England’s World Cup Twenty20 hopes were kept alive after a breath-taking unbeaten Alex Hales hundred, which helped them chase down 190 with four balls to spare, their highest ever chase in the shortest format of the game.
It was Hales, alongside Eoin Morgan who added 152 for the third wicket, a record in twenty20 internationals, as they maintained a freakishly high run rate throughout after England had slumped for 0-2 in the first over. Earlier on a beautifully-timed Mahela Jayawardene had elevated Sri Lanka to 189 off their 20 overs.
England’s perilous position in the tournament made their chase all the more stunning, a defeat to Sri Lanka would have left them on the verge of an early exit after a controversial defeat to New Zealand in their opener.
The game was characterised by dropped chances at crucial stages of each innings. Jayawardene was dropped three times on the way to making 89, whilst Hales was dropped on the boundary by Jayawardene himself as he anchored an unlikely chase. It will bring England some much needed confidence, after series defeats to both West Indies and Australia in respective Twenty20 series going into the tournament.
The win adds greater significance to Saturday’s clash with South Africa, who snuck home to victory against Netherlands prior to England’s epic, despite an edgy performance. If England beat South Africa and then the Netherlands on Monday, they should progress to the last four.
The game started off in a blazing fashion, Jade Dernbach controversially dismissing Kusal Perera, caught behind down the leg side. Replays showed Perera was unlucky, but the scores were evened by the umpires in the very next ball, in bizarre circumstances. Dernbach was full and straight at Jayawardene, the veteran batsman getting a leading edge into the offside that Michael Lumb appeared to hold onto after a sprawling dive.
Jayawardene was well in his rights to stand his ground and wait for video conformation, but replays showed no signs that the ball had fallen out of Lumb’s hands. But after minutes of deliberation the third umpire called not out, incensing Broad and his men.
Their fury seemed to get the better of them, as Tillikaratne Dilshan and Jayawardene proceeded to take the attack apart, via a few dropped catches. In the sixth over Jayawardene got under the ball and skied to mid-off, where a toppling Dernbach dropped a sitter.
Dilshan was subsequently dropped on the leg-side boundary after a Dilshan swipe, with the score on 58. Both batsmen duly took advantage. After coming in on 4-1, Jayawardene eventually departed with the score on 149, with four dropped chances accumulated between him and Dilshan in the process. Dilshan followed him back to the dugout shortly after an ugly yet dogged 55, the brazen opener battling against his own form more than anything.
Some late order hitting from Perera England was damaging the England bowlers, despite a brilliant 19th over from Chris Jordan which yielded just four runs. Bresnan was given the last over, and another solid over was ruined when Angelo Mathews nonchalantly flicked the last ball for six.
England would have to chase 190 at over nine runs an over, a score that seemed beyond them even before Nuwan Kulasekara caused utter devastation in the first over. Lumb seemed fidgety after four dot balls a row to start the innings, and his attempt to try and apply pace onto the ball was ill-fated, as he was bowled for a duck.
Moeen Ali was next, fresh of a wristy and brisk knock against New Zealand that awoke many to his potential. But Kulasekara was too good first up, finding a little bit of away movement, Ali edging to second slip.
England seemed to be on the verge of another embarrassment, a quick yet painful death against the subtlety ofAjantha Mendis and the dead-eye accuracy of Lasith Malinga. Yet they managed to see out a succession of Malinga Yorkers early on, and purposefully targeted Mendis, who struggled for any movement off the pitch.
Mendis was bludgeoned for 52 off his four overs, Hales crucially taking 25 off the 15th over to haul his side back into the contest. There was a period where England looked as if they may fall behind again, with Morgan and Jos Buttler falling in the same over, needing over 10 an over still.
But Ravi Bopara managed to hold his nerve against Malinga, two delicate fours back to back down to the third man the moment the match swung back in favour of the England. Hales capitalised on this momentum as he destroyed Kulasekera’s last over, becoming England’s first twenty20 hundred scorer in the process.
That left just seven off the last over, a mere formality given the dramatic events that had just gone before. The match and comeback was sealed when Hales deposited the second ball into the night sky, sparking joyous scenes. England had done what no one expected them to do, turning the mood on the bench from seething to ecstatic. It may not to prove a turning point given England’s recent form, but it ensures they will go home with some sort of pride left intact. A stunning game of cricket.