By Anand Vasu in Chittagong
Opener hits first T20I century of his career to power successful chase of Sri Lanka’s 189 for 4
Set the stiffest of targets, England’s chase got off to the worst possible start, as Nuwan Kulasekara calmly sent down a double-wicket maiden. Michael Lumb charged down the pitch and flailed as the ball clattered into the stumps and Moeen Ali nicked his first ball to second slip, where Sachitra Senanayake made no mistake.
Hales and Eoin Morgan, England’s best pair in this format, had plenty of room to give themselves a chance of pulling off a historic chase. Hales provided the muscle and Morgan the cheek, as Sri Lanka’s bowlers slowly came to grips with what they were up against.
Hales had no trouble picking off the boundaries, whether it was driving down the ground or picking the ball off his pads and whipping through midwicket. Morgan was more adventurous, gliding the ball behind and in front of point, and even pulling out the reverse sweep when the field warranted it.
The Hales-Morgan partnership matched the Tillaratne Dilshan-Mahela Jayawardene one for tempo, and amazingly, it did not take long for England to pull away from Sri Lanka. Hales brought up his half-century off 38 balls, Morgan off 32 and then the pair really opened their shoulders, targetting the medium pace of Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera.
With the home stretch in sight, and the partnership worth an even 150, Morgan failed to make clean contact for the first time, and hit Kulasekara down Mathews’s throat at long-on. Morgan’s 57 was a vital hand, but when he fell, 38 were still needed from 22 balls, six of which would be bowled by Lasith Malinga.
Morgan’s departure meant that much depended on Hales, who has previously scored 94 and 99 in T20Is, and was closing in on a richly deserved hundred. Jos Buttler tried to clear the infield and hit one straight up in the air, and Dinesh Chandimal made no mistake on the ring at cover.
After much confabulation, with 34 needed from three overs, Sri Lanka handed the ball to Malinga. Ravi Bopara opened the face of his bat to dab the first two balls he faced to the third-man fence, but Malinga put a lid on the rest of the over, and the equation was down to 23 needed off the final 12 balls.
Hales blasted Kulasekara over extra cover to bring up his first T20I hundred and then cleared his front leg to blast one over midwicket to significantly ease the pressure.
With six needed from the final over, bowled by Mathews, Hales monstered a six – his sixth of the day -- over midwicket, taking England home. For the first half of the game, though, it was Sri Lanka all the way.
When Stuart Broad won an important toss, he could not hide his glee at not having to bowl second. When Kusal Perera was sent on his way with only four on the board, the optimism in the England camp was dialed up a notch. Off the next ball, the first one he faced, Jayawardene speared a catch towards cover, where Ravi Bopara charged in and dove forward to pluck the ball out of the air. As England’s players celebrated, Jayawardene stood his ground when Aleem Dar and Rod Tucker consulted and decided to leave the decision to Steve Davis, the third umpire. After looking at numerous replays, Davis ruled in favour of the batsman.
The rest was both history and comedy. Having had that catch denied, four more were dropped by England before one was taken. Jayawardene was dropped on 19, when Jade Dernbach put down a sitter at mid-on, and Dilshan had just 21 to his name when Tim Bresnan at deep backward square-leg failed to latch on.
The scorecard will suggest that Dilshan and Jayawardene then made England pay, but for a time the two were scratchy, struggling both to middle the ball and time it. But, once they had a little partnership going, their fortunes improved dramatically.
Jayawardene began to make room, shimmy down the pitch and drive the ball brilliantly through extra-cover, teasing the fielders but leaving them stranded, while Dilshan pounced on the short stuff, pounding both the point and square-leg boundaries.
Jayawardene got to his half-century off only 32 balls, and Dilshan got to the landmark off 44 as they celebrated the 100 partnership off 71 balls. Jayawardene was dropped again on 80, Bresnan doing the honours again, this time on the cover fence. Just when it looked as though he was on course to become the first centurion of the tournament Jayawardene (89) played one shot too many and paid the price. Trying to make room and drive Chris Jordan, Jayawardene missed and had his stumps splayed. The second-wicket stand, worth 145, was comfortably the largest of the tournament till then, and set Sri Lanka up for a giant total.
Even when Dilshan (57) fell only 7 runs later, Sri Lanka were still in a strong position, and Thisara Perera, dropped once by Ravi Bopara in the deep, applied the finishing touches with a 12-ball 23. Sri Lanka had made 189, just two short of the highest score of the Super 10s, which Pakistan totted up against Australia. On the day, with Hales not putting one foot wrong, it would prove to be insufficient.