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The Electronic Telegraph England v Sri Lanka, Match Report
Scyld Berry - 9 March 1996

World Cup: Sri Lanka outwit England

Sri Lanka (236-5) beat England (235-8) by 5 wickets

England were defeated not only by Sri Lanka. They were beaten by a plan of attack beyond their imaginations, and never dreamt about in their own ``play-the-percentages'' philosophy.

As Mike Atherton conceded afterwards, Sri Lanka have suddenly be- come the foremost exponents of a new approach to one-day cricket, one which turns the conventional English version on its head. Their batsmen opt for vertical take-off in the first 15 overs, not the last 15, and only then do they throttle back. It seems to be a spectacular way to fly.

A belter of a pitch is one essential prerequisite. Throwing the bat at a ball seaming sideways initially, as often happens in England, is far less likely to succeed. Wiser to wait, in this case, before going on the rampage.

The second requirement is having the right players, and in Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, Sri Lanka have two stroke- makers of the highest-calibre, not just cowboys, since both of them have scored a Test century against Australia. They are helped, too, by being all-rounders, who have other work to con- tribute if they should fail to score.

And if only two fielders are permitted outside the semi-circles in the first 15 overs - a measure only to be found this coming summer in the Benson & Hedges Cup among our domestic competitions - such a plan of attack, given all these circumstances, has to be the right way to go. Undoubtedly it was yesterday, when Sri Lanka's game-plan showed up England's to be not so much conven- tional as utterly out- dated.

At the outset of both innings, batsmen were on top, masters of a pitch as heartless as Pakistan alone now provides, and of a fast field. England had scored 31 by the time they lost their first wicket - Atherton attempting another of his steers to third man - in the eighth over, and 58 by the 15th over when Graeme Hick - hitting in the air as usual as he tried to break out - was caught at square-leg, supposedly only 15 yards from the bat.

The second decision went against Phillip DeFreitas, perhaps on moral grounds, for walking premeditatedly in front of his stumps.

England can argue that two poor decisions went against them, but then why should fortune favour the unadventurous? England had made 66 by the 18th over when Robin Smith, after turning to short fine-leg, was given run out when Jayasuriya's throw (the first of his contributions) hit the bowler's stumps. To judge by televi- sion, V K Ramaswamy of India, the third umpire, should have dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

The second decision went against Phillip DeFreitas, perhaps on moral grounds, for walking premeditatedly in front of his stumps. As a sensible measure, but an all too desperate one, DeFreitas had been sent in at No 5 to disturb the spinners, mainly turning in to the right-handed bat, ahead of Alec Stewart, who was to stroke them all too often to the fielders.

DeFreitas posted his maiden 50 in 101 one-day internationals, and went on to reach 67 off 64 balls, with two sixes, before Mahboob Shah's decision. However, 32 runs were to be hit off his first 12 balls as a seamer, and he returned at the end reincarnated as an off-spinner.

Whatever one might think of the legitimacy of Sri Lanka's two off-spinners, England did not play them well, and both Graham Thorpe, running hard at least, and Jack Russell, his runs long dried up, were bowled sweeping by Kumara Dharmasena, the quicker of the two, operating from round the wicket. Apart from DeFrei- tas, nobody gained any momentum until Gough scored a run a ball, and Dermot Reeve almost managed to do so. But England's ambi- tion, according to Atherton subsequently, had been 300.

England hit 17 fours in their innings. Jayasuriya hit 13 fours off his own bat, and three sixes, from only 44 balls. This was cricket ``on the go'', as C L R James called it, one of those rare occasions when inspiration likes what it sees and hastens down the pavilion steps to join a batsman at the wicket; and cricket, above all, that was enjoyed by its author. But for that setback of losing his partner third ball, sweeping, for eight, Jayasuriya might have been quite aggressive.

Now in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time, the Sri Lan- kans are more experienced, fitter and better at fielding than ever before.

The whippy left-hander scored mainly to leg, as England placed only three men on that side, all in the semi-circle, tempting him to swing at and miss a straight one. But Jayasuriya swung and connected, taking four consecutive fours off Richard Illingworth, who opened the bowling as a novelty, though if he was a joker, it was only the Sri Lankans whom he amused. While Peter Martin's outswing kept a semblance of control from one end, the first six overs from the pavilion end two each by Illingworth, Gough and DeFreitas - cost 76 runs all told.

Jayasuriya flat-batted DeFreitas over long-on, square-drove four and lofted him over long-off and on to the pavilion roof for 16 from three consecutive balls. The Sri Lankan 100 came up giddily off 11.3 overs.

If Jayasuriya had not been stumped down the leg side, but had reined himself back to score one run a ball, he would still have made the fastest century in all one-day internationals.

While Asanka Gurusinha was relatively sedate, Aravinda de Silva batted for - as opposed to hit - 31 off 30 balls, Arjuna Ranatun- ga for 25 off 17. By the 26th over, when Ranatunga was leg be- fore, Sri Lanka, after their VTO, had rocketed to 194.

When Gurusinha soon followed, run out by Gough in his follow- through, they could afford to throttle back, take their time, and use up 14 overs in knocking off the last 42 runs without any further mishap. It was a feast which merited a greater crowd than 2,500.

Now in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time, the Sri Lan- kans are more experienced, fitter and better at fielding than ever before. If England had managed 280 even, the effects of heat and tension might have told more, but Roshan Mahanama, who needed a net as he has not had a bat in this tournament, and Hashan Til- lekeratne did not let them show.

There will be one Asian semi-final in Calcutta, between Sri Lanka and India, and one non-Asian in Mohali. As for England, every single person involved in their on-field performance on this tour should now consider his position.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk