England v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong March 27, 2014

England discover map through uncharted waters

Having tossed away opportunities in the field with reckless abandon and slumping into negative territory at the start of their chase, England found the courage to make amends

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Crowe: Hales innings best of the tournament

It wasn't quite the shot heard around the world but Alex Hales' bludgeoned six high over midwicket to seal victory for England against Sri Lanka should reverberate round the World T20. How a team that had seemed stricken by bad form and low confidence at the halfway point managed to perform such a volte face, pulling off their highest run chase with six wickets and four balls in hand, is a question only the T20 gods can answer.

Just when it appeared England had lost their way irretrievably after stumbling in circles for months, they discovered a map to guide them safely, resplendently through unchartered waters. T20 is about the outsized, the extraordinary, the odds-defying and the synapse-shredding. Hales provided plenty of that in his soaring crescendo of an innings but, like his partner Eoin Morgan during a record third-wicket stand, the calmness inside was just as important.

Sri Lanka had accepted England's generous largesse and gambolled their way to another new high score on the ground. England had dropped four simple chances in the field and missed a run-out too. Shoulders had slumped, eyes appeared hollow. Few had high expectations of the team's World T20 chances but this had the look of a tired farce. Indignation at an early decision not to award a catch that looked to have been clearly taken was gradually eroded by dismay at each successive, basic error.

What to do? Perhaps, during the ten minutes the teams were off the pitch at the interval, Ashley Giles and Stuart Broad merely passed around a photocopy of the serenity prayer:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference."

Michael Lumb's supreme effort to remove Mahela Jayawardene first ball had gone unrewarded. England's poor catching had gifted an advantage graciously received by a formidable opponent. So inauspicious was the start of their reply that they effectively moved into negative territory after the first over, a double-wicket maiden. None of these things could be changed but Hales and Morgan showed the courage required to make amends.

The required rate rose above 12 an over even before the halfway stage. In the tenth, Morgan hit the first six of the innings. The crowd's response to a steady, if initially unthreatening, flow of boundaries was a mixture of curiosity and wonder; as the tempo increased and outrageous possibility coalesced around the two batsmen in the middle, the cheering became more fevered. By the end, as Hales finished off Sri Lanka with a barrage of sixes, the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury was rapturously receiving the 2014 tournament's first centurion.

Hales, who had previously been dismissed on 99 and 94 in T20 internationals, punched the air and removed his helmet upon reaching three figures, the first England player to do so. He finished the job in the next over, raising his hands aloft as the ball sailed towards the stands again. He may never crack first-class cricket but he is first-class at T20.

Victory not only changed the complexion of the group and revived England's chances of reaching the semi-finals but it allowed them to make some significant gains after the slow regression of recent times. At the last World T20, Sri Lanka ended their participation at the Super 8 stage, with Lasith Malinga filleting them for a five-wicket haul. On this occasion, he was blunted and Ravi Bopara, who had talked of his plans to deflect Malinga's yorker, demonstrated the extent of England's learning by twice doing just that to pick up consecutive fours at the start of the 18th over.

Morgan played his first significant knock in more than a year, passing fifty for the first time since England's failed World T20 defence in Sri Lanka two years ago. These two teams have met at each of the last two tournaments and the winner has gone on to the final. England will exceed expectations if they make the knockouts but, having beaten the No. 1-ranked side, may now feel that circumstances favour them for a Dhaka rally.

For almost the entirety of Sri Lanka's innings, it seemed as if England's malaise would continue. They have talked stoically about pulling through but looked most likely to be rolling out of Chittagong on a gurney after a wretched performance in the field. "Whatever it is, it's not catching," as Richie Benaud used to say. England feel like they have been trying to catch a break for weeks but they did not show any proficiency at the skill during Sri Lanka's innings, tossing away opportunities with reckless abandon.

Ironically, the most difficult take of the night was the spark for what followed, as England disintegrated in the wake of Jayawardene's non-dismissal quicker than you could said "foreshortening". There was irony, too, in Jayawardene's drop of Hales. Jayawardene was the chief beneficiary of England's litany of mistakes but by the end his isolated gaffe had proved to be more costly. Wisdom in T20 can be as simple as knowing what you can and can't affect. Taking catches is a good place to start.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on March 29, 2014, 13:14 GMT

    The corner England need to have turned is that one or two players can really win you games in this format. You can't really say much for the overall performance against Sri Lanka, just Hales and Morgan! Others need to want to be the standout player in the next game. Team morale and organization can turn in T20 so quickly, so just go out their and give it your optimistic best, and see what happens. Holland should have beaten south Africa on the back of two or three players, so go for it!

  • Mark on March 28, 2014, 9:04 GMT

    @tests the best, I think you are a bit misguided if you think world T20's have been dominated by Aus! Even India after winning in 2007 haven't done that much. If you check recent tournaments Pak and WI have won along with England.

  • Mark on March 28, 2014, 8:58 GMT

    @RodStark, re Hales it is none of England's business as he is not a centrally contracted player but employed by Notts. Now if you had researched the facts, Notts did allow him to play the IPL but he wasn't picked.

  • Rahul on March 28, 2014, 8:49 GMT

    I don't know if this win can actually lift England. Yes if it does than I think it can actually take dem all d way in d tournament. But I just think 4 that to be possible Stuart broad has to improve in a big way as a skipper. U can be either an aggressive captain or a calm. Sadly he was none. He at times looked too frustrated. Its good to stand for ur rights or protect ur mates but I think his run ins wid umpires were a bit uncalled for. To summarise it England's body language didn't look too good yesterday, they looked a lot which was insecure, frustrated and scared. But who knows dis hales century might lift English d way supper innings from Inzy and Waugh did to PAk and Aus in 92 & 99 or one of his sixes launch English Campaign d way Yuvi's did in 2007 T20 WC. Whatever it is Giles first job should not be making plans or selecting his XI but actually calming down his squad and remove negativity from squad and actually urging dem to play like a team.

  • Android on March 28, 2014, 8:25 GMT

    Everyone gets lucky sometime. One upset by a minnow vs sri Lanka does not a good team make.

  • Suggsy on March 28, 2014, 8:13 GMT

    @Wenura Liyanage, England is one of the best teams in the world? With recent performances sorry mate, that's just a load rubbish... England had a good win, but that's all it is... England need to do a lot more to prove themselves once again in the Cricket scene after what has unfolded over the past 3-4 months, you say England wasn't playing at 100%, but was Sri Lanka playing at 100%

  • Cricinfo on March 28, 2014, 4:28 GMT

    Congrats to Hales and England from an Indian fan. Hope they continue this good form as the tournament progresses. Frankly I'm tired of seeing India, SL, Aus dominate the ODI/t20 tournaments. It would be good to see one of Eng, SA, NZ take the trophy (although Eng did win it in 2010).

  • ESPN on March 28, 2014, 3:21 GMT

    At the moment, England is one of the best teams in the world and we should have won pretty comfortably. Normally when you lose to a team like this and it's close, we might think we played at 100 percent and they're just a better team. Well actually, we didn't play anywhere near 100 percent, if we'd played 100 percent we would have won comfortably. That's the shame.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2014, 2:36 GMT

    At last I could say "Hail Hales !". In the first match played by England, before I could say that, he quit! ( Or forced to quit). He seems to have played his natural game in this one. That seems to be the secret of of his success in this match.

  • Rod on March 28, 2014, 2:04 GMT

    England should be doing everything they can to get their T20 specialists like Hales, who are never going to make the test team, to take part in the IPL and other T20 leagues instead of demanding they show up for less important four-day championship games.

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