So it did. Nine overs later Ealham had taken 5 for 32, knocked over the cream of the Sri Lankan batting and all but ensured their elimination from the Carlton & United series. For England it completed an extraordinary recovery: they lost their first four wickets after being put in but a calm, unfussy innings of 81 from Neil Fairbrother took them to a land of undreamt of riches.
Not that 227 seemed quite so daunting when Sri Lanka were 65 for 1 in reply and opening the throttle. Sri Lanka must now beat Australia tomorrow to stay in with any chance of reaching the final of the triangular tournament. At the WACA, with the ball bouncing into their chests from a length, that is a prospect as unlikely as a country's captain escaping with a suspended sentence for upbraiding an umpire.
Mind you, Ealham and the WACA could hardly be said to be a natural pairing. This is an ice rink of a pitch designed for tall, fast men who send the ball down rapidly from enormous height and reach the batsman within two strides of their follow through. Ealham is far from that. Perhaps he is not as small as his sturdy build makes him appear but he has a bustling, shuffling run-up which might have been copied from Harold (Steptoe, not Larwood) and the distance to the other end represents a country walk. Bounce and swift, late swing are not his natural companions.
But Ealham is a bowler who observes the proprieties. He might just be short of the necessary stuff to be a constant success as an international all-rounder but it is a near thing. There was some gentle speculation that, although he had done nothing wrong in this tournament, he might be omitted in Perth: the WACA and all that. When Jayasuriya, who was beginning to flex his forearms, unleashed that stroke in Ealham's second over, the bowler raised an eyebrow only because the ball went so close by. Otherwise, he went back to his mark and concentrated on bowling straight.
Jayasuriya had already escaped twice when on 11. A flick off his gloves was given as a wide, then Nasser Hussain put him down at point. Surely he would be more careful? But the opener could not resist a slightly shorter ball from Ealham which he pulled to Adam Hollioake at deep midwicket. Marvan Atapattu fetched the next delivery to short midwicket where Nick Knight waited. Sixty-five for 3 was slightly unsettling but not a matter for panic.
Ealham missed his hat-trick with the last ball of the over but with the first one of the next he persuaded Aravinda de Silva to drive recklessly at one which went away. It was De Silva's first match of the tournament, he was rusty but, as Ealham observed later, he is also one of the world's best players.
There was no way back for Sri Lanka unless their captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, could see it through. But having performed one miracle in persuading an International Cricket Council tribunal of his apparent innocence, another was beyond him. He was booed on to the pitch though the England captain, Alec Stewart, removed potential fractiousness from the occasion by shaking his hand at the crease. "I did it as a gesture," said Stewart later. "It was my way of saying that cricket is the reason we're here."
Ranatunga, Ealham's last victim, caught at short third man, was also booed off the pitch. Sri Lanka capitulated to 99 all out, the sixth time they have been dismissed in a one-day international for under 100 but the first since 1993. They have had their day in court this week but they will need more than a good lawyer if they are to defend the World Cup successfully in England in three months' time.
Ealham became only the fifth England bowler to take five wickets in a one-dayer. The others are Vic Marks and Darren Gough (twice each), Mike Hendrick and Paul Jarvis, which is a rare assembly and not the first quintet that would spring to mind. Ealham could not get close to Marks's all-time best England figures of 5 for 20.
England had an appalling start against some vicious swing from Ruchira Perera. Stewart, who now has 124 runs in eight innings in the series, was yorked, Knight played with an open face, Hussain drove in cavalier fashion to be caught behind. When Graeme Hick, scorer of three centuries in nine days, padded up and was lbw to Chaminda Vaas for a measly 10, England had work to do.
Sri Lanka's support bowling was inexact. Fairbrother and Hollioake picked the gaps on the large field, ran the singles hard and made them into twos. It was in trying to do the latter once too often that Hollioake was run out. And it was in succeeding in doing so, at a stretch, late in his splendidly judged unbeaten innings of 81 (from 119 balls with just three fours) that Fairbrother twanged his left hamstring. It may or may not keep him out of Wednedsay's match in Sydney but it is becoming a worry. In the packed schedule of the World Cup such a tweak cannot be afforded but Fairbrother has become an integral member of this side again. So, justifiably, has Ealham.
