In the face of abundant doubt, scepticism and weariness, England enjoyed one of their most unlikely wins last night.
The victory by six wickets against a hitherto rampant Sri Lanka lent impetus to a Champions Trophy campaign which had looked doomed considering recent form, and also cast their captain, Andrew Strauss, as an exemplar of sportsmanship in the heat of battle.
All in all, it was a jolly good show. With England's one-day side, of course, anything is possible and while a place in the semi-finals is now there for the taking – a win against South Africa tomorrow would confirm their progress – it would equally be no surprise if they were still to make a terrible botch of things.
So, if England should not yet consider holding street parties, nor should this result be taken slightly. There was a second half-century for Eoin Morgan that was impressive for its reliance on orthodox method allied to diligence and patience rather than the improvised strokes he can play, which are hugely enticing but also occasionally dangerous.
Unshaken by an uncertain start, he made an unbeaten 62 from 83 balls. It was not a time for flirting with danger last night and, although England lost two early wickets, Paul Collingwood thrillingly and Owais Shah more circumspectly enhanced their advantage.
The pitch played into England's hands. It could have been transported from Durham in early May and the bowlers fed eagerly on it. While it did not quite nullify the Sri Lanka spinners it did not exactly encourage them either. That England won the toss was also helpful, but the job still had to be done. It duly was. The early dominance of Jimmy Anderson and Graham Onions reduced Sri Lanka to 17 for 4 and, although they effected an admirable recovery, it remained only partial.
A measly target of 213 was just what England's stuttering batsmen needed and they managed to squeeze over the line with five overs left. They took the plaudits for graciousness under pressure too, which in its way was a victory of equal magnitude.
England were in a healthy position with Sri Lanka on 170 for 6 but they would not have wished to be chasing many more. Angelo Mathews, who had just completed a worthy half- century crashed into Onions, the bowler, as he turned for a second run.
It was one of those incidents where nobody was at fault. Onions was merely trying to run back to cover the stumps at the bowler's end, Mathews did not have time to react by running round him. There almost certainly was not two in it. The ball came whizzing in from the boundary with Mathews 15 yards short of his ground. He was duly given run out and, although he looked hurt, off he went. With the players gathered round him, Strauss held a quick conference and called Mathews back.
It was an extremely generous gesture. Perhaps Strauss recalled the vaguely similar incident at The Oval last year when the New Zealand batsman Grant Elliott was impeded and run out. There was hell to play when England, then under Paul Collingwood, failed to call him back.
Strauss said later: "I saw the replay and it did not look right and he looked as though he would get back comfortably for two. There was no malice in anything Graham Onions did."
Strauss has some recent previous. He did not demur for a moment in the recent Ashes Test against Australia at Edgbaston when, with the teams having been handed in, the opponents' wicketkeeper Brad Haddin broke a finger in the warm-up. Strauss allowed his replacement by Graham Manou.
The reward for such gestures is said usually to come in heaven. Strauss knows better. He went on to lift the Ashes and last night Mathews added only another single before he edged to the keeper. That effectively terminated the batting.
What a start for England. With the ball swinging, Anderson and Onions took immediate toll and with the top four out, it was always uphill. Partnerships of 64 and 82, and a controlled 53 from Thilana Kandamby partly rectified matters. But England knew this was a target in their grasp and, although the openers went early, there was no real worry. All to play for now.
England v Sri Lanka: Scoreboard
England beat Sri Lanka by six wickets
England won toss
T Dilshan c Morgan b Anderson: 2
S Jayasuriya c Prior b Onions: 0
*†K Sangakkara c Strauss b Onions: 1
M Jayawardene lbw b Anderson: 9
12 balls 1 four
T Samaraweera c Collingwood b Broad: 30
48 balls 4 fours
T Kandamby run out (Wright): 53
82 balls 5 fours
A Mathews c Prior b Wright: 52
73 balls 6 fours
N Kulasekara not out: 17
24 balls 1 four 1 six
M Muralitharan b Broad: 18
10 balls 2 fours 1 six
L Malinga b Broad: 0
A Mendis c Strauss b Anderson: 5
Extras (lb 4, w 21): 25
Total (47.3 overs): 212
Fall: 1-7 (Jayasuriya), 2-7 (Dilshan), 3-17 (Jayawardene), 4-17 (Sangakkara), 5-81 (Samaraweera), 6-163 (Kandamby), 7-176 (Mathews), 8-197 (Muralitharan), 9-197 (Malinga), 10-212 (Mendis).
Bowling: J Anderson 9.3-2-20-3 (w3), G Onions 10-0-58-2 (w5), S Broad 10-0-49-3 (w5), L Wright 6-0-33-1 (w1), P Collingwood 8-0-24-0 (w2), G Swann 4-0-24-0 (w1).
*A Strauss c Kandamby b Kulasekara: 9
25 balls 1 four
J Denly lbw b Kulasekara: 5
11 balls 1 four
O Shah c Sangakkara b Muralitharan: 44
74 balls 3 fours 1 six
P Collingwood b Malinga: 46
51 balls 5 fours 3 sixes
E Morgan not out: 62
83 balls 7 fours
†M Prior not out: 28
27 balls 3 fours
Extras (lb 7, w 11, nb 1): 19
Total (4 wkts, 45 overs): 213
Fall: 1-9 (Denly), 2-19 (Strauss), 3-81 (Collingwood), 4-158 (Shah).
Did not bat: L J Wright, S Broad, G Swann, G Onions, J M Anderson.
Bowling: L Malinga 9-0-43-1 (w3nb1), N Kulasekara 9-1-42-2 (w2), A Mathews 8-2-26-0 (w1), A Mendis 9-0-35-0 (w1), M Muralitharan 10-0-60-1 (w3).
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) & B F Bowden (NZ).Reuse content