A style to warm the heart

Stephen Brenkley watches as the Sri Lankan magicians baffle England
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The Independent Online
IT WAS sheer delight. The way Sri Lanka batted yesterday was far more inspirational than needed, given the target they were set. England's score of 235 in the World Cup quarter-final was clearly inadequate, but it took about three overs of the Sri Lankan reply to realise that a thousand more runs may not have been enough.

Just as most people in England were waking up, after their side had batted, it was being suggested by some pundits that their World Cup hopes were on a knife edge. Anybody watching or listening from this end knew that the blade was already through their heart. The styles were utterly contrasting. Where England's play was brimming with doubt and uncertainty, Sri Lanka's was replete with confidence and assurance.

It was a difference that brought natural rewards. Although there was a barely discernible wobble as victory galloped into view, most of the things the Singhalese tried came off. They have what it takes for the one-day game, and it became clear yesterday that their improvisation had been planned and plotted. All England seemed to have planned through their regulation and mostly sterile cricket was their own downfall.

The glimmer of hope provided by the loss of a flurry of Sri Lankan wickets after half their overs had gone could not disguise the chasm which existed between the teams. In another World Cup quarter-final a few months ago England had won at the last gasp, but in Faisalabad yesterday it would have needed 20 or so miracles of the Rob Andrew drop-kick variety. After four overs Sri Lanka were 35 for one. Of those runs, 22 had come from the slow left arm of Richard Illingworth. In other countries it might have been seen as a shrewd tactical move to open the bowling with spin: in hapless England's case, alas, it just looked plain daft.

Romesh Kaluwitharana had gone but Sanath Jayasuriya was remarkable. Between the end of the fourth over and the start of the eighth only nine runs were scored. The eighth, however, brought another 15 and by the end of the 10th the effervescent Sri Lankans were 77 for one, and Jayasuriya had reached 50 from 30 balls. By the end of the 12th they were 107 for one. The 100 partnership took 65 deliveries.

Jayasuriya whacked across the line or hit straight - either way he was uncontrollable. The stumping which Jack Russell executed off Dermot Reeve to dismiss the left-hander was a marvellous piece of work. It was as good a piece of cricket as the Sri Lankan batting, but wicketkeepers do not win matches.