01 March 2015
Sangakkara, Thirimanne lead Sri Lanka to big win
Both batsmen score centuries as Sri Lanka overhauls 310-run target with 16 balls and nine wickets in hand
In the end, it was one of the easiest 300-plus run chases for Sri Lanka.
The result, in terms of its margin if not in performance, speed or sheer devastation, was even worse than the defeat New Zealand handed England at the same ground nine days ago, Sri Lanka beating it by nine wickets after chasing down 310. Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara scored contrasting but equally effective centuries in a massive unbroken 212-run stand to take Sri Lanka over the line with 16 balls in hand.
England must be glad to leave New Zealand on Monday, although one wonders whether its recent record in Australia would provide any possible consolation.
Having won the toss and batted on a fine Wellington day – little in the way of the famous wind but plenty of sun – England did what it aims to do with the bat; it started fast and accumulated steadily in the middle overs, before accelerating in the Power Play and hitting out in the final ten. In doing so, its resourceful set of youngsters – Joe Root, James Taylor and Jos Buttler – played with invention, panache and power. At the halfway stage, a target of 310 looked some proposition for the Sri Lankans.
In the end, though, it was one of the easiest 300-plus run chases. England’s bowling was listless and lacking variation, the fielding sloppy and the body language a tale of crossed arms, dragged feet and hipped hands. By the time Sangakkara reached a quite glorious ton – his second in succession and 23rd in ODIs – two of the central planks of English cricket in recent times, the bum-slap and the backing up, had disintegrated. Sanga and Lahiru Thirimanna, who also scored a fine century having been dropped by Root on 2 and Taylor when on 99, were able to take singles by simply pushing it straight to the fielder. Both players had notched the necessary personal milestones, while Eoin Morgan didn't offer a single attacking fielder. Eventually, Thirimanna put England out of its misery, carting Chris Woakes over mid-wicket for six.
These were mighty fine performances. It’s Sangakkara’s old mate Mahela Jayawardena who is known for his mastery of the chase, but he wasn't required, because this was pitch perfect. Sangakkara had 27 off his first 31 after Thirimanna and a less fluent Tillakaratne Dilshan had them off to a flyer. Then Sangakkara exploded, feasting on English indecision to coast to his ton in 70 balls, bettering his fastest ODI mark, off 73 against Bangladesh in Melbourne three days ago.
Thirimanna’s innings was the opposite; early, he drove and pulled fluently, before stumbling between 50 and 100. Fortunately, his partner was putting on an exhibition.
How England would rue that drop, which wasn't really Root’s fault at all, as Buttler – whose catch it should really have been – shaped to take it, only to withdraw and allow Root to spill. Taylor dropped Thirimanna at deep mid-wicket 120 runs later, but by then the finish line was merely inches away, while a chance fell just short of Moeen Ali at cover when he had 98. In between, the classy left-handers ran bravely between the wickets, taking on England’s limp fielders.
England’s four seamers were pretty much identical – perhaps Chris Woakes is a touch quicker. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn were pedestrian, at best, and all spent Sri Lanka’s innings with heads bowed. It was little surprise that the four went wicketless; it was the efficient and tidy Moeen, who dismissed Dilshan, miscuing to Morgan at short midwicket.
All of which would sadden and madden England’s batsmen, who must have felt they'd done a decent job. Ian Bell looked rusty in Christchurch on Monday and made a half-century, today his touch returned – and his luck, too, as he was dropped off consecutive balls early – only to fall for 49. Gary Ballance failed again, while Morgan remained scratchy.
Root scored the finest, and fastest, of his four ODI centuries yet, however. He scooted along at a run-a-ball, before accelerating alongside Taylor, who also showed his ability to clear the fence by lashing a six over mid-wicket. Root was inventive and audacious, with back-to-back reverse sweeps for four, then six, laying a platform for Buttler to let loose in the final five. He did so with some outrageous strokes, bisecting fielders, striking flat maximums and even breaking the webbing in Rangana Herath’s tough hands.
It was all in vain, though.
Right now, England faces a horrid looking battle; three defeats leaving their net run-rate looking rather poor. There is now no margin for error, with Bangladesh and Afghanistan having a realistic chance of putting one over England.
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