Wednesday’s contest between Sri Lanka and England turned out to be a nail-biter, with the former winning by a very narrow margin. Sri Lanka’s start cannot be termed steady after being put in to bat by Andrew Flintoff. Jayasuriya was back in the pavilion earlier than he would have expected and Kumar Sangakkara followed soon. Upul Tharanga and the captain, Jayawardhane steadied the ship and saw their team past 150. I felt that Thanranga was a little slower in pacing his innings. Had he acccelerated a bit earlier, Sri Lanka could have easily cross the 250 run mark. The lower half of the Sri Lankans did their best to post a modest score of 235 on the board. Earlier acceleration should have taken them past 250, but 235 was still competitive.
England had a shaky start losing 2 very quick wickets. Then Pieterson and Bell played sensibly. They were stroking the ball freely and England were looking comfortable and determined to reach the target. It all started with the change of bowling. Jayawardene brought in part time bowlers, Dilshan and Jayasuriya. Both of them bowled a steady line and giving away nothing to the batsmen. Runs were hard to come by. Also a plumb run out chance was missed by Jayawardene. With runs hard to come by, pressure was mounting on Pieterson and Bell. Finally Bell had to go back to the pavilion, due to an unfortunate run-out dismissal. Jayasuriya had a slightest of touch on the ball which was struck hard by Pieterson straight down the ground. Stumps were shattered and television replays showed that Bell’s bat was marginally on the air. This was a big blow to England. Soon Pieterson followed Bell, to a magnificent caught and bowled dismissal by the craftsman, Muralitharan. Fernando joined the party with a couple of quick wickets – Flintoff and Collingwood. With more than a 100 runs to get and only 4 wickets in hand, England was sensing a defeat. This is when Paul Nixon and Ravi Bopara joined hands. Both of them played very sensibly and responsibly. Composure exhibited by Ravi Bopara in his early days in ODI Cricket, promises a very good future for the young all-rounder. Though the difference between the runs required and balls available kept on climbing, both of these batsmen kept their heads cool and slowly moved towards the target score. I think the mistake which Jayawardene did at this stage was to ask Dilshan to bowl the 45th over of the match. Instead Muralitharan should have bowled this over and completed his spell. But he was asked to bowl the 48th over when England needed 32 runs to win the match. Nixon had a unique reverse sweep and he used it effectively to dislodge Murali for a magnificent six. This was followed by a boundary and the equation at the end of Murali’s over stood at 19 from 12 balls. Malinga bowled a fantastic 49th over. He gave away just 6 runs and also picket up the prize wicket of Nixon. With Ravi Bopara at the crease and 13 runs required from the last over, England still had their chance. Fernando was given the onus of winning the match by Jayawardene. He bowled the first 5 deliveries reasonably well, but could not help stop the 10 runs that came. He had the heart at his mouth as he readied himself to bowl the last delivery. With 1 ball remaining, England needed 3 runs for victory and Sri Lanka needed a dot ball or a single run. I seriously believed that England would score 2 runs to make it a tie and that would have been the appropriate result. But Fernando did not fancy anything with the last ball. He just bowled dead straight, Ravi missed it and he hit!!! Wicket of the last ball and victory for Sri Lanka.
It was a well deserved victory for Sri Lanka, but I really felt sorry for Ravi Bopara. He had put in a valiant effort and just missed the target. Kudos to himself and Nixon for making this match a wonderful entertainer. It is not the margin of 2 runs that was important for Sri Lanka; it is the 2 points they took from there was all that mattered.