Champions Trophy: Kumar Sangakkara forces England back on ropes for decider

Sri Lanka 297 England 293-7 (Sri Lanka win by seven wickets)

The Kia Oval

Four days after one of their players was punched by an Australian, England have been left on the ropes in the Champions Trophy, this time by one of the outstanding batsmen in the modern game.

If reports are to be believed, David Warner's swing at Joe Root in a Birmingham bar did not belong in any boxing arena. Kumar Sangakkara's flawless century, on the other hand, was the cricketing equivalent of a punching combination thrown by a master of the ring. The verbal retort he offered to Jimmy Anderson after one straight drive for four was far less painful than the stroke itself.

It leaves England needing to beat New Zealand in Cardiff on Sunday to qualify for the semi-finals. The weather forecast for the weekend in south Wales is grim, meaning Alastair Cook and his players might have to rely on a favourable result in the final match between Sri Lanka and Australia.

England captain Cook might feel that the crucial moment of this match arrived after 25 overs of Sri Lanka's innings. With the ball at the Pavilion End just starting to reverse-swing, the umpires decided to change it. Cook was clearly unhappy with the decision and thereafter, Sri Lanka never looked in danger.

Ravi Bopara took 28 from the final over to set Sri Lanka 294 to win. It looked a difficult target, but it was not, and Sri Lanka reached it with more than two overs to spare, with Sangakkara unbeaten on 134 and Nuwan Kulasekara 58 not out. They reached their century stand from only 68 balls.

England's batting plans have worked reasonably well in this tournament, and 293 for seven appeared a challenging score. It will be interesting to see if their strategy changes in Cardiff, should the weather permit it.

After Angelo Mathews chose to field first, Ian Bell fell early before Cook was dropped twice by Tillekaratne Dilshan, the second time when he had 56 at the time and, luckily for Dilshan, he made only three more runs before he was lbw to Rangana Herath attempting a sweep.

Cook chose to review, which proved a poor decision. It meant Eoin Morgan, wrongly judged leg-before by umpire Billy Bowden in the closing overs, did not have the chance to challenge.

Morgan had come to the wicket after a fine partnership between Trott and Root. While Root's trip to the Walkabout bar in Birmingham will fade from memory as the summer moves on, the quality of his batting is hard to forget.

Like Cook, Root was dropped twice, but the energy of his running and the sheer chutzpah of some of his strokes were a delight.

 



The highlight of Root's innings was a reverse ramp shot for four off Kulasekara's fast-medium. When Root was eventually dismissed, caught at deep midwicket, he had made 68 from 55 deliveries. Along with Trott, who made 76 but was later unable to field because of a thigh problem, he had paved the way for an expected acceleration.

Initially, the engine misfired. After removing Root, Lasith Malinga had two wickets in two balls, Morgan unlucky to be lbw. When Jos Buttler was caught behind, England had lost three batsmen in the space of six deliveries and had not scored a run.

As Shaminda Eranga prepared to bowl the final over of the innings, Tim Bresnan had also departed and England were 265 for seven, struggling to regain momentum. How Bopara provided it.

The first and third balls of the over were hit for six, over the long-on boundary and then the extra-cover one. Before the last ball, Bopara had taken 22 from the over and it was soon 28 thanks to his third six.

England's spirits were high again and their smiles grew wider when Kusal Perera fell early to Jimmy Anderson. Such is the expertise of Sri Lanka's best batsmen, though, that those happy expressions were replaced by furrowed brows.

Sangakkara and Dilshan added 92 in 18.3 overs but Dilshan lost his concentration and chipped Graeme Swann straight to Root at long-off. The partnership for the next wicket, between Sangakkara and Jayawardene, was even more accomplished; its conclusion even more surprising.

In the first over of the batting powerplay, Jayawardene, who had a run-a-ball 42, was caught in the deep off Anderson. England could have had two more wickets in the batting powerplay, but substitute fielder Jonny Bairstow misjudged Kulasekara's pull under the lights and soon afterwards produced a wild throw when an accurate delivery would have led to a run-out.

Kulasekara, promoted up the order for the powerplay, hit consecutive sixes off Graeme Swann and when he reached his fifty from 30 balls, the game was up. England are suddenly in a pickle.

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