In the long and ignominious history of England's one-day forays on foreign soil, their 299th match yesterday may come to be regarded as seminal. Victory in Sri Lanka was precious enough, having the rarity value of English wrist spinners, but its manner, its background and what it could portend made it extraordinary.
It had been 25 years since England had won a one-day match on the teardrop island and coming into the second match of this one-day series almost everything suggested that another quarter of a century could pass before the crying stopped. But win Paul Collingwood's side did, by 65 runs, not with any particular sense of style but with a hard-nosed determination which bespoke an uncommon self-belief and rendered Sanath Jayasuriya's record 400th one-day international a wretched experience.
"Tonight was exceptional," said Collingwood. "To come back like that after a tough opening match showed to me that there is a lot of character in the side, but also a lot of skill. But it's only one match. If we go on to win the series I will put it down as one of my best ever wins, if not I won't."
The series is now level at 1-1, a virtually unthinkable scoreline after the thoroughly purposeful fashion with which Sri Lanka had overwhelmed the tourists on Monday. So superior had they been in every department that the general consensus was that England may as well head for home to save further humiliation.
The riposte to such analysis was framed around a wonderful innings of 82 from Owais Shah. He was still to start school when England last won a one-dayer in Sri Lanka in February 1982 (six others in yesterday's side were as yet unborn). Shah came in with the side in deep trouble at 61 for 4 with their two best players Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen (who was distinctly out of sorts) gone.
It had been an important toss to win because the perception of the Rangiri ground is that batting first is vital. England, however, were on the very verge of wasting the advantage and another wicket then would have confirmed the pre-match verdicts.
Shah and Collingwood assembled a cautious, vigilant rearguard action. It was not always easy entertainment and at times it was as stodgy as a Sri Lankan roti. But they grasped the importance of grabbing singles and twos as often as they could. When England lost two more wickets, Graeme Swann again showed that he might have a predilection for international cricket with a composed run-a-ball innings.
Shah worked the gaps with an aplomb not shared by all his colleagues. He did not always read the much-trumpeted slower balls of the home side's seamers but by the time he was out to his 92nd ball England had something to defend.
It seemed no more than that, in truth, but Sri Lanka were never in the hunt. In their way they were as inefficient as England had been three nights earlier, dismantled by ruthless efficiency. New ball wickets were essential and they duly arrived, though England spurned two chances.
Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson began with rigorous control. In Sidebottom's first over he had Upul Tharanga well held at slip and Kumar Sangakkara dropped there, Alastair Cook being the fielder on both occasions.
When Philip Mustard could only palm another slash from Sangakkara it was possible to fear the worst. But Jayasuriya, the most capped man in one-day history, drove to cover and Sangakkara was then held by Mustard low to his left. Stuart Broad surprised Chamara Silva with a well-directed slower ball and Sri Lanka were as entrenched in the mire as England had been. There was no way back. Swann bowled Tillakaratne Dilshan with a beauty which turned a foot and Sri Lanka attempted sensibly – there was no other course – to fashion a pursuit around Mahela Jayawardene. It might have worked, but he chipped Collingwood to mid-on. It was all up.
When England last won a one-dayer here the man of the match was Ian Botham. Nobody is suggesting that Owais Shah will go on to receive a knighthood but it was a noble innings.Reuse content