With minimum fuss, as if they saw it as their destiny, England reached the World Twenty20 final last night. Their defeat of Sri Lanka by seven wickets with 24 balls to spare had an air of inevitability almost from the off.
Sri Lanka hit the first ball of the match for four but were never in the contest thereafter. England took wickets in the second, third and fifth overs, utterly stifled the middle of the innings with lethal slower bowling, which was horrible to watch though mightily effective, and knocked off the 129 runs with swashbuckling abandon.
England's first-wicket pairing of Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter put on 68 by the ninth over and then Kevin Pietersen, freshly returned from the birth of his first child in London, played with magisterial disdain as if he needed to phone home quickly to check that everything was in order. Sri Lanka made fielding errors which England did not.
It was as complete a performance as the trio that England assembled in the Super Eight stage of the competition. This is a new England, one completely unrecognisable from the teams that played in the past two versions of this competition. At the outset, the side had the look of being gathered on a wing and a prayer but that has proved far from the truth.
It is the first time that England have reached a world knockout final since they were beaten in the Champions Trophy at home in 2004. But they have never won a limited-overs tournament in the 34 years they have spent trying since the World Cup began, and they will spend the next three days until Sunday's final in Barbados pondering that.
Whether Paul Collingwood's rapidly created side can now go on to break the mould by becoming champions may well depend on what Australia have to say about it. First, however, Australia have to overcome the holders, Pakistan, in the second semi-final today, and as Pakistan are doing their usual impression in these matters of waking up just in time after a long sleep, it may not be as comfortable as it looks. But Australia, who have been blasting their way to victories, are favourites.
"We're delighted to be in the final but it doesn't stop here," said Collingwood. "We haven't won anything yet and I'm going to try to keep drilling that into the guys. Don't get carried away but we have got ourselves into a position to win."
The captain doubtless would like to meet Australia. As with all England players, there is a lot of previous between them and victory against the oldest enemy would taste the sweeter. On the other hand, Pakistan, as contrary as they can be up until now, might not turn up on the day.
"Everyone from outside would want to see an England-Australia game," said Collingwood. "But we mustn't forget that Pakistan deserve enormous respect as world champions and whoever we come up against we're going to have to continue to play as we have played."
There was always the suspicion that England's progress to the semi-final stage was a mere mirage and that a wily side like Sri Lanka might have their measure on a slow pitch on which slow bowling and seam bowling with the pace taken off could have a strangulating effect. This turned out to be poppycock.
It was England, after losing the toss, who used the conditions to their advantage. They determined not to let Sri Lanka make a break for it at the start and quickly ensnared the veteran Sanath Jayasuriya, Tillakaratne Dilshan – the batsman of the last World Twenty20 in England – and Mahela Jayawardena, the leading batsman of this competition.
Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad both took wickets with their first balls, which allowed the spin duo of Graeme Swann and Mike Yardy to execute their by-now-familiar act of preventing the opposition from playing any scoring strokes. They varied the pace and used the vagaries of the pitch wonderfully. It was masterful strangulation and their eight overs yielded only 41 runs.
Broad, Sidebottom and, less successfully, Tim Bresnan all bowled as slow as they dared. The abiding image of this competition will be of respectable fast bowlers delivering slow bouncers, known in other forms of cricket as long hops. They have, to a man, worked.
Only Angelo Mathews, with a lung-busting 58 which contained only 18 runs scored from boundaries and 10 twos, kept them in the match. But even then it was only by a whisker. Lumb and Kieswetter did what they have been doing for a fortnight, plundering fearlessly at the top of the order. As in previous matches they departed but did so with platform constructed. They, said Collingwood, had been the last pieces in the jigsaw. "Everyone thought it was a gamble but we knew what they were capable of," he said.
Pietersen finished off the match with a typical flourish, a six off Lasith Malinga, crisply flicked with a snap of his wrists, being immediately followed by a straight four. He had 42 from 26 balls and could check on junior's night feed.Reuse content