England v Sri Lanka
John Houlihan - 14 May 1999

CricInfo report


England beat defending champions Sri Lanka by a massive eight wickets in the curtain raiser to the 1999 carnival of cricket. Putting Sri Lanka into bat, England bowled the defending champions out for 204 with Allan Mullally the pick of the attack as he picked up four vital wickets. England then cruised to a comfortable victory on the back of 88 from skipper Stewart and an impressive unbeaten from 73 Graeme Hick.

Alec Stewart got his first decision of the day right and won what proved to be a significant toss, inviting Sri Lanka to bat. With Sanath Jayasuriya and surprise choice Roshan Mahanama opening the innings, Darren Gough began proceedings from the Pavilion end and 1999's carnival of cricket began with something of an inauspicious start with a no-ball first up.

Both England opening bowlers troubled the Sri Lankan batsman early on as one would expect in conditions conducive to seam bowling, but they were also unnecessarily profligate. With just 4.5 overs gone, the worst case scenario for the tournament came true and the heavens suddenly opened and the players left the field to await a break in the weather.

When play restarted Gough and Austin continued to carry the English attack and Gough in particular looked in prime form. Initially at least, the Sri Lankans tempered their approach to batting in English conditions and were content to pick of the singles early on.

In the seventh over Mahanama went over the top for the first time, pulling Austin through midwicket and then over backward point for two well struck boundaries. Jayasuriya produced a flowing cover drive off Gough in the eighth and after a reasonably cautious start, the Sri Lankans appeared to be opening up and starting to play their naturally aggressive game.

This prompted a change in the attack with left-armer Alan Mullally replacing Gough from the Pavilion end and with the final ball of his first over Mullally struck, inducing a rash stroke from Mahanama who top edged a skier which Hick gratefully ran round to collect from slip to collect, to the immense relief of the England supporters in the crowd.

Mullally continued to bowl well and induced an edge from Jayasuriya which grazed Hick's fingertips, but it was Lancashire stalwart Ian Austin who made the next breakthrough when he had the dangerous Marvan Attapatu caught by Hick with the score on 50. Hick appeared to be something of a ball magnet and Mullally was well into his stride when he snared the dangerous Jayasuriya with Hick the main man again as the opener perished for 29, leaving the Sri Lankans in a precarious position at 63-3. All rounder Mark Ealham eventually replaced Austin from the media stand end and proved himself something of a golden arm, having Tillekeratne caught by Stewart for 0 with his very first ball.

Sri Lanka^s hopes lay with the talented Aravinda de Silva and hugely experienced skipper Arjuna Ranatunga. England continued to exert pressure with a packed slip cordon and Mullally bowled a tight line and could apparently do no wrong, picking up his third wicket of the innings as he had Aravinda de Silva caught by Thorpe at slip, with the score on 65-5.

Keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana came out and made a bright start, and played some fluent, forceful strokes which at last gave the visiting Sri Lankan supporters something to cheer. With bright sunshine bathing the ground, the sixth wicket partnership launched a ferocious counter-attack against the English bowlers. Kalu rapidly progressed to a well deserved half-century with a quick single off Ealham in the 32nd over. The keeper inning's was full of attractive strokes and included 7 fours from only 52 balls and with Ranatunga hitting the first six of the tournament with a straight drive over mid-off from Hick the pair's quick fire scoring threatened to wrest the initiative from England.

Kaluwitharana and Ranatunga had put on 84 for the sixth wicket, completely altering the balance of the game and when Mark Ealham struck, having Ranatunga snapped up by a sensational diving catch from Nasser Hussain at point, his dismissal brought a huge wave of approval from the increasingly nervous English crowd. Alan Mullally was re-introduced to the attack and immediately troubled new arrival Chaminda Vaas but it was just a few short overs later that he struck the most telling blow of the innings, catching the edge from Kaluwitharana which England skipper Stewart safely pouched to leave Sri Lanka struggling at 155-7 with just the bowlers to come. Mullally continued to impress in his second spell, passing the outside edge several times and was undoubtedly the pick of the attack finishing with figures of 37-4, with one maiden from his ten overs.

With just ten overs to go, Sri Lanka were relying on tail-enders Chaminda Vaas and Eric Upashantha to raise their total towards respectability, but tight bowling from all-rounder Ealham and former skipper Adam Hollioake restricted their scoring with the aid of some good support from the England field. Hollioake beat Upashantha consistently outside off stump and eventually had him caught at short mid-on for 11 by Graham Thorpe and with the score on 174-8 in the 43rd over as the England bowlers pressed hard to wrap up the innings.

