Sri Lanka secure thriller!

Sri Lanka clinched a dramatic two-run victory over England when Dilhara Fernando held his nerve to remove the excellent Ravi Bopara with the last ball of the game.

Sri Lanka almost laboured to 235 after Michael Vaughan inserted them on a strange looking pitch. England in reply looked in a reasonably comfortable position at 101-2 with both Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen well set. However, as is England’s way, neither batsman went on to convert their start and subsequently England stuttered as the run rate increased.

With six wickets down and only 133 on the board, the fact that such a thriller ensued was testament to the know how of Paul Nixon, and the cool nature of Bopara. A stand of 87 taking England to within touching distance of an unlikely victory.

As we entered the last over, England required 12 runs, and when Bopara coolly paddled Fernando over short fine leg for a boundary, off the second ball of the over, England were starting to look favourites. It came down to the final ball, and after one false start, Fernando stuck to the old adage of they miss, you hit, and clean bowled Bopara, with two runs needed for a tie.

A stunning finish, and the kind of game the World Cup deserved after some predictable one-sided matches.

Upul Tharanga provided the glue for which the Sri Lankan innings was built around early in the day, with a hard earned 62 off 103 balls on a pitch where the batsmen generally found it difficult to dominate the ball.

Sri Lanka were also thankful for a crucial 56 from skipper Jayawardene, who led impressively throughout the day.

Tom Moody’s side found it difficult to gain any notable momentum towards the end of the innings, managing a modest 52 off the last 10 overs, with Andrew Flintoff showing he has lost none of his accuracy with 3-35 off his 10.

Sajid Mahmood claimed his best ODI figures taking 4-50, seemingly beating Jayasuriya for a bit of pace and also accounting for danger man Kumar Sangakkara with a clever change of pace that had the left-hander reaching well outside off and spooning a full toss to the safe hands of Paul Collingwood.

It was the same old story for England as their innings got underway, Vaughan went early after he tickled one down the legside off Vaas, which Sangakkara, stood up to the wicket, made look easy when it was far from. Then Joyce fell 10 runs later trapped on the crease from the pacy Lasith Malinga.

At 11-2, it was time to be a little circumspect, which meant England failed to capitalise on the enforced fielding restrictions, a common problem for this England team. The decision to discard the adventurous Mal Loye who was made for such a scenario in the opening overs remains a puzzling one.

Pietersen looked about the only man capable of taking this game by the scruff of its neck. His large strides down the pitch and driving of the ball on the up looked to be causing more than a few problems for Jayawardene. His intent was what England required and again a re-think may be needed to decipher exactly where he should be batting in the order.

Bell was eventually and unfortunately run out by Jayasuriya, as he deflected the ball back onto the stumps at the non-strikers end. It was a close call but a correct one from the third umpire.

The genius that is Murali then produced, what one thought at the time, was the defining moment of the game. He came over the wicket and flighted the perfect doosra on middle and leg which Pietersen clearly did not read. He attempted a flick through legside only to see the ball head directly back into the direction of Murali who secured a vital caught and bowled.

If the spectators thought that was over, they were in for a surprise. As Nixon and Bopara batted sensibly to drag England closer to a total that was unfeasible when they joined each other at the crease. That Bopara barely recognised the fact he had registered his maiden ODI half-century showed the tense stage that the game had reached.

Meanwhile, Nixon’s unorthodoxy was emphasised as he reverse-swept Murali for a six!

However Fernando was to have the final say, and such credit he deserves. The paceman had been impressive throughout, using his excellent slower ball earlier in the day to completely bamboozle the out of touch Flintoff.

Recent no-ball problems must have preyed on his mind in as he ran in for that final over, but he kept his nerve as every Sri Lankan and English fan lost theirs, to record a vital win for his side.

Both sides gave their all, but it is Sri Lanka who walk away with the two points that edges them ever closer to the semi-finals.

Sri Lanka 235 all out
Upul Tharanga 62, Mahela Jayawardene 56
Sajid Mahmood 4-50, Andrew Flintoff 3-35

England 233-8 off 50 overs
Kevin Pietersen 58, Ravi Bopara 52, Ian Bell 47, Paul Nixon 42
Dilhara Fernando 3-41, Lasith Malinga 2-50

Sri Lanka won by 2 runs

Cricket Web Man of the Match: Dilhara Fernando 2 (2) & 3-41 (9)

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