England were gasping for breath. What was meant to be a simple chase turned out to be one where they needed ventilator support of sorts to edge past Sri Lanka and enter the semi-finals of the ICC T20 World Cup on Saturday in Sydney. The man who infused oxygen into the Englishmen was Ben Stokes, the tried and tested professional, as he scored a valuable unbeaten 42 to reach the meager target of 142 for victory.
The pressure was palpable. And the mood was one of playing recklessly against the motivated Sri Lankan spinners. Eventually, England got home, much to the chagrin of the hosts. An England win meant Australia, the defending champions, are out in the cold, literally. There will be massive criticism for the Aussies, whose campaign this time was floundering and have now exited.
Having been beaten black and blue by Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in the opener, the Aussies got themselves into further trouble, with the weather also playing spoilsport. After all, their performance this time has bordered on average, with points shared with England in a washed-out match in Melbourne. Finally, against Afghanistan, on Friday, the Aussies huffed and puffed to a victory. To be sure, the hosts did not deserve to be in the last four, though they were looking for a gift from Sri Lanka!
The Lankans very nearly came close to upsetting the applecart of the Englishmen, but the low score they posted on the board did not help them. The way Sri Lanka batted in the first part of the innings was racy. Then came that brilliant spell of bowling from Adil Rashid as he throttled the Sri Lankans. On this day, the bandwidth in the English bowling attack caught the eye. Pathum Nissanka was a standout for Sri Lanka as an opener when he scored 67 of 45 balls.
That apart, there was not much support from the other Sri Lankan batsmen with only Bhanuka scoring 22. In all, England employed seven bowlers, and Sri Lanka found it hard to accelerate against some accurate bowling by the Englishmen who were playing for pride. To lose to Sri Lanka would have been an embarrassment, given the way this tournament has seen so many ups and downs. Apart from Adil Rashid, Mark Wood was the pick with three wickets.
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Australia are out of the World Cup and can expect a huge backlash now from fans and their own cricket board
England’s chase looked solid, as they added 75 runs for the first wicket, through Jos Buttler and Alex Hales. Then came the moment of madness, as England panicked needlessly. Wickets fell so fast, the pressure increased and there was apprehension if the Englishmen would coast home. For their part, the Sri Lankan spinners were sticking to the basics well, backed by good catching as well. Wanindu, Dhannjaya, and Lahiru exploited the conditions and the brittle temperament of the Englishmen. If only there were more runs on the board, the Sri Lankan bowlers could have been more aggressive.
From the English perspective, they are facing massive problems with someone like David Malan coming at No.9. The other day, he came at No.8. Whether it is a fitness issue or lack of form, England know best. They will now travel to Adelaide for the semi-final on November 10. If it goes according to form, and India beat Zimbabwe on Sunday, they will face the Englishmen. Given the twists and turns in this World Cup, making any prediction is dicey.
There will be huge flak for the hosts, Australia. They won the World Cup last November in the United Arab Emirates. There have been fitness issues and also more problems with captain Aaron Finch, also unsettled. He had to retire from the ODIs recently. In the coming days, he may well be eased out of T20 as well. The cricket board in Australia is ruthless. And that’s the right way to deal with players who do not perform, even if it be the captain. This was one campaign gone horribly wrong!
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