ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Sri Lanka v England, 4th quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Colombo

Sri Lanka put Premadasa chasing fears to rest

The last time 230 was chased at the Premadasa was six-and-a-half years ago. It was fitting then that on the big day the home side lost the toss, and put in a supreme performance to comfortably chase and win

Sidharth Monga at the Premadasa

March 26, 2011

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Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga shared a mammoth opening stand, Sri Lanka v England, 4th quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Colombo, March 26 2011
Dilshan and Tharanga: The third-most prolific opening combination for Sri Lanka © Getty Images
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Today the R Premadasa Stadium became only the fourth ground to have hosted 100 ODIs. Yet it is a much-maligned venue, and not without reason either. It was actually a surprise that they kept playing ODIs under lights here, with the side batting first at an obvious and a significant advantage, what with the evening moisture and the ordinary floodlights deciding most of the games between evenly matched sides at the toss. The last time 230 was chased here was six-and-a-half years ago, a statistic that speaks for itself.

However, for the year and a half running into the World Cup, they stopped playing here. As they renovated the stands, they also tried to figure out what they could do to address that imbalance. They realised that because the ground is in a low-lying area, the moisture comes up in the evenings and assists seam movement. So they raised the square by three-and-a-half feet, and also installed new, improved floodlights. Hosting a World Cup is a matter of prestige, and nobody would have wanted two unfair knockout matches in Sri Lanka.

It was natural that the statistics were thrown around in the lead-up to the match. "Toss crucial," ran the headlines around the world. Meanwhile Sri Lankan players told anybody who would listen that things had changed, a glimpse of which was shown in how they had looked comfortable chasing 278 against Pakistan before losing their way. It was fitting then that on the big day the home side lost the toss, and put in a supreme performance to not only chase and win, but chase and win comfortably at that.

Of course they didn't win because batting second was easy. Batting was still a bit difficult; 230 was still a good target on a low and slow pitch, in a high-pressure World Cup knockout game. And they didn't win because they just batted well; their bowling was superb for the conditions, never mind the three dropped catches. More importantly, for all of England's tenacity - and they were tenacious even today for 70 overs - Sri Lanka had enough class to fall back upon and pull the opposition back. Don't forget that Muttiah Muralitharan was one of the most expensive bowlers on either side, and yet - except during the partnership between Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan - Sri Lanka never really looked in trouble.

Shrewdly they opened the bowling with Tillakaratne Dilshan, knowing England would be circumspect with their third different opening combination of the tournament. Dilshan, a smart cricketer, gave the openers little pace to work with, and by the time he was taken off, England had the uninviting prospect of facing 30 overs of specialist spin out of the 42 remaining. England played Muralitharan well, getting to the pitch of the balls and dabbing, paddling, reverse-paddling him for ones and twos. Then came a period when the game seemed to be running out of Sri Lanka's butter fingers. Three catches went down, a chance to challenge a not-out lbw call was missed, and England looked good to get even 260, which would have seriously challenged Sri Lanka, evening or no evening.

England called for the batting Powerplay at 182 for 3 after 42 overs, with set batsmen in the middle who had added 87 in 15 overs. Kumar Sangakkara called for Lasith Malinga. Malinga needed one loosener before firing in three yorkers followed by a slower ball that accounted for Morgan. The fielders woke up again, with Dilshan and Chamara Silva not allowing twos in the outfield and Malinga and Ajantha Mendis not allowing boundaries. Andrew Strauss admitted later that they were not allowed to play well by "a very good side".

Putting Dilshan and Upul Tharanga together at the top of the order has been Sri Lanka's biggest ODI investment over the last two years. Dilshan had been a middle-order batsman, and to persist with Tharanga, the team management has had to fight undue outside pressures to bring Sanath Jayasuriya back. Both were bold moves, and both have paid off: in 32 attempts the two have added 2023 at an average of 65.25, incidentally surpassing tonight the Jayasuriya-Tharanga combine to become the third-most prolific opening combination for Sri Lanka.

