SRI LANKA captain Angelo Mathews let out a wild grunt and threw his bat in despair. As he limped forward gingerly, overcome by cramps, a sombre looking Jeffrey Vandersay came forward to shake hands with his captain. Not far away, the English players were in a huddle. They looked relieved to have survived the onslaught from Sri Lanka, led by their captain. In the end, a 10-run win over Sri Lanka was all that was required for this English team to book a place in semis of the World T20.
As Mathews walked off at the Feroz Shah Kotla, you would only feel sorry for him. As wickets tumbled around him, he stood like a giant, offering hope to his team. In the end, an unbeaten 73 was still not enough to take Lanka across the finish line. For a major part in this tournament, they have looked listless. Their bowling and fielding did not inspire confidence, and their top order continued to falter at crucial junctures. Today, was no different.
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Chasing England’s 172, Sri Lanka’s top-order batting looked like fish out of water. Scores from their top-4 batters — Dilshan, Chandimal, Siriwardane and Thirimmane — read 2, 1, 7 and 3. After three overs, the Lankans were 4/15, and one couldn’t be faulted for thinking the match was as good as over. It was then that Kapugedara joined his captain and probably for the first time, their batting showed the stomach to fight. The duo added 80 runs in the space of 9 overs to put the match on an even keel.
Hoping against hope
Both Mathews and Kapugedara took a liking to the English spin duo of Moeen Ali and Adil Rasheed, collecting 64 runs from their four overs. Kapugedara (30), Thisara (20) and Shanaka (15) all played perfect foil to their captain, as they set their eyes on the finish line. However, pacers Jordan and Willey struck vital blows in the end. As Stokes came to bowl the final over, Lanka needed 15 runs to win. By then Mathews was gasping. Overcome by cramps, he was running gingerly, and wanted to keep the strike. Luckily for England, Stokes kept his nerve to bowl tight lines to Mathews, and fluff the possibility of a Sri Lanka win.
MATHEWS: We have let the fans down
Earlier, Alex Hales was perhaps the only false note in England’s batting symphony. Opener Jason Roy and Joe Root provided them with the platform, which was finished with a flourish by wicket-keeper Jos Buttler and captain Eoin Morgan. Buttler, the chief architect for England today, had found it tough against the Afghan spinners. Unable to rotate strike, he looked a pale shadow of his usual belligerent self. That was not the case today. He walked in at the fall of Root’s wicket in the 11th over with the score reading 2/65. The game was delicately poised, and another wicket would have pushed the Sri Lankans in a position of ascendancy. Buttler, however, was in no mood to go into his shell. He began with a wristy reverse sweep off leg-spinner Vandersay for a boundary. He then followed it up with an arrogant ramp shot, this time off Mathews. He kept rotating the strike, and his footwork looked more assured. He came down the track against the spinners, especially Vandersay, in an obvious attempt to put him off guard. The dismissal of Roy in the 13th over did not deter him.
That was because he found an ally in captain Eoin Morgan, who was desperate to make amends after his duck in the last match. Like Buttler, Morgan looked immensely assured from the start. A neat flick off Thisara Perera was followed by a humongous club over long off to take England past the 100-run mark in the 16th over.
With four overs remaining, Buttler too got into the act, stroking three boundaries in Chameera’s over to take England in sight of a score in excess of 150. When Morgan was eventually run out in the second ball of the final over, England had raced to 162, with the fourth-wicket stand between him and Buttler had yielded 74 runs in just 39 deliveries.
Brief Scores: England 171/4 in 20 overs (Jos Buttler 66, Jason Roy 42) beat Sri Lanka 161/8 (Angelo Mathews 73 not out, Chamara Kapugedera 30, Chris Jordan 4/28) by 10 runs.