Kevin Pietersen marked the birth of his first son by steering England into the final of the ICC World Twenty20, as he continued his imposing run of form with an unbeaten 42 from 26 balls in a comprehensive seven-wicket victory. Back in the side after his paternity dash back to England, Pietersen built on the hard-hitting efforts of Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb, who added 68 for the first wicket in eight overs, as Sri Lanka's sub-par total of 128 for 6 was hunted down with four overs to spare.
It was yet another supremely composed performance from England, who have shed the diffidence they have habitually shown in this format, and powered their way past the beaten finalists in the 2009 tournament in unquestionably their most domineering performance of the competition to date.
After losing the toss and being asked to bowl first, England's seamers and spinners throttled a dangerous Sri Lankan line-up in a wholehearted display, then cruised to their target without blinking. Though Sri Lanka recovered from 47 for 4 after nine overs thanks to the calm accumulation of Angelo Mathews, who made 58 from 45 balls, their final total was at least 20 runs short of a competitive total.
With rain in the air, and a tacky surface underfoot, Sri Lanka's decision to bat first proved, in hindsight, to have been a mistake. The conditions offered movement for the seamers and purchase for the spinners, and though Mahela Jayawardene began with intent by clipping a first-ball loosener from Tim Bresnan for four, that was arguably the last moment that Sri Lanka were in command of the contest.
England's openers were made to battle for their runs at first, as Sri Lanka opened with the spin of Dilshan and Ajantha Mendis, and restricted the scoring to six runs in two overs. But when Suraj Randiv joined the attack, Kieswetter launched into two inside-out slogs over the covers from consecutive balls, and suddenly the innings was up and running.
Both men required a touch of luck to last as long as they did, but such was England's collective belief, it's hard to think that the result could have been any different. Kieswetter edged Angelo Mathews streakily for four only moments before surviving a stone-dead appeal for lbw, before responding with a dismissive blat for six over long-off in the same eventful over. Lumb, meanwhile, should have been run out by 15 yards when his partner refused a quick single to backward point, but with the stumps at his mercy, Mendis tried to gather the shy with hard hands, and the chance ricocheted harmlessly back down the pitch.
Kieswetter made Mendis pay for his clumsiness by flogging consecutive fours to round off the Powerplay overs, and as the requirement dipped below a run a ball, the two openers exchanged sixes in Sanath Jayasuriya's first and only over of the innings. It was Lasith Malinga, one delivery later, who finally made the breakthrough with a fast and flat yorker, but at 68 for 1 after 8.1 overs, the contest was drifting out of Sri Lanka's reach.
When Lumb was dropped by a diving Nuwan Kulasekera at mid-off in the same over, Sri Lanka's heads dropped too. One ball later, Lumb should once again have been run out by the length of the pitch, but the throw from mid-off was wildly off the target, and though he stepped across his stumps to be bowled by Thissara Perera in the following over, it wasn't before he'd snaffled two further fours to finish up with 33 from 26 balls.
By this stage, the numerous England fans in the stands had accepted that the result was looking after itself, and were setting about the important business of partying. There was just time for Paul Collingwood to continue his troubling run of low scores by skying a leading edge off Perera to Kumar Sangakkara behind the stumps for 10, but with 16 runs still needed, Eoin Morgan barely got a look-in as Pietersen sealed the deal with a flicked six and a driven four in consecutive deliveries off Malinga.
Whereas England's batsmen punished all marginal errors, Sri Lanka's own line-up were never allowed to settle. Ryan Sidebottom was the first to strike, with the first ball of his new-ball spell, as Jayasuriya edged a Test-match quality outswinger to Paul Collingwood at second slip. Tillakaratne Dilshan responded with a wild yahoo to get off the mark with a boundary first-ball, but England responded by pulling their lengths back half a yard, and the results of their aggression were plain to see.
Bresnan was the next to strike, as Dilshan's frenetic innings came to an end courtesy of a mad mow off the front foot to deep square leg, where Luke Wright made superb ground to cling onto a low diving catch. At 20 for 2 in the fourth over, Kumar Sangakkara stroked his first delivery, from Sidebottom, through point for four, but at the other end, the introduction of Stuart Broad accounted for the massive wicket of Jayawardene, only moments after he had reached his 300th run of the tournament.
Broad's first ball to Jayawardene was the perfect delivery for the conditions - a cross-seam lifter outside off that grazed the edge of an uncertain prod and fizzed through to Craig Kieswetter behind the stumps. At the end of the Powerplays, Sri Lanka were wobbling on 38 for 3, whereupon the spinners, Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy, compounded their problems with a miserly first foray.
Only nine runs had been grifted from three overs by the time Sangakkara lost patience with Swann's loopy guile, and holed out to Pietersen at mid-off as he attempted to belt a dipping delivery over the infield. Angelo Mathews cut a wide ball from Yardy past point for four before lofting Swann down the ground for the first six of the innings, but the reintroduction of the pacemen stymied the run-flow once again.
England's use of the slow bouncer proved especially effective. None of Sri Lanka's batsmen was able to gauge the pace of the deliveries as they bunny-hopped past their noses - and one such ball, from Sidebottom, led Chamara Kapugedera to fling his bat past square leg as he completely mistimed a pull. Broad eventually nailed for 16 from 27 balls as he swatted a rare full one to Bresnan at mid-off.
Only Mathews was able to compile a long-term response as Sri Lanka groped their way past 100 in the 18th over of the innings. By the end of that same over he had brought up his half-century from 41 balls, as Bresnan's radar went unusually awry with 17 runs coming from nine deliveries, including three leg-side wides. But England recovered their poise through Broad and Sidebottom, and Mathews was run out with one delivery of the innings remaining.