England were left disappointed and frustrated as they lost to Sri Lanka by seven wickets following an unbelievable batting performance by Kumar Sangakkara backed up by an unorthodox Nuwan Kulasekara innings.
Having won the toss and choosing to field, Sri Lanka will have been disappointed with their performance following numerous dropped catches and miss-fields.
England managed to post a more than healthy 293/7 thanks to solid performances by Jonathan Trott, Alistair Cook, Joe Root and a flash of the bat by Ravi Bopara.
Despite looking like they were struggling to achieve the run rate required, Sri Lanka pulled a rabbit out of the bag. They owed a massive thanks to Sangakkara who produced one of the best performances The Oval’s ever seen in an ODI tie.
England got off to a steady, if not unspectacular start with Ian Bell and Alistair Cook at the top of the order.
The home side had 48 on the board after 11.3 overs before they lost their first wicket. Ian Bell hit three 4s on his way to 20 off 37balls before throwing his wicket away by chipping a length ball to mid-wicket off Shaminda Eranga.
This brought ‘anchorman’ Jonathan Trott to the crease. He and Cook produced a risk-free partnership of 83 before the next wicket fell.
Cook, on 59 off 85balls, managed to get across his stumps to attempt a sweep-shot off Rangana Herath, only to miss the ball and be hit plump on the pads for LBW. Despite looking certain to be hitting the wickets, he decided to use up the team’s only review; something he would later be left to rue.
The captain’s dismissal was to prove a blessing in disguise though. As Cook and his safe way of batting departed, it brought the freshness of Joe Root to the crease.
This morning, he was in the papers for the wrong reason given his spat with David Warner. All will be forgotten though, because tomorrow morning the young Yorkshire man will be front page news for a beautiful batting performance.
The brilliant running and acute shots he produced during a great knock of 68 off 55 balls was an innings of real quality.
Jonathan Trott was next to depart for 76 off 87balls as he was out LBW off Herath once again, in a similar way to Cook’s dismissal.
To be fair, Trott is usually an easy target for his slow scoring rate in ODI’s. Nevertheless, his record stands out on its own when looking down the England batting line-up. He’s the glue that makes the batting performance stick together more often than not, and without him they would resemble a lost puppy.
Once Root was caught out in the deep after chipping a slower ball off Malinga in the 46th over, we saw something of a collapse by England.
Morgan was given out LBW next ball for 13. Television replays seemed to show Umpire Billy Bowden had made a mistake with it seemingly missing off stump and pitching outside.
How handy would Cook’s review have been on this occasion?
Only three balls later, Jos Buttler was out caught behind off Kulasekara. Buttler’s performance today was nothing compared to the one he produced against the Aussies on Saturday afternoon.
Tim Bresnan quickly followed him back to the dressing room by missing a straight ball which hit the leg stump. He seemed as bemused as the crowd with his reaction resembling; “How the hell did I miss that?”
With two overs left, England were 254-7 with Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad at the crease. From looking at 300+, they were now hoping for at most 275 on the board come the end of proceedings.
The 49th over saw a few singles and a boundary by Broad off the last ball, which meant Bopara was to get strike for the last over. The stage was made for him to bash some boundaries, and he didn’t disappoint anyone.
Bopara knocked an unbelievable 28 off the last over, smashing the white ball to all four corners of the Oval. This gave England a massive boost ahead of their bowling innings, and saw them post a more than respectable score of 293/7.
Sri Lanka’s chase got off to the worst start possible. James Anderson and the new ball had Kusal Perera caught at mid-off which left them at 10/1.
This brought the ever-classy Kumar Sangakkara in to join Tillakaratne Dilshan. Both men never got going during the powerplay as they batted comfortably at around four an over.
At the start of the 21st over, England picked up a very important wicket as Dilshan was caught by Joe Root off the bowling of Graeme Swann. The unpredictable Sri Lankan opener was starting to find his range, and England would have been glad he got out at that point.
When Dilshan departed, it brought Mahela Jayawardene to the crease. At 36 years old, this man still sends shivers down the spine of many an England player having batted so well against them in the past.
Today was to be no different. Despite getting off to a slow start, he managed a run a ball 42. In the meantime he built a partnership of 85 with his close friend Sangakkara at the other end.
This made England panic a little in the run up to the batting powerplay. They started experimenting with more overs from the medium-paced Bopara and Joe Root’s off-spin. This gamble didn’t pay off, and they soon turned back to Jimmy Anderson to break the partnership at the start of the powerplay.
This was a decision they wouldn’t regret. Two balls into the 36th over, Anderson had Jayawardene caught in the deep by substitute fielder Jonny Bairstow. England sensed blood, and nearly had Sangakkara caught the very next ball.
It was at this point Sri Lanka sprung a surprise by bringing Nuwan Kulasekara to the crease. He normally bats at number nine, but they chose to give him the free-role of slogging during the powerplay.
The tail-ender supported the fluent Sangakkara by letting the scoreboard tick over. It was the end of the 39th over that Sangakkara got to his century off 110balls. This was a classy innings by an equally classy player.
At the end of the batting powerplay, Sri Lanka still needed 76 off 60balls with seven wickets remaining. It was an able total, but Kulasekara was proving to be a hindrance to their cause at one end whilst Sangakkara did all the hard work.
Nevertheless, Kulasekara kept throwing his bat at every ball, and soon found he could actually hit it.
He finished the 43rd over with consecutive 80metre sixes and a single which left his team needing 41 off 42 balls. Remarkably, he started the next over in the same manner by knocking a six and a four off the opening two balls of Stuart Broad’s over.
All of a sudden Sri Lanka had picked up 27 off the last six balls and Kulasekara was on 51 off 30balls. After 44 overs his team now needed 25 off 36.
England on the other hand were in desperate need of wickets to resurrect their distinguishing hopes. The wickets were out of sight though as England looked ragged and frustrated by the finesse shown by Sangakkara, who finished with a 134 off 135balls.
By looking at the scorecard, the chase looks to have been a rather simple one by Sri Lanka. On the other hand, if you watched the chase from start to finish, it’s one of the best you’re likely to have seen in your lifetime.
Sri Lanka needed the victory otherwise they were out. Therefore they should be given a lot of credit for their performance and be able to take a lot of pride from it.
England now go into Sunday’s eliminator against New Zealand knowing only a victory will be enough to see them progress from the group stages of the final ICC Champions Trophy.
Pressure is firmly on for Alistair Cook’s boys on home soil.