England vs Sri Lanka was set to be a no-contest and that is how it should have been, but England decided to put in their worst batting performance of the tournament – a match after they took apart Afghanistan. Pakistan and West Indies are no longer the only unpredictable teams in the tournament, are they? Sri Lanka after a poor start to the tournament, find themselves with six points and somehow find themselves in the mix for a place in the semi-final. However, it did not start well for the Island Nation.
The Lankans were on the mat right away when they were reduced to 3 for 2 within 14 balls of the match. Going into this match, Sri Lanka had the best batting run-rate (6.50) in the first Powerplay this World Cup, at an average of 65. If you go further into their batting order, it will not make good reading as their middle-order (4-7) average just 4.80. However, at 48 for 2 after the first Powerplay, they had recovered to a certain extent. Avishka Fernando, making his maiden World Cup appearance played some scintillating shots and looked like he belonged at this stage all along, until he played a ramp shot off Mark Wood, lobbing the catch to short fine leg, one short of what would have been a magnificent half-century.
Sri Lankan innings never really had any sort of momentum at any stage of the innings. Their most experienced campaigner, who had not gotten into double figures this year, went on to score a fifty off 85 deliveries. Much like his innings (85* off 115), Sri Lanka were going nowhere in their innings. Mathews held one end up, but despite starts from Kusal Mendis (46) and Dhananjaya de Silva (29), no one put their hand up and delivered when it mattered.
As far as England’s bowling is concerned, they were on the money right from the beginning. The pitch at Headingley looked to be a good one for batting, but Sri Lanka lacked application and as a result failed to get even close to a competitive total. There was very less turn for the spinners, the batsmen scored just 98 runs from 22 overs and picked up a couple of wickets. Barring Avishka, none of the batsmen looked to play pace well and as a result Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood had a field day.
Batting at the death was uncharted territory for Sri Lanka as they had played just 35 deliveries in the entire tournament, scoring just nine runs. The silver lining will be the fact that they managed to bat out the entire 50 overs for the first time in the 2019 World Cup. Unfortunately, there are no prizes for that.
Chasing 233, England had a minor blip when Jonny Bairstow was dismissed for a golden duck for the second time in this edition of the World Cup. His opening partner James Vince too did not last long as he was caught in the slip region. Lasith Malinga claimed his second victim and had given Sri Lanka a glimmer of hope in this match. With Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler in excellent form, England still had enough firepower to chase down a moderate target.
Root occupied one end and hit three boundaries on his way to a fifty off 78 deliveries after his captain was dismissed for 21, after steadying the innings with Root, with whom he put on 47 for the third wicket.
At that point the wicket started to grip and as a result, stroke-making was not all that easy, which still gave Sri Lanka a sniff. However, wickets were going to be the need of the hour for them as allowing England to bat through would guarantee them a loss.
However, Sri Lanka kept picking up wickets at regular intervals dismissing Root (57), Buttler (10), Moeen Ali (16), Chris Woakes (2) and Adil Rashid (1) in a span of 10 overs. Sri Lanka were just two wickets from winning the game and had a chance of bowling England out – one of the most prolific sides in the last four years – for under 200.
Stokes was England’s only hope. The southpaw had gone past fifty and with run-a-ball needed of the last nine overs, he had to play a huge part. With Jofra Archer too needlessly slogging his way back to the pavilion, things looked improbable with 47 more required from 36.
Stokes remained unbeaten on 82 off 89 and nearly took his side home, but Wood edged one to the wicketkeeper, bringing down the curtains on England’s run-chase.
Credit has to be given to the Sri Lankan bowlers too, led by Malinga. They bowled with purpose and looked determined right from the first over after putting up 232 on the board. They had no business to be in the game, considering England’s prowess with the bat, but they managed to pull of an incredible win.