January 17, 2003

Sri Lanka wilt under relentless England pressure

The farcical run out of Sanath Jayasuriya for 99 proved to be the turning point as England won their crucial triangular series match with Sri Lanka by 19 runs. England's bowlers kept their nerve to apply irresistible pressure on the remaining Sri Lankan batsmen and win a compelling encounter.

England's triumph in defending their total of 279 owed much to Andrew Caddick, who took two early wickets and two more coming back to bowl his last two overs at a crucial stage of the innings. Michael Vaughan and Ian Blackwell also played telling roles with the ball, keeping the scoring rate down when Sri Lanka desperately needed to accelerate.

The fly in the ointment for England was an injury to Steve Harmison, who after being taken out of the attack for costing 27 runs in just two overs, was forced off the ground after turning an ankle in the field.

Jayasuriya, once again, was magical to watch. Most of his runs came on the off-side, with his trademark cover drive to the fore. He lost Marvan Atapattu (12) playing on to Caddick in the third over after an explosive start, and Hashan Tillakaratne (9) brilliantly caught off Caddick by Alec Stewart, leaping like a spring salmon to hold an edge high to his left with both hands.

Aravinda de Silva was also the victim of fine wicket-keeping, as Stewart, standing up to Paul Collingwood, clung on to a thick outside edge. That was 119 for three, but with 31 overs still remaining Sri Lanka were still very much in the hunt.

Mahela Jayawardene looked in no trouble at all until, on 19, he played an inexplicable paddle to leg off Ronnie Irani and the ball looped up for Vaughan at mid-wicket. Disaster followed as Jayasuriya, having reached 99 off just 83 balls, called Kumar Sangakkara for a straightforward single to mid-off. Sangakkara somehow managed to get in his captain's way, and Jayasuriya was left short of his ground as Nasser Hussain hit the stumps direct.

Sangakkara attempted to atone for his glaring error by settling down to build a partnership with Russel Arnold that revived Sri Lanka's hopes of victory. Boundaries were hard to come by, however, and Blackwell and Vaughan managed to apply relentless pressure.

It took the return of Caddick to open the floodgates. First Sangakkara (56) lashed to Blackwell at mid-wicket. Chaminda Vaas then swung Vaughan hard and high for Collingwood to take a fine catch in the deep. When Arnold followed for 35 in the next over the game was effectively over. It took another excellent catch to do it - Blackwell at deep mid-wicket hanging on to the ball as he fell on his back.

England's total was set up by another weighty contribution from Nick Knight, who featured in successive half-century partnerships with Marcus Trescothick and Vaughan. Knight kept his position as Trescothick's opening partner, while for Sri Lanka Chamila Gamage replaced the injured Muttiah Muralitharan.

It was Gamage who made the first breakthrough after Hussain chose to bat first in extreme afternoon heat. Trescothick (39), who produced a booming cover drive to post England's 50, lost his off stump looking for a leg-side boundary.

Vaughan was missed on one by wicket-keeper Sangakkara, who couldn't hold on to what would have been a fine one-handed catch to his right off Gamage. Vaughan looked to pick up from where he left off in the Ashes series, with boundaries off de Silva and Dilhara Fernando, but when he had reached 28 he skied a pull at Fernando to Vaas at mid-wicket.

Much as they had done in Sydney, Jayasuriya and de Silva kept the run rate within reasonable bounds before Hussain (18) was bowled via inside edge and pad by Jayasuriya.

Knight soldiered on, providing some relief with a swept six off de Silva, but on 88 he played loosely at Vaas for Sangakkara to hold on to the resultant edge. Knight has made 440 funs in his last seven one-day innings for England. Blackwell was then lbw first ball to leave England teetering at 206 for five.

As he has so often done before, Stewart recharged the innings. He and Collingwood added 54 in eight overs to revitalise England, taking 16 off one over from Fernando, including a Collingwood six over square-leg. By the time Stewart (51) and Collingwood (18) were dismissed, England had scored enough.

England will now go through to the finals unless they lose to Australia in Adelaide on Sunday without claiming a bonus point, and Sri Lanka take all six points from their final match against the hosts.