Sri Lanka pulled off a humdinger of a victory by a margin of just two runs against England at North Sound. Pacer Dilhara Fernando held his nerve in the final ball of the match when the English required two runs to tie and three runs for a win. A 21-year-old by the name Ravinder Bopara batting incredibly well was cleaned up by a quick short of length delivery and that was it. A shock for all the English fans who were brought into life after their team had made a dramatic comeback in the game after almost heading towards yet another one-day defeat.
Well it was the biggest match for England, so far they have been tested only against minnows and of course the Black Caps who got a comprehensive victory. It was a bizarre looking pitch at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium full of stripe marks, but that was only for the looks, otherwise it was even in pace and bounce. Michael Vaughan put the opposition in and Sajid Mahmood provided a bright start by dislodging Sanath Jayasuriya cheaply for 25 in the 8th over. Mahmood later added the wicket of Sangakkara but Sri Lanka recovered after those two breaks through Tharanga and Jayawardene. The pair added 91 runs for the third wicket before Tharanga’s sticky stay on the wicket ended in the 35th over. The platform was laid though with his 65 from 103 balls that just had two fours. It was thanks to Mahela Jayawardene’s 56 from 61 (4 fours) that helped the run rate to remain healthy.
Sri Lanka were bowled out for a moderate 236 in exactly 50 overs. England bowlers did a tremendous job conceding just 15 fours and a six with the last 10 overs yielding only 52 runs at the cost of six wickets. Sajid Mahmood finished with career best figures of 4 for 50 in 9 overs while Freddie Flintoff took 3 for 35 in his 10.
It was the ideal opportunity for England to get a victory, but a poor start from Vaughan (Caught down the legside by Sangakkara off Vaas) and Ed Joyce (lbw to Malinga) put them on the backfoot. Then England were brought back into the match by some positive and dominating cricket from Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. The match looked to be going England’s way until Ian Bell was unfortunately run out by a deflection from Jayasuriya at the non striker’s end to a KP straight drive. Bell looked good for his 47 which came in 71 balls with 4 fours. He added 90 runs for the third wicket in 20 overs. But the real turning point of the match came when Kevin Pietersen was caught and bowled off a Murali doosra ending his 80-ball 58. Pietersen had started aggressively, his innings contained 5 fours and a six off Vaas early on. Dilhara Fernando provided a twin blow in the 34th over to dismiss Flintoff (with a split finger slower one) and Collingwood with a reverse swinging inswinger.
England were out of the equation at 133 for 6 and the required run rate was always moving in the upward direction. A spirited partnership between veteran wicket keeper Paul Nixon and Ravi Bopara, all of 5 ODIs experience, brought back some interest in the match. The game tilted in England’s favour seriously when Paul Nixon reverse swept Murali for an unbelievable six over point which was followed up with another reverse sweep giving a boundary in the 48th over. England required 19 from 12, fortunately for SL, Lasith Malinga struck by getting Nixon to miscue a lofted shot to leave the equation at 16 from 7. Bopara got a boundary off the last ball with a square drive to make it 12 from the final six deliveries. The final over was bowled by Fernando and his second ball was magically swept by Bopara for a boundary past the fielder at short fine leg. A while later it became 3 from 1 and it was Dilhara keeping his cool to castle the off stump of Bopara. It was great effort put on by Nixon (42 from 44) and Bopara (52 from 53) to make the match end in an exciting manner, their partnership for the 7th wicket was worth 87 runs. The match might have been lost but England have found an emerging star in Ravi Bopara, who almost delivered the result in a crunch situation. He got the Man of the Match instead of the brilliant Dilhara.