England v Sri Lanka, 1st semi-final, St Lucia May 13, 2010

Clinical England keep raising the bar

England have never played limited-overs cricket of any form with this verve and conviction

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.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • malik on May 15, 2010, 13:20 GMT

    All teams used 11 players save for SL who fielded 10 players + a veteran passenger. HLANGL as for your query, yes, the others did cover up for for SJ's miserable performance. That is the very reason SL managed to enter the semi-final's despite SJ's handicap. Against the lesser fancied teams this might be possible, but with champion outfits like the aussies you're gonna be found out and SL did find out the hard way. One expected sanity to prevail at least after that battering from the aussies, but sadly I beleive Sanga was reduce to a mere bystander s far as selections were concerned. SL was already1 down before the innings started, thereby not only demoralising the batting to come but also providng a morale booster to the opposition bowlers. That SL did recover in the matches against WI & India speaks well for rest of the batting. Sentiment does not win you matches. Good performance does. So I would like to advise all those who are harping on SJ's past glories, wake up to the present

  • Arosha on May 15, 2010, 6:42 GMT

    getrealforreal: Bradman is now gone, it's been few years. Cannuck & to all who keeps believing without J'ya SL would have progressed much better: One simple question, if all these others were such good, why these so called superior players cannot cover the gap left by J'ya miserable failures here ? Mahela did it in initial 3 games at least, Mathews did best he could, but what about the others.K'gedara blasted a cameo against India, at least after the one of that kind he made against Australia hammering Brett Lee for a couple of sixes in the first of triangular finals in 2005/2006.What about the rest, especially if you argue they are so promising & full of talent. Mahela may be thriving now, still got a very modest record in ODIs (8000+ runs, 32+ average with a SR of 75+) though, but he can win matched on his day, accepted. Dilshan needs to be more strategic now as he's being targeted. But can you point out any other single batsman in this SL line up who's capable of winning WC 2011 ?.

  • Cric on May 14, 2010, 20:17 GMT

    getreal: you mean bradman is still alive?

  • Chamara on May 14, 2010, 14:58 GMT

    Reading some of the Sri Lankan Fan Boys comments about how we should be grateful to Jayasuriya for all the great things he's done in the past and so we should keep him in the team is exactly why Sri Lanka (and other sub-continent teams) will never be like Australia. Jayasuriya is one of the greatest batsmen Sri Lanka has ever produced. But Don Bradman is arguably the greatest cricketer ever produced. And he's Australian. But do you seem him use his celebrity power to force his way into the side now. No because he knows that he's past his prime and trying to do so would hurt the team, country and make him a joke. Jayasuriya needs to stop making himself a joke and make way for the future of Sri Lanka cricket.

  • Ranga on May 14, 2010, 14:44 GMT

    Sanath, it is time now to retire. We all enjoyed your brilliant carrier. Besides you have a new charge now. I do not know how you are qualified to become a lawmaker. But I respect the voters' choice. It is a very important and full time job. Once again before you loose respect of true cricket fans retire. You told a newspaper that people want you to be in the team. Honestly as a former captain do you believe that Sri Lankan team should be selected by popular vote? I was and still am one of your biggest fans. Please don't loose that.

  • Rajinda on May 14, 2010, 12:46 GMT

    @ HOTCROSS & apsari: You guys are dead on! Agree 200%. This was Sanga's quote to a reporter..."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." Now that's sarcasm & being politically safe, if I ever saw one. To believe that's how he actually thinks is insulting the intelligence of Sanga. U got to have an inside track to really know what Sanga thinks. But he has NO CHOICE, just like the board & fans have NO CHOICE, but to put up with a dead horse, milking his way with political support!! True, other batsmen failed too, & England played better. But people who'd play cricket also knows how important team chemistry is! Others still blindly follow this "former" great, & do not seem to care for the future of SL cricket!

  • Prem on May 14, 2010, 12:09 GMT

    Isn't England a single entity? Then why does the first line say "England continue"? Shouldn't it say "England continues"?

    Also, this line: 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. Aren't you missing a couple of comma's?

  • Sathish Kumar on May 14, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    Good to see the England's progress in this T20 WC. Hope "the country who invented the game" (England) will go on to win their first ever trophy (in a major competition) this year!!

  • malik on May 14, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    Politics has virtually robbed SL of a place in the finals. Going by his current form SJ didnt deserve a place in the SL squad let alone in the playing eleven and that too as an opener. Even Mumbai Indians discarded him after the first few matches. I feel sorry for Dinesh Chandimal who had to sitout as a result of SJ's avariciousnesss for he had done everything right to cement his place in the few given pportunities. SL cricket was the ultimate loser. Living in the past glories is not the way forward for a team aspiring to be the best. This is why Aussies will always be a step ahead of the rest( particularly the subcontinent nations) as current form of the individual will take precedence over all other aspects when deciding the final 11. It is a sad day for SL cricket when a guy who fails to clear the infield on a regular basis with a top score of 6 runs in five previous matches uses his political clout to remain in the team at he expense of his country. The hero has now turned villain

  • Harsh on May 14, 2010, 8:25 GMT

    ENGLAND have shown top cricket this time, whoever the player is does not matter.

    It hardly matters that pietersen, lumb morgon or anyone is from some other country.

    This is the way game goes on.

    All teh best Guys....

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