It was evident why they work so well together. When Dilshan struggled for timing in the first half hour, it was Tharanga who took the initiative and cut Tim Bresnan and lofted Graeme Swann. There was a clear understanding that Dilshan could throw things away if the runs didn't come fast enough, and that's where Tharanga came in. Once Dilshan got in, he took charge of the scoring, and in synchronicity they moved towards their centuries.

The freedom with which they batted proved two things. The Sri Lankan bowlers were much higher in quality, and the conditions weren't as tough as it seemed when England batted. There was the aggressive intent that is necessary to score runs on these pitches, something neither England's technique nor their loss of wickets allowed them to do.

Not long into the Sri Lankan innings, the stands turned into a party. The steel bands blared in every stand, the people danced, exaggerated defensive shots from Dilshan ensured there were enough runs left for Tharanga to get to his century too. Amid all that, a ground was possibly sent on redemption path too.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 14 
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Posted by Big on (March 28, 2011, 16:21 GMT)

Since we are talking about how sporting Indian crowd is, how about Srilanka? Hats off to England for not pulling a Randiv to deny Tharanga his century.

Posted by Big on (March 28, 2011, 16:20 GMT)

Hats off to England for not pulling a Randiv to deny Tharanga his century.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 27, 2011, 9:53 GMT)

Well done.We missed a great opportunity to whip the aussie backs sadly due to poor weather..Splendid performance yesterday.Keep it up until upto the end of 2nd of April.England showed good spirit.They were well and truely beaten by the better side.

Posted by Dru on (March 27, 2011, 7:18 GMT)

SL showed real class in a crunch game and no signs of nerves except a few blemishes in the field. Eng simply didnt have the means to deal with the SL attack or the batsman. On paper Eng had the spinerd and seamers but bowling in those conditions is something else and of course against batsman who have all the shorts and the guts to play them. Eng had an up and down WC and I think its fair to say this is long as they could run. You cant play in WC semi finals after loosing to minows and Bangladesh. SL we all class and surely fancy their chances against NZ and playing another WC final.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 27, 2011, 6:36 GMT)

come on guys, there is no ghost in premadasa at night. ot was a marshy land n was filled in with rubble. so the water level was close to the pitch last time. the pitch was increased by 4 feet n thats end of chasing woes in premadasa. TOSS DOESNT PLAY A FACT ANYMORE and the old statistics dont work anymore as the pitch isnt the same anymore.

Posted by Naveed on (March 27, 2011, 5:17 GMT)

Really great to watch....

Posted by Matt on (March 27, 2011, 1:45 GMT)

Fabulous show by the Lankans (barring the dropped catches) which they more than made up for with the bowling/batting. Wish the middle order got some batting practice today before the next few games which promise to be challenging. Go Lankans!

Posted by Pradeepan on (March 27, 2011, 0:34 GMT)

Sidharth Monga take a bow. Very well written. You are spot on my friend. Toss is not going to be a factor any more in this pitch. It just about how well any team could handle the pressure of chasing. Wont be surprise to see teams chasing 300 in this wicket soon.

Posted by vasu on (March 26, 2011, 22:10 GMT)

I was amused to see Tharanga getting upset when Dilshan scored a boundary and Tharanga still 2 runs short of his own century. It was n't too long ago that the Sri Lankans, as a collective unit, deliberately bowled a bo ball to strand Sehwag on 99, and give victory to India. Given how un-sportsmanlike gesture that was, would n't it be poetic justice if Tharanga had been denied a century had England bowled a deliberate wide running away to the boundary? But, England was a much nicer unit, and no such thing was done. Hats off to England.

Posted by Amuthan on (March 26, 2011, 21:07 GMT)

out of the 5 teams which were predicted to win the WC only 2 have gone to semis... further proof that this WC has to be the best... further more who said group A was not tough enough,,,, 3 out of the 4 teams are from group A...

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