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Sri Lanka stormed into the semifinals of the ICC Cricket World Cup with a commanding win over England by 10 wickets at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Saturday. Set a tricky target of 230 to chase down, the Sri Lankan openers put together a magnificent unbeaten stand to get there with embarrassing ease. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga ended up scoring their 2nd centuries at the World Cup, and raised their second opening stand in excess of 200. Earlier, Jonathan Trott grinded his way to a gritty 86 against an impressive spin bowling display by the hosts. He had support from Eoin Morgan who scored a fifty benefitting from a slew of dropped chances, but the innings failed to really gather any impetus and ended up well short of a challenging total.
England had the rub of the green go their way at the toss on a Premadasa wicket heavily favouring sides batting first. They persisted with Chris Tremlett as James Anderson, expected to come in, was made to warm the benches once more. Sri Lanka fielded 3 frontline spinners in Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath, who made the XI at the expense of Nuwan Kulasekara.
England's new opening partner for the skipper, Ian Bell, was unveiled amid a great atmosphere and the din of the Sri Lankan brass bands. Lasith Malinga bowled a short, sharp, 2-over spell at the top, keeping it full and getting only a hint of swing. For the first time in this World Cup, Sri Lanka had a spinner sharing the new ball, a tactic much-used to resounding success by almost every side. It was Tillakaratne Dilshan, the part-timer, who kept Strauss tightly shackled, and the England skipper got stuck into a rut, completely out of his depth against spin. Dilshan did eventually rid him of his misery, rattling his stumps for a shoddy 5 off 19. Bell departed soon after, spooning to short midwicket off Angelo Mathews, and wasting a promising and assured start of 25.
Ravi Bopara walked in at No.4 in big pressure, and alongside Jonathan Trott, steadied a rocking ship. Rangana Herath, the left-arm orthodox spinner was the first specialist tweaker brought on inside the PowerPlay ahead of Murali and Mendis by Sangakkara, and he bowled a fine, fine spell of loop and flight, and was unlucky not to get a wicket with a couple of very strong lbw shouts, one of which was referred but denied as the impact was over 2.5 metres from the stumps.
Mendis and Muralitharan followed, and though the pressure continued to be applied, the partnership was increasingly growing in confidence. Just as it seemed that England were out of the woods, Murali struck, trapping Bopara in front for 31, and England even wasted a review on a fairly straightforward, plumb dismissal.
Eoin Morgan, ever so crucial to England's cause due to his effective strike rotation and big hitting towards the end of the innings, came in next and settled into his stride very quickly and brought a positive approach to the crease as well. It possibly rubbed off on the sedate Trott as well, as he hit his very first boundary after 64 balls in the middle. Soon after, Morgan, on 16, benefitted from his first slice of luck as Thilan Samaraweera, running in from deep point, put down an absolute sitter as Morgan's miscued drive went up into the air.
His second reprieve was an lbw shout turned down off Malinga that HawkEye showed to be out, but was not reviewed. Still, the Sri Lankans looked hellbent on keeping Morgan at the crease as two more chances went down, the first a dolly at deep cover dropped by Mathews and the other diving forward at point, both in the same over from Murali. The veteran genius looked worse than furious, murderous even, but importantly the dangerman lived on.
Eventually the PowerPlay was taken in the 43rd over, and like so many times before in this World Cup, England made a mess of it, scoring a mere 23 for the loss of 2 wickets. Morgan, just after completing his half-century, tried to clear the infield but failed, handing Malinga his first wicket. Graeme Swann, promoted as a pinch-hitter, tried the reverse sweep first ball and was caught plumb in front. Thereafter, the PowerPlay and the innings in general petered out with a whimper as the Lankans applied the brakes and Trott was unable to break free. He went for an industrious 86, caught in the deep off Murali, a laborious knock featuring just 2 hits to the fence.
A useful hand from Prior of 22 got England to 229/6, a score not by any means par against a strong Sri Lankan lineup that had achieved 266 in their unsuccessful chase of 277 against Pakistan on the same ground, but a defendable total nevertheless. The English had only themselves to blame for their lack of application as a number of batsmen, the textbook technician Trott included, seemed to suffer from an inexplicable fixation for playing the reverse sweep at every other ball tossed up.
