England, after six consecutive close encounters, came a cropper in their seventh encounter – the last quarter final of the ICC Cricket World Cup – against Sri Lanka at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. The nature of Sri Lanka’s win was so emphatic it appeared the Englishmen were in a hurry to go home rather than put up any semblance of a fight against their opponents. Sri Lanka will now take on New Zealand in a repeat of the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup semi final.
The English captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and decided to bat first. It was a poor decision. It was evident Strauss was not thinking clearly. On a day when rain was forecast, it would have made sense to bat second. It was another matter that the rains stayed away. Also, the pitch at the ground has altered its pattern of favoring the team batting first and chasing under lights is far easier as evidenced by the last few matches. England made no change to its side that beat West Indies at Chennai while Sri Lanka made a bold move to include three specialist spinners.
The start was not ideal for England – Bell, opening the batting, was solid but Strauss was not so. Strauss struggled against the spin of Tillakaratne Dilshan and repeatedly came down the track put failed to get to the pitch of the ball each time. His struggles finally ended when he tried to pull Dilshan, missed and saw his stumps in disarray. The ball had kept a trifle low as well. Bell threw his wicket away in the next over as he attempted to glide Angelo Mathews but Samaraweera at midwicket pounced on the chance.
Jonathan Trott, England’s most consistent batsman in the last 12 months, and Ravi Bopara ensured no further problems for a while with dour batting. Both did not take the attack heads on but chose to play risk free cricket taking the singles and moving the scoreboard along. It was a bad ploy as the run rate suffered but they were probably trying to accelerate towards the end. Bopara fell after the partnership had added 64 runs in 18 overs. He was trapped in front by a Muthiah Muralitharan delivery that pitched on leg and held its line. When Eoin Morgan joined Trott at the crease, the innings sprang to life.
Morgan made a concerted effort to up the scoring rate and one thought England would take the batting Powerplay in the 35th over. The reason for this was that in the five overs preceding the 35th over, Trott and Morgan had added 34 runs and this was the perfect opportunity for a further assault. But they did not take the Powerplay as soon as the ball was changed. This was the second strategic mistake that England made. Trott meanwhile reached his fifty as always expected of him. The only problem with his batting is that he consumes a lot of deliveries in the process.
As Trott and Morgan prospered, the pressure got to Sri Lanka and they started being sloppy in the field. Three catches off Morgan were dropped and Muralitharan, the bowler to suffer on two occasions, was livid at Rangana Herath when he dropped the third chance. It was a sign that Sri Lanka were concerned but England appeared to make no notice of this. At the end of the 40th over, England were 173/3 with the batting Powerplay yet to be taken. The overs 30-40 had yielded 61 runs and England were ready to go for the kill.
England finally took the batting Powerplay in the 43rd over and Morgan soon reached his fifty in the third ball of the over but broke his bat and had to replace it. That proved unlucky as he tried to hit a full delivery from Lasith Malinga over cover but Mathews made no mistake this time. Graeme Swann was sent in ahead of Matt Prior. He lasted just one ball as he tried to reverse sweep Mendis and was trapped plumb in front of the wicket. It was a poor decision by England to send him in and the third mistake of the afternoon.
The Powerplay yielded just 23 runs for the loss of two wickets for England as Malinga and Mendis tied things up beautifully. Trott was dismissed in the 49th over as a sweep off Muralitharan found the top edge and travelled straight to the fielder at deep square leg. Though Prior hit a couple of fours, England could only finish at 229/6 – a below par score. Sri Lanka had come back admirably into the match and the crowd was on its feet now.
The Sri Lankan opening batsmen – Upul Tharanga and Dilshan – have been the most prolific of all the opening batting pair this tournament. On this night, they showed why. Both of them complemented each other so well and Sri Lanka started aggressively towards the target. Tharanga even lofted Swann straight down the ground for a six. The England bowlers were clueless on how to contain the batsmen and only Chris Tremlett and Ravi Bopara were treated with respect. The pair reached their 100 stand in the 19th over. Dilshan reached his half century in the 21st over while Tharanga reached his in the 22nd over.
The bowling Powerplay, which had been delayed by Strauss, was taken in the 30th over, and this was a cue for Sri Lanka to shift gears a higher notch. 40 runs came in five overs and Sri Lanka were in cruise mode now. Tharanga and Dilshan raised their 200 stand in the 36th over and this was followed by Dilshan reaching his century in the 37th over. As Sri Lanka closed in on the win, the only interest that remained was whether Tharanga too would get his hundred. He did, scoring the match winning runs in the process as well, in the 40th over. Sri Lanka had won by 10 wickets and marched into the semi-finals in style.
England, who did not deserve to be in the quarter finals, will be dejected by their performance in this tournament. They were never really the force that they used to be during the Ashes campaign and injuries to key players blighted their efforts. Five months on the road was too much for some of the players, especially James Anderson. They return home, unable to win the World Cup yet again. But they have some fine players and the English Cricket Board would do well to schedule the team’s commitments in a more humane way. A grueling Ashes campaign is not an ideal preparation for the World Cup.
Sri Lanka has been one of the most consistent teams in the tournament and they have thoroughly deserved their place in the last four. They have hardly any worries going into the semi finals although a session or two of fielding practice would be good ahead of their semi final against New Zealand on Tuesday. Dilshan and Tharanga are really going well and one only hopes that they have not peaked too soon. New Zealand will be wary of this Sri Lankan outfit and will need to come out with all their guns blazing if they are to overcome them in front of a partisan Colombo crowd.