England discover map through uncharted waters
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