Change of fielding-rules in this World Cup has made the score of 300-plus like a walk in the park. There is no guarantee that posting above 300 runs will arm the team with any command in the match like the earlier days. The heavily demoralized England team had to eat a humble pie after being humbled by Sri Lanka. Their setting a 310-run victory target for the Sri Lankans proved to be of no consequence in the end as the Islanders from Indian Ocean coasted to a convincingly easy 9-wicket win with several deliveries still remaining in the match. Joe Root’s century, earlier in the England’s innings, was eclipsed by two buzzing three-figure marks from two undefeated second wicket partners in the Sri Lanka innings. While opener Lahiru Thirimanne carried his bat through the innings for 139 not out in the chase, Kumar Sangakkara, who came in at 100/1, played a characteristically rollicking knock to close in on Thirimanne in the end with 117. The two batsmen added an unfinished 212 for the second wicket in 28.2 overs. Sangakkara made his fastest ODI hundred taking just 70 balls, which followed another scintillating 76-ball 105 essay against Bangladesh at MCG just the other day. Sanga was merciless in tearing away the England bowlers with breathtaking drives and pulls while peppering his knock with some delicate and deft touches.
It was a good toss to win for Eoin Morgan and England, as the openers added 62 for the first wicket in less than 10 overs. Even after Moeen Ali and Gary Ballance departed in quick succession, England batsmen paced the innings well while keeping one eye fixed on the run-rate. Ian Bell missed his fifty but his return to form was heartening. Neither Lasith Malinga nor Suranga Lakmal could make any impression on the Englishmen as they went about the task of innings building. With Joe Root in command, England’s innings revolved around his superb 108-ball 121. Every batsman contributed and even after Root fell as the sixth wicket at 265 in the 47th over, Jos Buttler produced a racing 39 off just 19 balls. With Chris Woakes, Buttler added 45 in the last 21 balls and ensured that England ended their innings on the other side of 300.
Sri Lanka were unruffled in their 310-run chase and began with a 100-run opening stand between Lahiru Thirimanne and Tilakaratne Dilshan. They did it in good time to ensure that there was no slow down later in the innings. However, Sri Lanka rode their luck, when Thirimanne was dropped by Root at first slip. The batsman would have gone if there was some coordination between Root and Buttler, who looked like moving but held himself back and that caused late reaction from Root. Arrival of the mercurial Sangakkara stepped up the tempo of scoring. When Thirimanne moved into the nineties, Sangakkara had scored only 28 but he caught up amazingly quickly. By the time Thirimanne reached his hundred, Sanga had already scored 78. That tells us about the dominance of the seasoned Sri Lankan. With the two batsmen going about merrily, Morgan couldn’t think of anything as to how he could end this burgeoning partnership. From Sri Lanka’s viewpoint, this was a reiteration of a great comeback beginning with their 332/1 against Bangladesh. Until then, Sri Lanka played unconvincingly against New Zealand and Afghanistan. The ease with which Sri Lanka went about their chase reminded cricket fans about another of their famous chase against England in 2011 World Cup quarter-final, when they won by 10 wickets. Only Moeen Ali and Joe Roots could provide some variety to the lackluster English attack. But they couldn’t stop Thirimanne and Sanga from completing the 9-wicket victory in the end.
To England’s credit, they overcame the disaster caused by New Zealand and batted first yet again. In the end it proved satisfactory as they finished with 309/6 with Root, Taylor and Buttler coming up with creditable knocks. Joe Root became England’s youngest century-maker in World Cups as he overtook David Gower by two years. Root’s century was followed by a 25-run blitz from Thisara Perera’s eighth over that went for two daring reverse sweeps, one of which ended in a six over third man. But all that was consigned to a distant memory, when Thirimanne and Sangakkara showed their explosive colors later in the day.
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