England were in that unhappy position where if a game was there to be lost then they would naturally lose it. Equally, if it was there to be won then they would lose that too.
Tonight in this jungle setting in Hambantota, and not without stepping carelessly into a trap or two, they eventually defeated Sri Lanka by five wickets with eight balls to spare. It made the score in the series 2-1 with four matches to play and if it did not halt the prolonged siege of their captain, Alastair Cook, it may have stalled it for a day or two.
The tourists, as has been their way for the past year, tried their hardest to muck things up, but when it mattered most they had a huge and timely stroke of fortune which may, who knows, be the turning point they have been desperately seeking.
They were seen home by a scintillating stand of 84 in 63 balls from Joe Root and Jos Buttler. If it was Buttler who supplied the power with an ebullient display of fierce hitting, Root was the bulwark for the innings. But there were still 34 needed when Root seemed to be out, driving to cover after gleefully pulling a six.
Another loss beckoned then. But just before he reached the boundary rope Root was halted. Replays showed that the bowler Dhammika Prasad had overstepped. No-ball was signalled and another 15 runs came off the over as Buttler struck three consecutive fours. Even England’s 2014 vintage could not mislay that advantage.
How they tried earlier in their innings. Pursuing a formidable target of 236 to win from 35 overs after Sri Lanka made 242 in their 35 (the adjustment was formulated under the DL procedure, still arcanely accurate after all these years) they were cruising at the outset.
Trouble, however, lay in store as invariably it does with this side. An opening partnership of 84 between a revitalised Cook and a glorious Moeen Ali ended innocuously when the captain lamely hung out his bat to dry, a hopeless exercise at any time but especially in this humidity.
Moeen, having timed his innings effortlessly to 58 from 40 balls, was run out as he called Alex Hales for an easy, long single. Hales did not hear, or in the parlance, cocked a deaf’un. It was dozy at best, selfish at worst.
England, who dropped Ian Bell, James Tredwell and Harry Gurney, then shed three wickets for eight runs as is their way. Eoin Morgan, out pulling uncomfortably, cannot go on like this.
Root and Buttler took their time, a brave choice as Cook said later, as there was not much of it left. But as it happened they knew when and how to press the throttle and Sri Lanka’s bowlers did not relish the attack being taken to them.
“I don’t think we played our best cricket but we got over the line,” said Cook. “That should give us a lot of confidence.”
The match was held up for almost three hours as torrential rain intervened after two overs. England’s bowling attack was largely in better order, though it remains a mysterious game for Ben Stokes at present. Sri Lanka were guided by Kumar Sangakkara, passing fifty for the 108th time, and finished in a rush.
Cook himself faces a one-match ban for England’s slow over rate, having already transgressed once this year. He was quite rightly happy tonight because any win was welcome but if he thinks about it, as he misses a match he is not guaranteed to regain his place.Reuse content