Invariably England too opened the bowling with spin, in the form of frontline bowler Graeme Swann. He bowled very attacking lines, tossed the ball up confidently and got a great amount of turn, but the Sri Lankan openers were more than equal to the task. They played with minimal risk, and yet attacked Swann, Tharanga even prancing down the pitch to send the ball straight into the sightscreen for the very first six of the game.
Strauss rotated his bowlers around fairly briskly, with as many as 6 bowlers introduced into the attack in the first 11 overs. The initial caution of the openers slowly but surely gave way to confidence, and the chase was taken by the scruff of the neck as Dilshan hit his first six off James Tredwell over long-off. At the drinks interval post the 18th over, Sri Lanka were very, very comfortably poised at 94 for no loss, if England had harboured any hopes of making the chase difficult, they were evaporating in the late evening Colombo heat very quickly.
Interestingly, given the form the openers had shown, Andrew Strauss elected not to take the Bowling PowerPlay from over 11 to 15, as is most often the norm for fielding sides.
Given that the Lankan spinners had bowled an impressive 35 overs between them with just the one frontline pacer used, a lot was expected from Swann and Tredwell as well. The pair did produce the odd deliveries with big turn that beat the batsmen, but the batsmen had dug in for the long haul very well and were going about the chase most sensibly.
Strauss continued to shuffle his bowlers, in desperate search of some inspiration, but the batsmen were is such command that nothing seemed to faze them. Perhaps expectedly, it was the military medium pace of Ravi Bopara and Luke Wright that came closest to arresting the scoring rate, but there seemed to be absolutely no wickets coming from any quarters whatsoever.
In this passage of play, Chris Tremlett had two tough chances to snare Tharanga caught-and-bowled, but failed to latch on to either. Eventually England took a delayed Bowling PowerPlay, but it only helped the batsmen accelerate further and hasten the inevitable.
As the chase inexorably closed in on the target and the duo approached their respective hundreds, both started to struggle with their tired legs losing energy rapidly in the oppressive, sapping humidity. Tharanga even needed a runner, and after reaching his hundred, Dilshan too seemed to be cramping up.
As Tharanga started to really struggle towards the close, he was almost completely at the mercy of his partner to leave him enough runs to reach his own three-figure mark. Dilshan generously gave him the strike and defended faithfully, but with 7 needed to win and Tharanga needing 2, he hit a boundary to just make things interesting. Tharanga, though, was not to be denied and raised his 2nd hundred of the tournament with the same boundary through cover that sealed the game with a full 10.3 over to spare.Â Dilshan scored over Tharanga to win the Man-of-the-Match honours by virtue of his wicket of Strauss.
England's campaign ends here, and though they bow out comprehensively beaten, they have more than done their bit to liven up the prolonged group stages and create some excitement with close finishes in each and every group game. They were expected to struggle given they came in jaded on the back of a long and exhausting tour Down Under, and lost many a player to injury, and, as Andrew Strauss as much as admitted, probably did not deserve to go through to the semis given their inconsistency.
The Sri Lankan juggernaut marches on, and New Zealand will be up against it come the semifinal on Tuesday at the same venue. Sri Lanka boast a varied, skillful spin arsenal, and possess a bowler capable of producing searing yorkers at any stage of the game, to back up an extremely strong and in-form top order. They should be the ones to watch out for, not just in the semifinal, but on the big day next Saturday in Mumbai at the Wankhede.
England: Andrew Strauss (c), Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior (wk), Luke Wright, Tim Bresnan,James Tredwell, Chris Tremlett
Sri Lanka: Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (c & wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews, Chamara Silva, Thilan Samaraweera, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan
England: 229/6 (50 overs; 4.58 rpo)
Jonathan Trott 86 (115 b, 2x4)Â Â Â Â Â Muttiah Muralitharan 9-0-54-2
Eoin Morgan 50 (55 b, 4x4)Â Â Â Â Â Tillakaratne Dilshan 6-1-25-1
Ravi Bopara 31 (56 b, 1x4)Â Â Â Â Â Angelo Mathews 5-0-20-1
Sri Lanka: 231/0 (39.3 overs; 5.84 rpo)
Tillakaratne Dilshan 108* (115 b, 10x4, 2x6)Â Â Â Luke Wright 4-0-17-0
Upul Tharanga 102* (122 b, 12x4, 1x6)Â Â Â Â Ravi Bopara 5-1-22-0
Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets with 63 balls to spare
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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