The introduction of Joe Root’s part-time spin accelerated the rate, with Dilshan smacking a straight six, and there were a few furrowed brows in the crowd as the hundred came up at five an over. But the introduction of Graeme Swann started to choke the runs, and Dilshan finally succumbed to frustration as he miscued one to long-on. The partnership was worth 92 from 111 balls.

Mahela Jayawardena’s poor run of form away from home has been the subject of much debate in Sri Lankan cricket circles, but there was nothing diffident about the manner in which he approached this innings. Bad balls on leg stump were pulled or flicked with typical elegance, and there was one magnificent straight six off Stuart Broad as he and Sangakkara started to cruise at a run-a-ball.

Sangakkara left the eye-catching strokes to his dear friend, but was busy and efficient as he played the anchor role to perfection. Jayawardena’s exit, after a classy 42 in 43 balls, didn’t stem the tide either. Sri Lanka promoted Kulasekara to No. 5 and though he didn’t belt the cover off the ball, his presence seemed to unnerve England enough for ill discipline to creep in in the shape of wides and sloppy fielding.

Sangakkara took 111 balls to reach his century, and when the final ten overs began, Sri Lanka needed just 76. That was Kulasekara’s cue, as he drove and clobbered Tim Bresnan for two fours, before swiping two huge sixes off Swann’s final over. When Broad was pulled for six, driven straight and through cover for fours off consecutive deliveries, the game was as good as over. With both men pinging the ball where they pleased, the hundred partnership took just 68 balls.

England’s 293 had been built on steady half-centuries from Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott. Joe Root then chipped in with an inventive 68 as England threatened to power its way to a mammoth total. But England lost four wickets for five runs in a dramatic late collapse, and it was left to Ravi Bopara, who smashed 28 from Shaminda Eranga’s final over, to provide the finishing touch.

Sri Lanka, who had decided to bowl under overcast skies, was let down by some wayward bowling and four dropped catches, three of them by Dilshan. Rangana Herath, who trapped both Cook and Trott leg before, was the pick of the bowlers with 2 for 46, but there was little penetration elsewhere, especially once England saw off Lasith Malinga’s opening spell.

Ian Bell drove and pulled Malinga for fours early on, but the theme of the first Power Play was circumspection, with 38 runs scored. Bell fell soon after, chipping a poor ball from Eranga to midwicket, but that only exposed Sri Lanka’s bowlers to Cook and Trott, who set about grinding them down. Dilshan dropped Cook at backward point when he had made just 23, despite getting both hands to the ball, and he put down a chance off his own bowling when Cook had progressed to 56.

Cook and Trott put away the bad balls while adding 83 from 102 balls. The second Dilshan drop didn’t turn out to be expensive though as Herath sneaked one through Cook’s defence. After consulting Trott, Cook went for the review, only to find that the ball was hitting halfway up middle stump.

Trott’s half-century took just 62 balls and he was noticeably more fluent after that, especially when tucking the ball off his pads. Root, with his brisk running, sweet drives and ramp shots, both orthodox and reverse, rattled Sri Lanka even further as the innings gathered real momentum.

Dilshan was again the culprit, running back from point, when Root, then on 35, miscued a drive off Malinga. Trott fell to a full delivery from Herath, but there was still time for Sangakkara, running across to square leg, to put down another chance off Malinga. Root was on 56 at the time, and would add 12 more before Jayawardena held on at deep midwicket to give Malinga his first wicket of the innings.

The next ball, Malinga had another, as Billy Bowden gave Eoin Morgan leg before to a full ball that looked like it might miss the stumps. With the score still stuck on 249, Jos Buttler edged Eranga behind, and when Tim Bresnan was bowled swinging across one, the innings was in disarray. Bopara thumped three sixes and two fours in an astonishing final over, but the middle-order slump would come back to haunt England.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)