CARLTON & UNITED SERIES
P W L Pts
England 8 5 3 10
Australia 7 4 3 8
Sri Lanka 7 2 5 4
Tomorrow: Australia v Sri Lanka (Perth); 3 Feb: England v Sri Lanka (Sydney); 5 Feb: Australia v England (Sydney); 7 Feb: Australia v Sri Lanka (Melbourne); 10 Feb: First final (Sydney); 12 Feb: Second final (Melbourne); 14 Feb: Third final (if needed) (Melbourne).
Sri Lanka won toss
N V Knight c De Silva b Perera 13
(29 mins, 21 balls, 1 four)
*+A J Stewart b Perera 0
(8 mins, 2 balls)
G A Hick lbw b Vaas 10
(38 mins, 19 balls, 2 fours)
N Hussain c Kaluwitharana b Perera 0
(10 mins, 9 balls)
N H Fairbrother not out 81
(184 mins, 119 balls, 3 fours)
A J Hollioake run out (Perera TV replay) 46
(94 mins, 74 balls, 2 fours)
M A Ealham c Mahanama b Muralitharan 16
(34 mins, 32 balls)
R D B Croft c Chandana b Vaas 32
(44 mins, 38 balls, 2 fours)
D Gough not out 0
(2 mins, 0 balls)
Extras (lb6 w8 nb15) 29
Total (for 7, 225 mins, 50 overs) 227
Fall: 1-6 (Stewart) 2-30 (Knight) 3-37 (Hussain) 4-38 (Hick) 5-127 (Hollioake) 6-166 (Ealham) 7-221 (Croft).
Did not bat: D W Headley, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Vaas 10-2-38-2 (nb3,w1) (7-2-20-1, 2-0-10-0, 1-0-8-1); Perera 10-0-55-3 (nb9,w3) (5-0-22-3, 2-0-16-0, 2-0-8-0, 1-0-9-0); Muralitharan 10-1-26-1 (6-1-13-0, 4-0-13-1); Chandana 8-0-39-0 (nb2,w1) (3-0-15-0, 5-0-24-0); Jayasuriya 9-0-47-0 (w1) (4-0-14-0, 2-0-11-0, 2-0-14-0, 1-0- 8-0); De Silva 3-0-16-0 (w1) (one spell). Progress: 50: 78 mins, 92 balls. 100: 123 mins, 164 balls. 150: 166 mins, 230 balls. 200: 202 mins, 293 balls. 15 overs score: 59-4. Fairbrother's 50: 128 mins, 88 balls, 3 fours.
S T Jayasuriya c Hollioake b Ealham 40
(78 mins, 58 balls, 4 fours, 1 six)
+R S Kaluwitharana c Hollioake b Gough 5
(17 mins, 11 balls, 1 four)
M S Atapattu c Knight b Ealham 17
(63 mins, 39 balls, 2 fours)
P A De Silva c Stewart b Ealham 1
(10 mins, 5 balls)
D P M Jayawardena c Hussain b Gough 3
(16 mins, 13 balls)
*A Ranatunga c Knight b Ealham 11
(58 mins, 33 balls)
R S Mahanama c Hussain b Ealham 6
(29 mins, 17 balls, 1 four)
U D U Chandana c Gough b Headley 9
(26 mins, 19 balls)
W P U C J Vaas not out 0
(12 mins, 4 balls)
M Muralitharan b Mullally 1
(3 mins, 4 balls)
R Perera c Hick b Mullally 0
(1 min, 1 ball)
Extras (lb2 w1 nb3) 6
Total (all out, 161 mins, 33.3 overs) 99
Fall: 1-15 (Kaluwitharana) 2-65 (Jayasuriya) 3-65 (Atapattu) 4-67 (De Silva) 5-71 (Jayawardena) 6-85 (Mahanama) 7-98 (Ranatunga) 8-98 (Chandana) 9-99 (Muralitharan) 10-99 (Perera).
Bowling: Gough 8-2-15-2 (nb1,w1) (5-1-11-1, 3-1-4-1); Mullally 6.3-0- 17-2 (nb1) (6-0-17-0, 0.3-0-0-2); Headley 8-0-33-1 (nb1) (3-0-21-0, 5- 0-12-1); Ealham 10-2-32-5; Croft 1-1-0-0 (one spell each). Progress: 50: 60 mins, 89 balls. 15 overs score: 55-1.
Result: England won by 128 runs
Umpires: S J Davis and P D Parker
TV replay umpire: T A Prue
Match referee: P L van der Merwe
Man of the match: Ealham
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content