LEEDS, Friday â€“ Sri Lankaâ€™s experienced guns Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews came to the party with two brilliant individual performances to enable their side pull off a dramatic 20-run win over World Cup favourites England in a nerve-wracking match at Headlingley here on Friday.
The win kept Sri Lankaâ€™s hopes of reaching the semi-finals alive as they moved to fifth position in the table with six points and three more matches to play against South Africa, West Indies and India.
It also extended their unbeaten run against England in World Cup matches since 1999, this being their fourth successive win.
The money was on England to win with their lengthy batting line up which had only the other day hammered a World Cup record best of 397-6 against Afghanistan, but Malinga playing his last World Cup produced two stunning spells of bowling to break the back of the England batting to have them eventually all out for 212 in the 47th over.
The experienced campaigner made the initial breakthrough by sending back the England openers Jony Bairstow (0) and James Vince (14) and then returned for another spell to derail the middle order with the wickets of Joe Root (57) and Jos Buttler (10) to finish with figures of 4 for 43 off his 10 overs to take the Man of the Match award.
On the way to his match-winning bowling figures Malinga became only the fourth bowler in World Cup history to pass 50 wickets when he dismissed Root. Glenn McGrath (Australia), Muthiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) and Wasim Akram (Pakistan) were the others to belong to that exclusive club.
Apart from Malingaâ€™s magical moments with the ball there were others also who chipped in with Isuru Udana taking a spectacular return catch to send back the dangerous inform England captain Eoin Morgan for 31 and Dhananjaya de Silva played as an off-spinner contributing towards Englandâ€™s downfall with three wickets for 32 off eight overs as England lost their last five wickets for 41 runs in 8.3 overs.
Ben Stokes tried his best to swing the game Englandâ€™s way with a hard hit 82 not out off 89 balls (4 sixes, 7 fours) but could find anyone a partner good enough to stay with him.
Englandâ€™s batting crumbled on a pitch which had gradually slowed down and made run making a difficult task.
It was a good toss for Dimuth Karunaratne to win and bat first and although there was much criticism the way Angelo Mathews batted but he had actually played a match-winning knock considering the surface which was not allowing the batsmen any freedom to go for their shots.
In fact it was Mathewsâ€™ unbeaten knock of 85 not out off 115 balls (1 six, 5 fours) that gave Sri Lanka a decent total, which against an confident England side did not look threatening at all. He reached his 40th ODI fifty off 84 balls (3 fours) sweeping a low full toss outside his leg stump from Joe Root for four.
The former captain who had not reached double figures in his three previous innings in the tournament struggled at the beginning and full credit to him for sticking it out blunt the England bowling putting together useful partnerships of 71 with Kusal Mendis (46) and 57 with Dhananjaya de Silva (27) and ensuring that Sri Lanka batted their full quota of overs which they had failed to do in the tournament so far.
On a lovely sunny day at Headingley Sri Lanka took the right decision to bat first, but could not quite make full use of the toss when they lost both openers Karunaratne and Kusal Perera within two balls of each other to be three runs for two wickets by the third over.
However 21-year-old Avishka Fernando making his World Cup debut at the expense of Lahiru Thirimanne launched a counter-attack to compensate for the loss of two early wickets by hitting Englandâ€™s fastest bowler Archer for two fours and a six in the sixth over. With Kusal Mendis playing a passive role Sri Lanka slowly rebuilt their innings with a partnership of 59 off 64 balls with Fernando who was the dominant partner contributing an attractive 49 off 39 balls (2 sixes, 6 fours).
When a maiden half century was within his grasp Fernando became too eager apparently to get to his maiden half-century and paid the penalty when he guided a lifting delivery from Wood straight to Rashid at third man.
A quite passage of play followed with Mendis and Mathews milking the spinners Moeen and Rashid as they rebuilt the innings with another useful stand.
Rashid removed both Kusal Mendis and Jeevan Mendis off successive deliveries and for the second time in the tournament Dhananjaya de Silva came out to face the hat-trick ball, which he survived by taking a couple. On the earlier occasion he hit the hat trick ball from New Zealander Matt Henry for four.
For a team that came to the match without a huge amount of confidence the win over England was a morale booster for the rest of the World Cup.