Sri Lanka vs England: the World Cup surprise we all craved
June 25, 2019
This Cricket World Cup has had its flaws.
A ten team tournament was expected to be competitive, but there are five teams who have either been sub-par, inconsistent or both. With two weeks left, the top four seemed decided. Until Sri Lanka turned up to spoil the home party. It may only prove a blip in England’s march, but it has certainly notched up the excitement dial.
Even as Sri Lanka chipped away at the English top-order, there was never any real belief from neutrals that there would be a shock. One can always hope, but in ODI cricket, chances of miracles are usually snuffed out before they can live to breathe. This is a modern, ultra-aggressive batting lineup capable of outscoring any teams on their day. At 170-5, with 63 runs to win off 70 balls, an England victory seemed inevitable. And yet Sri Lanka came away with a 20-run victory. This speaks to both their nerve with the ball, as well as England’s sustained panic. This result may well spark life into the World Cup.
It’s ironic that England lost a chase of 232 on a pitch that many thought would yield plenty of runs and a potential 500 if England had batted first. Not as many would have watched Sri Lanka battle and toil their way in the first innings. Reduced to 3-2 in 2.2 overs, the only source of fluency was provided by Avishka Fernando, but even his enterprising 49 was ended in the 13th over. Angelo Mathews, derided for his lack of contribution and low strike-rate, fought his way to an unbeaten 85 off 115 balls, the value of which became priceless. It was thought that they were short by at least 40 runs to even put up a fight. Cricket, however, is a strange sport.
England lost home boy Jonny Bairstow to a first-ball duck. James Vince played a couple of good shots before edging to slip: in other words, a classic James Vince innings. Eoin Morgan, fresh from his Afghanistan rampage, was rather meek in Headingley, dismissed by an Isuru Udana return catch so firm it was almost denying England. But Joe Root did what he did best, keeping the innings ticking, providing the stability England often lack in these circumstances. And then returned the hero.
Lasith Malinga has made his career out of providing the fire when all hope is nearly extinguished. Sri Lanka may not be the force of old but they still have Malinga. That old warrior – his country’s own gun-slinger. After providing the early breakthroughs of Bairstow and Vince, his captain called him back to break a burgeoning partnership. Root tickled one down the leg side to the keeper – given not-out, but Sri Lanka’s review overturned that. And then he took out Jos Buttler, a man capable of taking the game away before you can blink. It was another one of his famous toe-crushing yorkers. A review couldn’t save Buttler. England were now 5 down. Slinga Malinga had done his job.
It was now up to the rest. Ben Stokes was carrying on, but he needed support. Moeen Ali could have been the partner but threw it away with 63 needed, going for a six just after he nailed one. Dhananjaya da Silva had his first wicket, then followed it up with two more in his next over. Both Woakes and Rashid feathered thin edges to the keeper and England were suddenly eight down. Jofra Archer went out trying to hit a six when he might have been better advised to take singles and support Stokes. Malinga could have gotten his fifth if Kusal Mendis had held on to a tough catch. And the game was still alive.
Stokes nailed two consecutive sixes vs Udana, and then two consecutive fours against Pradeep in the 47th over. He then took a single off the fifth ball, leaving No 11 Wood to face the one ball. 21 to win off 19 balls. It was now Pradeep’s turn. He went full, fast, and Wood edged it to the keeper. Game over.
Sri Lanka had beaten England by 20 runs. This was a result against the form book, and against general logic too. Some thought they would chase it down under 35 overs. And there lies the beauty of cricket. On a slow, tricky pitch, England were found lacking, and in the process, showed that they are not perfect. They are über-entertaining with the bat, able to smash boundaries at will, but a tricky pitch is a great leveller.
This game was just what the doctor ordered: a low-scoring thriller that upended the favourites. Sri Lanka will take the momentum into their remaining games, while England now have to face Australia, India and New Zealand. They have not beaten any of them in the World Cup since the 1992 World Cup. To win the trophy this time, they’ll likely have to beat two of them twice. History does not count for much but England will have to earn their victory. And that’s all the neutrals want. The World Cup needed this fillip. If the remaining two weeks can remain as tight and entertaining, the early rain-affected and one-sided games will remain a distant memory.
We now move on to England vs Australia at Lord’s, a game that the English need to win. It’s the occasion the World Cup has been waiting for. And now that England lost a chase of 233, and have lost to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, they have proven their mortality. Their campaign has hit a roadblock; how they approach that now adds a fascinating subtext.
The Cricket World Cup is now well and truly alive.
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Author: Rahul Warrier
Rahul is a freelance football writer, having delved into writing in 2015. Based in Singapore, he is a senior writer at These Football Times. His work has also been featured on FourFourTwo, Yahoo Sport, IBWM and MEN among others. He's a football fan, but a cricket enthusiast first.