Kumar Sangakkara hit an unbeaten century, while Nuwan Kulasekara provided some late sparkle, as Sri Lanka kept their hopes alive in the ICC Champions Trophy with a seven-wicket victory over the hosts under The Oval floodlights.
Ravi Bopara had earlier hauled England up to 293 for seven at the end of an innings which had followed a similar path to the one against Australia. Jonathan Trott, Joe Root and Alastair Cook all passed 50 to set up a hoped-for onslaught from Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan that never materialised.
It was then again left to Bopara, who on this occasion hit 28 from the final over bowled by Shaminda Eranga, to take England up to a competitive total. However, thanks to Sangakkara and Kulasekara, the result this time was defeat.
Sri Lanka lost Kushal Perera early in their pursuit of 294, but the experienced players in their top-order all fired. Tillakaratne Dilshan added 92 in little more than 18 overs with Sangakkara, who then put on a further 85 in less than 15 with Mahela Jayawardene.
England’s pace-bowlers were unable to find anything like the movement through the air that they did against Australia and hardly looked like taking a wicket. They were instead left to try and keep a lid on the required run rate, which hovered just above seven an over for much of the innings.
That was until the surprise introduction of Kulasekara. Following Jayawardene’s departure for 42 to the second ball of the batting powerplay, the Sri Lankans took the unexpected step of promoting him. He struggled initially as he looked for a boundary a ball, but settled, with the over against Graeme Swann arguably the match winner.
The over was Swann’s last and the 43rd of the match. The equation stood at 57 from 48 balls with Kulasekara on a run-a-ball 24. He turned the game in Sri Lanka’s favour by launching huge sixes over mid-wicket from the third and fourth balls. That took the required run rate to less than six and Sri Lanka never looked back.
Kulasekara then took boundaries off each of the first three balls of the following over, bowled by Stuart Broad. In the space of 10 minutes, the game had been won and Kulasekara had scored 27 from six deliveries. Soon after, Sangakkara wrapped up the win that kept Sri Lanka in the tournament with a pull through square-leg.
They now play Australia on Monday, with England’s match against New Zealand the day before at Cardiff a must-win for both sides.
It could have been so much different for England - Sri Lanka dropped four catches of varying difficulties - but the loss will open up the old debate about their top three. Cook took 85 balls over his 59, with Bell’s 20 spanning 37 deliveries. Trott was relatively brisk, taking 87 balls for 76, but the manner in which Root played does perhaps suggest that all three could have been quicker.
Granted, he was batting slightly later in the innings, but he was inventive in taking just 43 balls to reach 50, eventually making 68 off only 55 balls. If it hadn’t been for Bopara’s subsequent last over spectacular against Eranga, then England’s hopes of victory in the match would have been over long before they actually were.
© Cricket World 2013
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