Paul Edwards sees Alastair Cook's side triumph on a happy and glorious day at Old Trafford
If they had noticed that the four previous games in this five-match NatWest series had ended in two very comfortable wins for each side, the cheerfully boisterous 19,500 sell-out crowd which filled Old Trafford for the deciding match probably hoped to see a close contest. Most of them wanted to see an England win too. Well, this seems to be a week in which all the wishes of Lancastrian cricket fans come true.
Despite a plucky run-chase which had left Sri Lanka needing 36 runs to win off four overs with half their wickets in hand, it was England's cricketers who were hugging each other on the Old Trafford outfield less than a quarter of an hour later. Finally running out of steam, the tourists lost five wickets in panic-strewn 14 balls - and their last four in five - to be bowled out for 252. England's 16-run win thus secured the series 3-2; their total of 268 for nine had been enough - but only just.
Such close finishes inevitably produce heroes and their unfortunate victims. On Saturday it was Jade Dernbach, who took the last two wickets with consecutive deliveries who was the focus of his team's congratulations. But the Surrey seamer's late success in removing Angelo Matthews for 62 and Lasith Malinga for six had only built on the early success of Tim Bresnan and the probing spin of Graeme Swann.
Bresnan removed both the debutant Dimuth Karunaratne and his skipper Tillakaratne Dishan with only 12 runs on the board; the Yorkshire bowler would have had the wicket of Mahela Jayawardene cheaply too if Dernbach had accepted a straightforward catch at long leg.
In the event, it scarcely mattered as the best Sri Lankan batsman chipped James Anderson tamely to Alastair Cook at mid-off when he had made only three more runs. That left the tourists on 29 for three and their victory target was distant indeed.
Distant, but by no means unreachable. Kumar Sangakkara and Dinesh Chandimal proved that there was plenty of fight left in the Sri Lankan batting by putting on 94 for the fourth wicket in 18 overs, Chandimal lifting both Bresnan and Swann for straight sixes in his 64-ball innings of 54.
And even when the tourists' No5 had been stumped by Craig Kieswetter off Swann's dipping arm-ball and Sangakkara had played on to Bresnan for 48 when shaping to work the Yorkshireman to third-man, the task of scoring 138 in 20 overs in no way daunted Matthews and Jeevan Mendis.
Rather the contrary, it seemed. The sixth-wicket pair pushed, scurried and occasionally thumped their way to a 102-run stand in 18 overs before Mendis hit Patel straight to Kevin Pietersen at deep midwicket to start the late flurry of wickets. Bresnan finished with three for 49 while Dernbach took two wickets at identical cost. Swann was the most economical bowler, conceding 41 runs off his ten overs and bowling particularly well in tandem with Patel.
England's innings, too, was a tale of two partnerships and two collapses. At first it seemed that Cook and Kieswetter would make light of any challenges posed by either the early morning wicket or the Sri Lankan bowling.
Continuing where they had left off at Trent Bridge, the opening pair racked up 85 runs in only 12.5 overs before Cook was stumped off Suraj Randiv for 31 to give the impressive off-spinner the first of his five wickets. Kieswtter followed two runs later, bowled by Prasad for 43, and England were uncertainly placed on 95 for three when Pietersen could only edge a lifting delivery from the same bowler.
Eoin Morgan and Jonathan Trott's restored stability to the innings with a 118-run fourth wicket stand which was notable for the absence of million-dollar shots in favour of fifty-cent pushes and nudges.
This shrewd approach took the home side to 213 in the 37th over, at which point it seemed that a total in excess of 300 was on the cards. Instead, the England middle and lower order capitulated meekly, most of the damage being done by Randiv, who bowled Trott for an 87-ball 72 before claiming the scalps of Ian Bell, Patel and Bresnan cheaply. Morgan had made 57 before being stumped off Dilshan for 57.
After the match Alastair Cook was named man of the series after "plodding" his way to 298 runs at an average of 74.5 and with a strike rate of 96.75. He may be nearly as contented as most Lancashire fans this balmy Saturday evening.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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