IT IS beginning to look seriously as if England are on a roll. One-day cricket may be a hothouse casino where the wheel of fortune can turn quickly but they have surely stacked up too many winnings to blow it all now. An emphatic seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka here was their fourth from five matches in the Carlton & United Series and by some distance their most emphatic.
The contest was all but decided early when Darren Gough blasted his way through the Sri Lankan top order. Recovery from 21 for 4 is a monumental task in any form of cricket and in the abbreviated variety is bordering on the impossible. There is simply too little room left for manoeuvre. That Sri Lanka recovered to make as many as 178 all out was largely down to the cool authority of their captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, but the total entered the realms of competitiveness only narrowly. They already seemed consigned to their third defeat of this triangular and their eight consecutively in all.
England, who brought in John Crawley for Neil Fairbrother on fitness grounds and Vince Wells for Ashley Giles on tactical ones, started confidently in pursuit. They lost both openers in swift succession but were then guided to the finishing line by Graeme Hick, who was as controlled as he had been in Sydney two days earlier. It was Gough, rightly, who won the man of the match award.
This has been a long tour for the Yorkshireman and if he is tired, or jaded, or both it is perfectly understandable. But he has bowled his socks off for three months, often without his due reward. He has been nothing short of noble in England's cause and his opening spell yesterday fitted neatly into the routine. He was quick and he gave nothing away and his wickets were earned by a combination of intelligent and incisive bowling.
He had Sanath Jayasuriya caught low down at point, bowled Romesh Kaluwitharana with a ball of good length which whistled past the outside edge, persuaded Marvan Atapattu to flirt outside the off stump and to complete the set dispatched a yorker beneath Hashan Tillakaratne's bat. The spell was 4 for 5 in 21 balls and nobody, except the hapless Sri Lankans, would have begrudged him a single one.
Gough refused to set wicket targets at the start of the tour - small wonder since his return of 21 in the Ashes series was scant return for sterling efforts - but he has certainly enhanced his status. He has stayed fit and free of injury for the first time on such a long trip, although not as he wryly observed after this victory, free of pain. This was one of the good nights but that point served to remind what a hard and thankless job fast bowling can be.
At the point Gough took his fourth wicket, Ranatunga shuffled his way to the crease and took in the afternoon air. If he was at all perturbed it was impossible to tell, though maybe he chewed his gum a bit more quickly. At the crucial landmark of 15 overs the great pinch hitters of the modern game were 27 for 4, Alan Mullally having given Gough splendid new ball support. Ranatunga chewed his gum and stuck out his chest. He treats the freneticism of one-day cricket by making it look as if he is off for a gentle stroll in the park.
He never wastes energy in running the first one quickly, for instance, unless absolutely necessary. He knows instinctively when there is one and saunters it, probably musing on the meaning of life on the way. When he bats he looks as if he could be anywhere else in the world but a cricket pitch. It is all part of the Arjuna Roadshow, of course. He is alert to every ball and to every trick, though he is not quite as swift on his feet as events were to transpire.
Despite the crisis, he and the young all-rounder Upul Chandana put on 92 in 120 balls. Chandana made his first one-day international fifty but was out immediately after. Ranatunga might have been run out by Gough when he was 57 when the bowler, following up, executed an impeccable left- foot shot that hit the stumps. Ranatunga was adjudged not out but there was to be no escape in the penultimate over when, after facing 105 balls for his 76, he tried to regain his ground after backing up, turned too slowly and found Nasser Hussain's throw rather too quick.
England had the start they required. Nick Knight dashed as usual, Alec Stewart kept pace. They had shared 52 in 11 utterly untroubled overs when Knight flashed his cut down point's throat of the last ball Nuwan Zoysa's second over. Stewart clipped the first ball of his third to an effusive Ranatunga at short midwicket.
