Bengaluru, June 22: After Pakistan, it was Sri Lanka. The former world champions held on to their nerves to rattle hosts and one of the top favourites to win the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, England.
The 1996 champions had a terrible time in picking a stable squad for this year's tournament and had to settle for Dimuth Karunaratne, a man who played his last ODIs only in the 2015 edition, as its leader.
A number of experienced players were overlooked since none of them seemed reliable to the selectors after a series of losses both at home and away.
Also, after the World Cup started, the Lankan management expressed its dissatisfaction with the facilities that were offered to them and alleged that they were made to play on green tops, unlike other teams. The side also skipped the post-match media conference after the hammering they got from Australia, coming under the ICC's scanner.
But it all came down to just one game to undo the growing mountain of inefficiency. Sri Lanka were underrated so much that people talked of "unfortunate" Pakistan and Bangladesh after their games with the islanders were washed out. None really bothered to say the same about Karunaratne's team, making them perhaps the most underestimated former champions on the history of the tournament.
On Friday, Karunaratne won the toss and elected to bat. It was indeed a brave decision since the wicket was green but Sri Lanka gave the message that they were not willing to give up either. They had a terrible start with both openers going back with just three on the board but it was a day when Sri Lanka decided to take the challenge head on. Former captain Angelo Mathews played his best innings of the tournament (85 not out off 115) after the scores 0,0 and nine and coupled with a few forties, he helped his team reach 232 for nine in 50 overs. If the batting performance was still average, the Asians made it up with their bowling with veteran Lasith Malinga (4 for 43) leading from the front.
Malinga is playing in his final World Cup and having gained some abdominal weight, he is not the same as before. But yet, the talent and determination made up for the physical limitations and the pacer revived glimpses of his memorable four for 54 registered against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup although Sri Lanka could not win that game. The only difference is that Malinga was only 24 then, 35 now. He deserved a five-for had Ben Stokes not been dropped in the final ball of his spell. Dhananjaya de Silva picked three as England were all out for 212.
Sri Lanka would take pride in the fact that even in their days of off form, they have maintained their dominant record against the Englishmen. Friday's 20-run win meant Sri Lanka have won against the Three Lions in four consecutive World Cup matches starting 2007. Their performance was indeed a lionhearted after the initial thrashing they got and could give them the required boost in the last few games. They will play South Africa, West Indies and India in the final three games and even two wins could widen their chances of making the semi-finals after eight year