England have been a terrific ODI side in the last few years especially in the phase post the debacle of 2015. At home conditions, they’ve been absolutely dominant and ruthless. They’ve played with a fearless approach that also defines them in this format. Probably the reason why a loss to a below-par Sri Lankan side in the middle of world cup campaign at home caused many a blank reaction.
And it was on June 21, 2019 where Sri Lanka blanked the hosts that generated among the biggest upsets in the world cup history.
But how did that happen, what was the background and did the winners actually have a chance?
Since the departure of their batting stalwarts, Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Dilshan who have gone away from international cricket, Sri Lanka has never really been a team that proved to be the same threat they once had the ability to pose. Their transition has been hard for genuine cricket fans to see when you consider the island nation’s rich cricketing history.
Heading into the World Cup no one expected Sri Lanka to be a force to reckon with and they had a brand new captain in Dimuth Karuanaratne who was on the verge of playing his first ODI after a gap of almost four years straight in a World Cup.
Sri Lanka who were heading into this fixture as a must-win encounter after gathering four points in their first 5 games of which two were rain-affected and they were up against an upbeat English side who were almost assured of a semi-final spot if they managed a win over Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka won a good toss on what looked like a beautiful batting wicket at Headingley and decided to bat first.
Sri Lanka got off to the worst possible start after electing to bat finding themselves 2 down with just three runs on the board and both their openers back in the hut. Sri Lanka needed a partnership and they slowly started building one thanks to Kusal Mendis and Avishka Fernando with the former looking in scintillating touch.
Avishka was timing the ball so sweetly and played a few outrageous shots including hooking a fast Jofra Archer bouncer for six. Avishka raced off to 49 off just 38 balls and just when the partnership was looking dangerous Avishka was caught at third man and Sri Lanka were 62 for the loss of 3 wickets.
Sri Lanka’s most experienced batsman Angelo Mathews then joined Kusal Mendis in the middle trying to resurrect the Lankan innings. The two put together 71 runs and as they always say in cricket one brings two and off consecutive deliveries, Adil Rashid got rid of both the set Kushal Mendis and Jeevan Mendis to put Sri Lanka in all sorts of trouble.
Angelo Mathews then fought hard to help Sri Lanka get to a respectable total with little or no support from the tail and the lower middle order. He finished with 85* off 115 balls and helped Sri Lanka get to a total of 232.
England were all smiles after the terrific job with the ball after they lost the toss and looked firm favorites to make easy work of this small target in front of them. England who were without their regular opener Jason Roy who was suffering a torn hamstring saw James Vince open with the regular opener, Jonny Bairstow.
Sri Lanka needed early wickets to be in the contest and they turned to their senior-most and most experienced bowler in Lasith Malinga and the senior warhorse didn’t fail to deliver.
England lost Jonny Bairstow in the second ball of the innings missing a straight ball and was adjudged lbw. Sri Lanka needed much more than that and Malinga struck once again in the seventh over of the innings seeing the back of James Vince.
England then started gaining some momentum in their innings with Root and Morgan bringing calm to their run chase but against the run of play lost Morgan to a good return catch from Isuru Udana. Stokes then accompanied Root in the middle and both started to look very comfortable with Root notching up a fifty.
The duo put on 54 runs together and brought the game well under England’s control.
With just above a 100 to get from 20 odd overs, Sri Lanka went back to their veteran again probably as the last roll of the dice and he found success with the dismissal of Root just to bring some sort of hope in the Sri Lankan camp.
He added to his three-wicket tally with the very important wicket of Jos Butler with his trademark dipping low full toss in the very next over and brought Sri Lanka right back into the game from a very helpless position like he has done so often in his international career. With 89 needed of 106 balls, Stokes needed someone for the company to bring calm in the innings.
But Moeen Ali, who came in, didn’t think this way and wanted to hit his way out of the situation. In so doing, he took one risk too many and holed out to long-off to Dhanajaya De Silva, and slowly Sri Lanka started making big inroads into this deep England lineup, which found their last recognized batsman Chris Woakes coming in with 63 needed off 69.
Stokes helped himself to a half-century but kept falling out of partners at the other end with Dhanajaya De Silva sending back both Woakes and Adil Rashid in the space of just five balls.
All that Stokes needed was someone to hang in with him but Jofra Archer who walked in tried to take matters into his own hands playing a shot that wouldn’t have gone down well in that dressing room considering the situation they were in and England were 9 down.
England needing another 47 runs off 39 balls with just one wicket in hand Stokes decided to cut loose and got the ounce of luck he would have been searching for with Kusal Mendis dropping him at square leg off Malinga which saw the master fall on his knees. Stokes managed to get 15 off the Udana over making the target well within reach needing just 30 off 24 balls.
He then managed to get 9 off the first five deliveries of the next giving Mark Wood one ball of Nuwan Pradeep to negotiate but destiny had another hero in store as he edged one to the keeper bringing an end to the England innings and despair and agony for Stokes who tried it all in his unbeaten 82.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain; this was a massive victory for the Lankans who no one had given a chance before the start of the contest and in the context of the tournament opened possibilities for so many teams to eye for qualification spots.
This from a neutral point of view was one of the finest games of the tournament and gave life and whole different dynamic to the World Cup of 2019.
Malinga was adjudged man of the match for his figures of 4-43 but notable mentions to Angelo Mathews who held the Sri Lankan innings together with the bat which saw them post a respectable total and also to Dhanajaya De Silva’s crucial spell in the middle overs.
Sri Lanka’s senior statesman thus scripted a famous victory at Headingley adding spark to the island nation’s World Cup campaign and one they would remember for ages.