Richly Deserved: Cricket World Cup Report, Days 21-23

There is nothing better in cricket, and maybe very few things better in all of sport, than to have a World Cup One-day International match in which 599 balls have been delivered and the match is still in doubt.

For England their match against Sri Lanka was an opportunity to accomplish two important goals. First, get the critics off their back for a couple of lacklustre wins against minnows Canada and Ireland, and keep themselves in a race for one of the four semi-final spots that to this point seems destined for Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka.

AFTER 49.5 OVERS, SRI LANKA 235 ALL OUT LED ENGLAND 233-7 BY TWO RUNS

So let’s take you through the first 499 balls (briefly). England won the toss and sent Sri Lanka up first. It seemed like a good choice as Sri Lanka had trouble getting runs early. Opener Upul Tharanga did avoid early trouble making 62. The captain, Mahela Jayawardene, also kept himself at the crease a while making 56.

However, it was generally a frustrating innings for the Sri Lankans, whose only six came off the bat of veteran Sanath Jayasuriya.

England was getting great opening results from James Anderson. Sajid Mahmood had what was described as a career day, taking four wickets. And Andrew Flintoff continued to make up for his drunken exploits of the opening weekend of the tournament, taking three wickets.

It was certainly a makeable total for England but it became less so when they lost captain Michael Vaughan for a duck and Ed Joyce for 10. Ian Bell (47) and Kevin Pietersen (58) stabilized the innings a bit for England but when they were dismissed, it was up to the lower-order tandem of Paul Nixon and Ravi Bopara to save the day. This would be a bit like having your backup quarterback and third-string running back drive for the winning touchdown, but stranger things have happened.

Nixon made a nice 42 before being caught out by Jayawardene with 2.1 overs left. At that point England needed 15 runs off 7 balls. Mahmood joined Bopara in the middle.

Bopara sent the next ball past the boundary for four. Off the first five balls of the last over, Bopara and Mahmood scored nine. Two to tie, three to win off the last ball.

To set the scene, please welcome our special guests, ABBA.

With the game still in doubt right now, it came down to, Fernando.
With Bopara on 52, it came down to, Fernando.
The Sri Lankan fielders had to, prevent three.
The final ball is sent by just one man, that’s Dilhara, Fernando.

Fernando bowls, Bopara takes a mighty swing … and misses. The ball smashed the middle of the stumps and Sri Lanka survived a two-run victory.

A cricket match for the ages, much needed after a long string of lopsided games.

Here’s a quick look at the other two matches played the past couple of days:

SOUTH AFRICA 165 FOR 3 DEFEATED IRELAND 152-8 BY SEVEN WICKETS (Duckworth-Lewis method applied)

Gotta give the Irish credit though for their effort despite their innings being reduced to 35 overs by two rain delays. Andrew White (30) and Eoin Morgan (28) led the Irish charge.

South Africa briefly got a scare when they lost AB deVilliers for a duck but Jacques Kallis (66), Ashwell Prince (47) and Graeme Smith (41) got the job done in a little more than 31 overs.

NEW ZEALAND 178 FOR 1 DEFEATED BANGLADESH 174 ALL OUT BY 9 WICKETS

To correct an error in my last column, New Zealand is the perennial dark horse of the World Cup. This small nation of five million do surprisingly well at every World Cup. Not bad for a country whose sporting life you normally associate with 15 guys in black shirts performing the haka before gouging their opponents.

The young Bangladeshis were led by Mohammad Rafique (30) but were no match for Stephen Fleming (102) and Hamish Marshall (50).

The tournament takes a couple of days off for Good Friday so we’ll see you in a few days.

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