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England have never played limited-overs cricket of any form with this verve and conviction
May 13, 2010
England continue to raise the bar. It was already set pretty high after three consecutive Super Eight victories, but they produced a clinical display against Sri Lanka to secure a place in their first global final since 2004. They bowled with intelligence and skill, fielded with their now customary athleticism and knocked off the runs with barely an alarm. England have never played limited-overs cricket of any form with this verve and conviction.
The standard reaction after each victory has been for Paul Collingwood to target areas for improvement, but this time it's difficult for even the harshest critic to pick holes. Tim Bresnan's last over which contained three wides and cost 15, and Michael Lumb's attempt at a catch which then went for four were about the only errors.
"Let's be honest, there aren't too many areas we can improve on," Collingwood said. "We just need to keep the same mentality - and that's going to be the hard thing, going into a big game. But the boys keep responding; every time we talk about it off the pitch, we analyse the opposition strengths and weaknesses and we keep executing our plans. The batsmen at the top of the order keep doing it at well, and we're not going to go too far wrong."
The tone for a Twenty20 innings is often set in the first few overs and on that count England were always ahead of the game. Sri Lanka fell to 47 for 4 in the ninth over and England replied with an opening stand of 68 in eight. Ryan Sidebottom's inclusion in this side has sparked plenty of debate with James Anderson left on the sidelines, but he has justified his selection at both ends of the innings. On this occasion it was a new-ball wicket as Sanath Jayasuriya edged limply to second slip to complete a wretched tournament.
The man who was playing in Twenty20 style before the game was invented has been a shadow of his former self with a top score of 6 in this tournament. The end must be nigh. He began the tournament batting as low as he ever has at No. 8, but, with Tillakaratne Dilshan struggling for form, was promoted back to opening. Sadly it looks like an occasion where an international career has been dragged out a little too long. A player like Jayasuriya shouldn't be remembered for prodding and poking.
Jayasuriya is already an MP in Sri Lanka and his appearance at this tournament caused some controversy. Kumar Sangakkara refused to be drawn on the opener's future, but said the team should have been able to cover for Jayasuriya's lack of form. "Unfortunately he didn't have a great run but to his credit he stuck with the team through a difficult period and the team stuck with him. He showed a lot of support and we made sure he felt wanted, unfortunately he didn't deliver but we still had more than enough quality to do better than we did today."
England, though, have had too much pain at the hands of Jayasuriya to feel any sympathy in the middle of a crucial semi-final. Their opening stand of Lumb and Craig Kieswetter in the run chase was a bit of payback. Jayasuriya's onslaught in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final left deep scars and was one reason why England's one-day game stood still for many years. They tried and failed (with the exception of Marcus Trescothick and maybe Nick Knight) to find someone who could consistently replicate that type of hitting.
Even with the creation of Twenty20 players who cleared the ropes on the domestic scene, England openers were left flapping when promoted to the international stage. That has lasted until this tournament when the performances of Lumb and Kieswetter have given England much-needed impetus. The asking rate in this chase was never tough, but it pays not to get behind against Sri Lanka's spinners and the openers ensured that didn't happen.
"Sometimes there are finishing pieces to a jigsaw. We had some very good players among other players but what we needed was a spark at the top of the order," Collingwood said. "Maybe everyone has seen it as a gamble but we certainly selected them on potential and we knew what they could do. They have come and batted fantastically well and really helped the middle order overcome totals."
Their overall tally of runs won't set pulses racing but it has been the intent which is vital. The same was true when Jayasuriya formed his era-defining partnership with Romesh Kaluwitharana. Often it wasn't how many, but how quickly. Sri Lanka had the mindset that it didn't matter if they were 70 for 2 after eight overs, the middle order would rebuild. Translate that to Twenty20 and England are quite happy being 50 for 2 after five - it's much better than 25 for 1.
It can be dangerous for a batting unit to approach a small target with less conviction than a tough chase - Lumb and Kieswetter didn't get close to falling into the trap. They milked Ajantha Mendis, knowing he was the main threat and didn't have enough runs to play with, and went hard at everyone else. These are long boundaries in St Lucia; the openers hit three sixes between them whereas Sri Lanka had one all innings. Kevin Pietersen added two more for good measure, finishing the match in a flourish to show he had no jetlag. But they could have won this one without him.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala