Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga
Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga bowls during the World Cup group stage match against England at Headingley in Leeds, on June 21, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Just when we feared this World Cup was getting dominated by the top four teams and marred by wet weather, Sri Lanka roared back to life with a stunning performance against England that opens up the entire competition.

Nobody expected Sri Lanka to beat England at Headingley on Friday. The hosts are a well-oiled unit, blessed with enormous experience and clarity of purpose after four years of meticulous planning.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have been struggling in nearly all aspects of their campaign. Our biggest hope stemmed from a proud and hard-earned tradition of rising to the occasion at World Cup tournaments.

I thought it was a good toss to win on a flat, dry pitch that was always likely to slow down later and take some turn. A par score was 280 and not the 232 that Sri Lanka were ultimately able to cobble together.

Avishka Fernando, playing his first game in the tournament, responded with a brilliant counterattack after Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera went early. Fernando displayed all key components that define a top-class batsman: steady head position, good foot movement, ability to be balanced while driving though the off or straight and ability to pick up the short ball quickly. He has a lot of time when playing the ball due to minimal and economical movement into the ball.

Again, though, the middle order was tested. Kusal Mendis looked good but couldn’t construct a long innings and as the pitch got more difficult to bat on, Angelo (Matthews) showed why he is the best batsman in the side by adapting and holding the batting unit together. It was an outstanding innings from Matthews and he was the architect of the winning total.

With the ball, Lasith (Malinga) needed to lead the charge if we were to stand any chance of defending the 233-run target. He had been bowling safely with good economy thus far but he needed to take wickets with the new ball and through every spell. He did just that, rolling back the years with a lion-hearted and skilful exhibition, using swing and clever angles to create mistakes.

The set-up of Jos Buttler, pinned lbw, was a perfect combination of great tactics between him and Dimuth and then clinical execution. With fielders in short both straight and onside for the catch, Buttler was forced into hitting across the line.

Joe Root batted well but pressure mounted with Eoin Morgan batting a bit too slowly and indecisively. A quick 40 from Morgan would have put the match to bed. An ordinary shot from Moeen Ali did not help England’s cause during a decisive passage of play and Ben Stokes ultimately ran out of partners.

It was a great team effort by the bowlers, led by Lasith but supported by everyone. Sri Lanka can enjoy this win but there remains much work to be done.

The victory opens up the tournament slightly, giving Bangladesh and Sri Lanka an outside chance of qualifying if they can win their final three group games.

— Gameplan