Shamik Das


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thrill-hara in Antigua

Chaminda Vaas and friends celebrate the most remarkable victory of the present World Cup

Ian Bell clatters into Kumar Sangakkara after narrowly making his ground during his innings of 47

• Fernando holds nerve as Lankans leave it late • Bopara & Nixon take game to wire • Eng. on brink of tumbling out

Antigua, World Cup, Super Eights: England 233/8 (50 overs) lost to Sri Lanka 235 (50 overs) by two runs

England came within one blow of pulling off an amazing last ball win last night as the ninth World Cup finally came to life.

After a series of mis-matches and thrashings over the past three weeks this was the kind of game the tournament had been crying out for, only the third match out of 33 to go the full 100 overs and the first in which all three results were possible off the final ball.

For England the equation was simple: two to tie, three to win, one to lose ... and lose they did, Ravi Bopara - who'd played superbly for his maiden international fifty - unable to lead his team across the line, clean bowled by Dilhara Fernando, who kept his cool to send one down full and straight.

Dilhara Fernando bowls Sri Lanka to glory off the last ball of the match    Paul Nixon and Ravi Bopara took England to within touching distance of what would have been an amazing win

Bopara, together with wicketkeeper Paul Nixon, added 87 runs for the seventh wicket and very nearly took England to a victory that had seemed fanciful with seven overs remaining and 66 runs still required.

Then a flurry of fours and sixes from the duo - including a couple of outrageous reverse sweeps by Nixon off Murali which yielded ten runs - took the target down to an eminently gettable 19 runs off the final two overs.

But it wasn't to be as Sri Lanka's seamers took out Nixon and Bopara to inflict on the English one of the narrowest defeats in one-day international history, Fernando finishing with figures of 3-41 and Lasith Malinga 2-50.

Paul Collingwood produced another outstanding performance in the field to help restrict Sri Lanka to 235 off their 50 overs  Kevin Pietersen pulls a ball to the midwicket boundary on his way to fifty  Wily old fox Murali snares Kevin Pietersen with a superb return catch off his own bowling

It was a harsh ending for England, who never should have let Sri Lanka back into the match, cruising at 121 for three after 30 overs of their reply and needing 115 more runs off the last 120 balls.

Murali, however, had other ideas, foxing Kevin Pietersen - once again England's top scorer with 58 - into misreading the doosra and presenting a return catch which the spinner grabbed hold of with glee to signal the beginning of England's descent to defeat.

Earlier in Sri Lanka's innings Upul Tharanga (62) and Mahela Jayawardene (56) helped set what should have been a gettable score of 235, with Sajid Mahmood (4-50) and Andrew Flintoff (3-35) England's best bowlers.

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