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Sangakkara’s triumphant knock cut England down to their knees
Kumar Sangakkara singlehandedly put Sri Lanka on his back and carried them across the finish line against England in what many cricket pundits would have arguably called his best ODI innings to date.
Sangakarra’s breathtaking 134 stole the limelight and left England bright red with embarrassment as they had to face the taunts and jeers from their home crowd after scoring 293, which in nine out of ten cases would have been a winning total.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews won the toss and had no hesitation in bowling first on a grassy surface since it would work wonders for the pace bowlers early on into the match.
Despite being a little disappointed at having lost the toss, England captain Alastair Cook came out of the pavilion with his head held high and together with his opening partner, Ian Bell, they took the attack to Sri Lanka’s seamers.
Both Cook and Bell looked in fine form and had the crowd cheering at regular intervals as they kept the scoreboard moving frequently by running between the wickets brilliantly and dispatching poor deliveries to the boundary with authority.
Just as the pair were nearing their 50 partnership, Shaminda Eranga provided the pivotal breakthrough for Sri Lanka by luring Bell into a false stroke, which ended up falling straight into the hands of midwicket.
Despite losing Bell for just 20, Cook remained calm and together with Jonathan Trott, or ‘Mr Consistent’ as he is more commonly referred to, they continued to build on the solid start that had been made.
Both men looked to be in a class of their own and it was only a matter of time before the pair had registered their 50 partnership.
Mathews was trying different bowling combinations in an attempt to bamboozle one of the batsmen at the crease, but it was to no avail as it seemed nothing would work against Cook and Trott.
Cook soon brought up his own half-century, but as the pair took their partnership into the eighties, the England skipper attempted a sweep shot, but was rapped on the pads in front of his stumps instead and given out by umpire Aleem Dar.
Cook immediately called for a review, but it worked against him and he was on his way back to the pavilion after having scored 59 runs.
England’s ‘Golden Boy’ Joe Root joined Trott at the crease and once again the pair worked effectively together, scoring runs at a healthy rate.
Mathews looked close to tearing his hair out as Trott went past his own half-century and the pair registered yet another 50 partnership.
Once the 50 partnership had been brought up, the pair upped the scoring rate and were going at over six runs per over.
But, just as Root had scored his own half-century, the eighties and sweep bug struck again as Trott was out lbw attempting a sweep shot on 76.
Root and Trott’s partnership had been worth 87 runs and the scoring rate had been at an outstanding 6.44 runs per over.
Root was the next victim of the lbw bug as he was caught plumb in front of the stumps on 68 by Sri Lanka pace spearhead Lasith Malinga.
Sri Lanka got some reprieve towards the end of the innings, taking the wickets of Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Tim Bresnan in quick succession.
However, Ravi Bopara spoiled Sri Lanka’s celebrations with a quickfire 33 off just 13 balls, which included two boundaries and three sixes, to boost England to a brilliant total of 293 at the end of their 50 overs.
Eranga, Malinga and Rangana Herath shared the spoils as the trio took two wickets apiece, while Nuwan Kulasekara chipped in with a wicket as well.
Chasing a tough total of 294 to win, England’s James Anderson struck early with the new ball, removing Kusal Perera for just six runs.
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara got together and started to repair the early damage England had caused.
The pair ensured they kept scoring their runs at a healthy rate and it wasn’t long before they had brought Sri Lanka back into the game with a 50 run partnership.
However, Dilshan and Sangakkara showed no signs of slowing down as they continued to demolish the England bowling attack.
But, just as the pair was approaching the century partnership mark and Dilshan his own half century, the explosive batsman was dismissed by spinner Graeme Swann for 44 after trying to clear the boundary.
Dilshan and Sangakkara’s partnership of 92 had rescued Sri Lanka from a dire situation right at the beginning of their innings.
Former captain Mahela Jayawardene joined Sangakkara at the crease and together they continued to build on the excellent partnership that had preceded theirs.
The pair brought up their 50 partnership in quick time, but the eighties bug came roaring back when Jayawardene was dismissed on 42 by Anderson, which ended his and Sangakkara’s partnership on 85.
In a rather surprising move, Mathews decided to promote Kulasekara up the order with hopes that he would play one of the innings of his career.
Mathews’ gamble seemed to pay off as Kulasekara hammered the England bowling attack all over the ground, much to the delight of the Sri Lankan fans in attendance.
Sangakkara soon brought up his 15th ODI century, once again much to the delight of the Sri Lankan fans, who were keeping the atmosphere tense with the rhythmic beat of their drums filling the air.
With the runs needed and deliveries remaining continuing to decrease, the game had all the makings of being an absolute classic.
By now the pair had raced past the half-century mark and were rushing towards the triple figures like an out-of-control freight train.
Cook looked to be at a loss of words of what he was witnessing as Kulasekara also brought up his own half-century.
Sangakkara sealed the deal with a pull shot that reached the boundary to give Sri Lanka an emphatic seven-wicket victory.
Sangakkara remained unbeaten on 134 off 135 balls, while Kulasekara had also played a gem of an innings, scoring 58 runs off 38 deliveries, which included five boundaries and three maximums.
Anderson and Swann were the only two England bowlers to take wickets as the former finished with two and the latter with one.
Cook was definitely disappointed at having lost the match, but praised Sangakkara’s century and Sri Lanka’s outstanding run chase.
“Obviously that was an outstanding hundred, any time you chase 300 someone has to play well,” he said. “The pitch quickened up but sometimes you have to say credit where it’s due. The rate was always seven, we could have taken a couple more wickets but they played well. It was very hard to get the ball to reverse swing and it was changed after 21 overs. I thought 300 was about par – my innings, I couldn’t quite get it away, if you add another 20 runs on that would probably have been enough. We knew we’d have to win one of these two game, hopefully we’ll come back strongly at Cardiff.”
Mathews noted that the win was much-needed for Sri Lanka as it provided them with a newfound confidence that had been lacking in their narrow loss to New Zealand.
“We needed that, to be honest, we started confidently and the bowlers were really good in the middle overs, we just had one go for 20 runs near the end,” Mathews said. “Sanga batted really well, it’s great to have a player like that at number three. We had a chat at the break with the batters, thought it might swing and seam a little but the pitch played really well. The management decided [to promote Kula], he’s been batting really well and it paid off. The last game we were rusty, in the field missing catches but we can keep improving.”
Sangakkara was the obvious choice for the Man of the Match award, and he said: “I was pretty happy about it, we had to play well at the start, see off Jimmy Anderson but Mahela played really well and we got on top of it. [Kulasekara’s innings] took the pressure off and those two overs, off Swann and Broad, were decisive. That’s the Champions Trophy for you, the pressure is on, players aspire to play in it, I’m pleased to have done well today. We’ve got to win another one, the Aussies are a tough outfit so we’ll have to prepare well.”