England v SL, Champions Trophy, Group B, Jo'burg

Unexpected win adds to the intrigue

Osman Samiuddin in Johannesburg

September 25, 2009

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James Anderson celebrates Tillakaratne Dilshan's wicket, England v Sri Lanka, ICC Champions Trophy, Group B, Johannesburg, September 25, 2009
Minor battles were won everywhere - James Anderson with the new ball; © Getty Images
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Not that supporting England has ever been a neutral's thing to do but few will quibble over the significance of England's six-wicket win over Sri Lanka at the Wanderers. Hindsight might even afford it JFK status, as in where were you when it happened, so unexpected was the triumph. But for now it has blown open Group B and that is precisely how any good tournament should be; that it is this Champions Trophy of all trophies makes it timelier still.

Minor battles were won everywhere - James Anderson with the new ball; Stuart Broad's death overs spell; Owais Shah not getting himself or anyone else run out despite his best efforts; Ajantha Mendis seen off, Muttiah Muralitharan conquered; they even had someone in Eoin Morgan who resembled something of a modern - and thus not very English - ODI batsman; Paul Collingwood even hit a cover drive for four, which should tell anyone that something out of the ordinary is on the cards.

Collingwood was at its centre without ever looking remotely like he had been there, which is generally how he goes about it. His thrust helped set up England's chase, an unusually fluent hand free of stiff-elbowed chips and nudges and lit up immeasurably by a monster six over midwicket. He is a likeable sort, with an agreeable wit and a nice line in self-deprecation. So Mendis was thus repelled: "We watched a lot of footage on the computers," Collingwood said. "When his three fingers are up, we thought: 'right, it's going to go away from you'. Then we got out in the middle and it was absolutely....(laughs)."

Soon to be England's most-capped ODI player and one of the rare ones who play all three formats, Collingwood had just come off a break enforced upon him by the captain and coach. "You're going to put two and two together, I guess. I don't know if it's just coincidence or what, but I feel pretty good at the moment. The body feels good. The knee was pretty sore at Hampshire. Straussy [Andrew Strauss] and Andy [Flower] made a strong decision there that I was to be given a good week off. Thankfully, I managed to get the body back into decent shape."

Andrew Strauss's response, whatever the result, is likely to have been understated and two wins in a row doesn't yet wipe out their horrors, recent or otherwise. Still, areas will concern him, such as the briefly and wildly schizophrenic nature of their pace attack after Anderson had given them such a start.; Graeme Onions and Broad both went for runs, the latter struggling to find the right length until the death overs.

"Sometimes it's hard to bowl on wickets that are doing a bit," Strauss said. "You have to bowl pretty straight and if the ball sort of nips the wrong way, it can go down the leg side. I think we could have been a bit more disciplined with the ball. But we're splitting hairs there a little bit because we started off exceptionally well and that made a big difference in the context of the game."

But at least one of his batsmen, Morgan, stayed the course, going on to finish a game. More often than not Strauss's batsmen have let him down. Not so here: "Overall, I was just very happy with the intent the batsmen showed. They took the game to the Sri Lankans. They didn't let the spinners bowl at us. Colly and Owais Shah played very valuable innings, and then Eoin Morgan did a great finishing job. So, a lot to be pleased about and I think we can take a lot of confidence from it.

"If we play like that, we're a dangerous side. We're not going to be touting ourselves as the winners of the competition at this stage but if we can keep getting better, then we're going to be hard to beat."

This may yet prove to be nothing more than a blip on a radar of mediocrity, and Strauss's refusal to be bullish is well-earned. But by beating Sri Lanka, England have already had an effect on this tournament and that is something almost no one expected them to do before tonight.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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