After the previous day’s heart-stopping, low-scoring, bowler-dominated thriller between Australia and New Zealand, when fortunes were reversed time and again, the game between England and Sri Lanka was a stark contrast, a sedate batsman-dominated game that produced a different kind of engrossing game in which Sri Lanka eventually cruised to an easy victory after being set a formidable challenge by England.
I thought that England paced their first innings well, getting off to a fast start of 42 runs in the first five overs, slowing down but consolidating their innings in the next 30 overs thanks to a fine partnership of 98 by two of the youngest players in their generally young team (Joe Root and James Taylor are just 24 and 25 years old respectively) that gives hope for the team’s future, and then blasting away at the Sri Lankan bowlers at the end to get 106 runs in the last ten overs to end up at 309/6. Since scores of 300 or more have been sufficient to win in all but one match in this tournament, they had good reason to be satisfied at the break.
Facing a tough target of 310 to win, Sri Lanka set about it as methodically as I have ever seen them, putting on 100 for the first wicket before Tillakaratne Dilshan was out for 44. This brought Kumar Sangakkara to the crease and he put on a display of top class batting as he and Lahiru Thirimanne methodically made the England bowling look ineffective and they reached their target with 16 balls to spare.
Sangakkara reached 100 in just 70 balls, his fastest ever and the fifth fastest in World Cup history, but he was not simply hitting everything in sight, He scored his runs the old-fashioned, classical way, targeting bad balls and finding the gaps, and this is what made his performance one of the best in a great career.
The Sri Lankan opener Lahiru Thirimanne, while he can play some lovely strokes, always keeps you on the edge. Some batsmen like Sangakkara, when they are in the groove, seem to see the ball almost in slow motion and be able to pick exactly what they want to do with it and where to place it. With Thirimanne you always have the feeling that he could get out at any moment. He was dropped very early when he had scored just 3 and again at 98 but in-between he batted beautifully. This century in his first World Cup tournament might be just what this young player needs to give him the confidence to be the permanent top-order batsman Sri Lanka are looking for when their three aging veterans retire.
While their batting seems to be peaking at the right time, Sri Lanka should be concerned that they not only could not get more English wickets, they could not curb the scoring rate at the end against an England team that is not noted for big hitting power. There were too many loose deliveries and their bowling could not force the batsmen to give them chances. On the plus side, their fielders did not drop too many reasonable catches, though they do need to raise it up a notch if they are going to beat the tougher opponents.
Sri Lanka are now in good shape to qualify for the next round. Thanks to the fact that the standard for qualifying for the quarterfinals is so low (the top four teams in each group of seven advance) England can also still make it even though they have lost to Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, as long as they win their remaining games against Bangladesh (whom they lost to in the last world Cup) and Afghanistan.
The other game between Pakistan and Zimbabwe was a low-scoring affair that Pakistan managed to win after being given a serious scare. Batting first, Pakistan managed to score only 235/7, after an excruciatingly slow start in which they scored just 14 runs off the first ten overs, thanks to a great effort by their fast bowler Wahab Riaz, who later took four wickets and was deservedly awarded the Player of the Match title. Their fast bowlers managed to bring the game home, dismissing Zimbabwe for 215.
If Pakistan had lost, they had practically no chance of qualifying for the next round. Now they can still do it while Zimbabwe is pretty much certain of elimination.
Today sees South Africa play Ireland. Although Ireland pulled off an upset win over West Indies, South Africa is another thing entirely and for them to win would undoubtedly be the biggest upset in World Cup history.