Austin had Wickramasinghe caught at the wicket for 11 in the 48th over and Muttiah Muralitharan managed to clobber a boundary four off Gough before a shower of rain again interrupted play with just 11 balls to go. With the players streaming off the field, the umpires decided to take an early lunch. Play resumed at 3.55 after an extensive break and Muralitharan belted one final boundary before Gough yorked him from the fourth ball of the 49th over, which wrapped up the Sri Lankan innings at 204 all out.

England began with skipper Alec Stewart and the newly promoted Nasser Hussain striding out to open the innings with Hussain facing the first ball from left-armer Chaminda Vaas. Hussain's first run, a single behind backward point was roundly cheered by the crowd and in the second over he clipped Wickramansinghe neatly through mid-wicket for 3, with Stewart cover driving the first boundary in the same over to get England off to a positive start. With the sun shining again, the Barmy Army began to find their voice and with both batsmen looking to be solid in defence and attack anything loose the game was nicely poised for an intriguing run chase.

Hussain had a close call when Wickramasinghe looked to have a good shout for a caught behind against him in the sixth over. Eric Upashantha was introduced in the eighth over and nearly induced an edge from Hussain with his first ball, but the Essex captain survived and began to prosper matching his skipper almost run for run. Sensing perhaps that their team needed a lift, the large group of Sri Lankan supporters beneath the new media centre began urging their side to make the breakthrough, but Stewart in particular appeared to have regained some of his old touch and fluency as England looked to capitalise on their solid start.

To ironic cheers from the Barmy Army, Upashantha bowled a succession of wides to make the 12th over a contender for the longest of the tournament. However to subsequent Sri Lankan hurrahs, Ranatunga then introduced his most dangerous bowler Muttiah Muralitharan whose first ball induced a rash charge down the wicket from Hussain who was fortunate not to be stumped. Despite these minor alarms, England continued to make progress with Stewart pulling Muralitharan through midwicket for a boundary then sweeping him for a single to bring up the England fifty, but on the very next ball Hussain repeated his ill-advised charge and was well stumped by Kaluwitharana for 14.

England's key strokemaker Graeme Hick joined his skipper at the crease and with some good running nudging the score along and Stewart in particular looking to push some sharp singles, England reached 68-1 in the 20th over with Stewart on 41 and Hick on 4. Ranatunga reintroduced Wickaramasinghe into the attack supported by Jayasuriya's slow left arm spin and the game began to meander along in the late afternoon sun, with Hick and Stewart milking singles seemingly at will. Stewart eased Jayusriya for a single through mid-off to bring up his fifty in the 23rd over which was made from 85 balls with 4 fours.

England seemed to have gone into cruise mode with Hick beginning to find touch and cheekily pushing Jayasuriya around the corner for some well run twos. England's hundred came up in the 25th over and at just over the half-way stage, they were well set to push on to the target at 103-1. Muralithatran came back into the attack in an effort to make the vital breakthrough and although he bowled tidily, the pitch didn't offer any significant turn and both batsman looked relatively comfortable against the arch off-spinner's wiles.

With the shadows lengthening in the early evening, Stewart eased himself into the eighties with Hick rapidly advancing towards his fifty. With the 150 chalked up in the 36th over, Muralitharan was recalled in a last gasp attempt for the Sri Lankans to get something out of the game, but with both batsman well set and scoring freely and a run rate dipping below four an over, he was unable to make any meaningful impact. Hick eventually achieved his half-century off 63 balls, sweeping Muralitharan behind square leg in the 39th over and even the normally sceptical English cricketing public were scenting victory with the score on 168-1 and plenty of overs to spare.

Just as the game looked to be meandering to its inevitable conclusion, Chaminda Vaas nipped in to take the wicket of the England skipper who perished to a regulation edge which was taken behind by Kaluwitharana with England on 175-2. Stewart who had looked impregnable, nevertheless played the match winning innings and his 88 included 6 fours from 147 balls. With Thorpe joining Hick at the crease, Sri Lanka sensed the slenderest of chances, but the golden Grahams played sensibly and urged on by a ragged chorus from the Barmy Army, they steered England to an overwhelming eight wicket victory, with Hick hitting an enormous straight driven six to end the game and finish on an unbeaten 73.