England responded to two successive defeats – and no little criticism – with a 10-wicket mauling of Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge to level the NatWest Series.
Beaten in convincing fashion at Headingley and Lord’s and knowing defeat today would spark yet more conjecture about the make-up of the one-day side, England delivered the most emphatic reminder of the credentials in the limited-overs arena in wonderfully entertaining fashion.
James Anderson led a superb bowling display that saw Sri Lanka shot out for a meagre 174 on a green pitch and under leaden skies, before Alastair Cook and Craig Kieswetter hurried them to a Duckworth/Lewis-revised target of 171 with a scarcely believable 24.1 overs of a permitted 48 to spare.
The captain followed up his Lord’s hundred with a scintillating unbeaten 95 off 75 balls, and later admitted he has never batted more fluently for England. Kieswetter, who finished 72 not out off 68 deliveries, appeared pedestrian by comparison.
As if to make a point following Dinesh Chandimal’s protracted attempt to engineer a century at Lord’s, Cook shunned the opportunity to reach three figures as Kieswetter levelled the scores with a mighty six over midwicket.
It was remarkable – and hugely entertaining – stuff, and capped what must rank as one of the most complete one-day performances England have ever produced.
A near sell-out crowd were in clover and those fans with tickets for the series finale at Old Trafford on Saturday can consider their money well spent.
As magnificently as Cook and Kieswetter batted, England’s victory can be traced back to Anderson’s new-ball burst.
James Anderson makes the initial breakthrough by removing Tillakaratne Dilshan, the first of three wickets in his opening spell
He struck three times in his first five overs to reduce Sri Lanka to 20 for four, while Jade Dernbach countered a Kumar Sangakkara-led recovery – he made 75 – by taking the last three wickets in 10 deliveries.
That the start was delayed by 40 minutes by rain did not bother Anderson, who needed just five balls to have Tillakaratne Dilshan caught behind via a faint outside edge as he played back. The skipper has managed only 13 runs in four innings.
Away swing from Tim Bresnan, and an uncharacteristically open face from Mahela Jayawardene, provided Jonathan Trott with a simple catch at first slip, and Anderson nipped one back to have Chandimal lbw without scoring in the next over.
Thilina Kandamby drove Anderson through extra-cover the ball before he edged to second slip in the process of withdrawing his bat. England were rampant.
The decision to promote Suraj Randiv to number six was successful to a degree, but Sri Lanka were still in serious peril at 57 for five after he gloved Stuart Broad down the leg side. It was Broad’s first wicket of the series.
Sangakkara, composed as ever, was content to let Angelo Mathews lead a counter-attack that featured towering straight sixes off Dernbach and Broad.
Their aggressive running relied occasionally on luck, and it took a brilliant return catch from Bresnan, clinging on with his fingertips as he dived forward in his follow-through to take a leading edge, to end Mathews’ spirited innings of 39.
Craig Kieswetter advances to drive as he and Cook propel a rampant England to their target of 171 with 24.1 overs to spare
Jeevan Mendis was caught behind by a leaping Kieswetter as he attempted to cut a well-directed bouncer from Broad, and Sri Lanka’s decision to take the batting powerplay after 40 overs backfired emphatically as Dernbach demonstrated his prowess at the death.
Nuwan Kulasekara was pinned in front by a yorker, Lasith Malinga had his middle stump uprooted as he made room, and Sangakkara, aiming to clear the leg side, sliced to backward point, where Eoin Morgan made a tricky catch over his shoulder look easy.
Any hopes Sri Lanka harboured of making similarly impressive use of favourable bowling conditions were put into context when Cook struck Kulasekara for three successive fours in the first over.
His innings contained 16 in total, and all came courtesy of authentic strokes as he combined power and timing to devastating effect. With the exception of Kieswetter’s three sixes, the ball rarely left the turf.
Cook’s fifty spanned 37 balls to Kieswetter’s 48, and the pair now boast the highest partnership for any wicket against Sri Lanka, comfortably surpassing the 154 shared by Graeme Hick and Neil Fairbrother at Adelaide in 1998.
Victory was England’s first by 10 wickets against Sri Lanka. There could be no better illustration of their unfettered dominance.