Sri Lanka rode on senior pros Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga’s fine performances to stun favourites England and pull off the biggest upset in this edition of the ICC World Cup. Both Mathews and Malinga raised their game when the Lankans needed them the most and have given them a lifeline in the race for the semifinals.
Former captain Mathews, who was under fire after a string of poor scores in the competition, held the Lankan innings together. The veteran’s unbeaten 85 on a two-paced Headingley wicket helped the islanders last their quota of 50 overs and post a fighting 232/9 on Friday. Mathews was quick to realise that it was not 280-300 wicket and made sure the Lankans bowlers had something to defend.
Malinga made an impact immediately with the new ball as he sent back the dangerous Jonny Bairstow for a duck in the very first over. In the absence of the swashbuckling Jason Roy, England were looking for a quick start from Bairstow. This was a huge wicket in the context of the game as the contest would have been over in quick time had England got off to a flier. Malinga also removed Bairstow’s opening partner James Vince (14) to keep them in the hunt.
The wily old fox returned to snare two of the big guns – Joe Root (57) and Jos Buttler (10) – to turn the game on its head in his second spell. Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne played the cards smartly as be brought back Malinga just at the right moment. Also the Lankans were wise enough to opt for a review after Root was ruled not out. They were successful in getting the decision overturned and then Malinga trapped Buttler in front of the wicket to give a huge fillip to his side.
Though Ben Stokes tried his best, triple strikes by off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva meant England slumped further. Despite a few big hits by Stokes (82 not out) at the end, Lanka emerged winners by a rather comfortable margin of 20 runs and Malinga was declared man of the match for his match-winning 4/43.
The result was huge not just for the Lankans, but the tournament itself. Suddenly England are looking a bit shaky and with only three tough games against holders Australia and the two unbeaten sides India and the Kiwis remaining, the hosts are not guaranteed of a place in the semifinals. The next games will surely test the resolve of Eoin Morgan and his men. They will need to win two of these games to be absolutely sure of a semifinal berth, even one win may be enough depending on how the other results go.
On the other hand, the shock win has boosted Lanka’s hopes. They next face South Africa, the West Indies and India. The Lankans will probably need to win all three to progress to the knockout stage. It’s a daunting task, but having tamed the English, the Lankans will be raring to go.