But that was as far as it went. Hick and Hussain consolidated once more and although Hussain was stumped by Kaluwitharana off a beauty from Muttiah Muralitharan which came out of the back of the hand when they had put on 62 (the wicketkeeper having muffed an earlier chance from an unreadable leg break) it was all too late. Crawley joined Hick (a studied, composed 66 in 71 balls) and England won at a canter with 28 balls left. They do not look like a side ready to cash in their chips.
Time running out for
West Indies, page 23
Sri Lanka won toss
S T Jayasuriya c Hussain b Gough 1
19 min, 17 balls
R S Kaluwitharana b Gough 15
28 min, 20 balls, 3 fours
M S Atapattu c Hick b Gough 1
16 min, 11 balls
H P Tillakaratne b Gough 0
19 min, 13 balls
D P M Jayawardena c Stewart
b Hollioake 12
58 min, 38 balls, 1 four
*A Ranatunga run out (Hussain-Gough) 76
151 min, 105 balls, 5 fours
U D U Chandana c Wells b Croft 50
73 min, 68 balls, 3 fours
G P Wickramasinghe b Hollioake 8
16 min, 10 balls, 1 four
W P U J C Vaas not out 11
22 min, 15 balls
M Muralitharan c Hussain b Mullally 1
3 min, 3 balls
D N T Zoysa run out (Ealham-Mullally) 0
2 min, 0 balls
Extras (lb8,w3) 11
Total (209 min, 50 overs) 186
Fall: 1-10 (Jayasuriya), 2-19 (Kaluwitharana), 3-20 (Atapattu), 4-21 (Tillakaratne), 5-48 (Jayawardena), 6-140 (Chandana), 7-158 (Wickramasinghe), 8-180 (Ranatunga), 9-184 (Muralitharan), 10-186 (Zoysa).
Bowling: Gough 10-3-28-4 (7-3-10-4 3-0-18-0); Mullally 10-2-23-1 (w3) (8-2-12-0 2-0-11-1); Hollioake 9-0-46-2 (7-0-34-1 2-0-12-1); Ealham 10- 0-32-0 (8-0-24-0 2-0-8-0); Croft 8-0-29-1; Wells 3-0-20-0 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 100 min, 138 balls. 100: 138 min, 201 balls. 150: 178 min, 263 balls. 15 overs score: 27 for 4.
Ranatunga 50: 105 min, 76 balls, 3 fours.
Chandana 50: 71 min, 67 balls, 3 fours.
N V Knight c Jayasuriya b Zoysa 31
48 min, 36 balls, 2 fours
*A J Stewart c Ranatunga b Zoysa 20
54 min, 35 balls, 3 fours
G A Hick not out 66
140 min, 101 balls, 3 fours
N Hussain st Kaluwitharana
b Muralitharan 29
65 min, 51 balls, 3 fours
J P Crawley not out 31
68 min, 52 balls, 1 four
Extras (lb2,w7,nb3) 12
Total (for 3, 189 min, 45.2 overs) 189
Fall: 1-52 (Knight), 2-53 (Stewart), 3-115 (Hussain).
Did not bat: A J Hollioake, M A Ealham, V J Wells, R D B Croft, D Gough, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Vaas 10-0-39-0 (nb1) (4-0-21-0 2-0-7-0 2-0-8-0 2-0-3-0); Wickramasinghe 10-0-35-0 (w2) (7-0-22-0 3-0-13-0); Zoysa 6-1-22-2 (w1) (one spell); Muralitharan 10-0-40-1 (nb2) (5-0-23-0 3-0-10-1 2-0-7-0); Chandana 7.2-0-38-0 (w2) (2-0-5-0 2-0-12-0 3-0 -16-0 0.2-0-5-0); Jayasuriya 2-0-13-0 (w2) (one spell).
Progress: 50: 45 min, 64 balls. 100: 108 min, 152 balls. 150: 154 min, 218 balls. 15 overs score: 60 for 2.
Hick 50: 110 min, 77 balls, 2 fours.
Result: England won by 7 wickets.
Man of the match: D Gough
Umpires: D J Harper and T A Prue.
TV replay umpire: G T D Morrow
Match Referee: P L van der Merwe
Compiled by Jo King