TORONTO - Bring on New Zealand. That’s the battle cry that came through loud and clear after Sri Lanka handed England a thrashing that it will not forget in a hurry. Cheered on by a fun-loving capacity crowd under the floodlights at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium, Sri Lanka became the fourth and final team to book its spot in the World Cup semifinals.
Sri Lanka meets giant-killers New Zealand at this same venue on Tuesday and, the following day in Mohali, India hosts bitter-rivals Pakistan in the other that has already captured the imagination of the subcontinent.
Openers Upul Tharanga (102) and Tillarakatne Dilshan (108) were Sri Lanka’s twin heroes yesterday as their flashing blades carved out centuries to guide Sri Lanka to a mammoth 10-wicket victory.
The two showed scant respect for the English bowlers as they flayed them to all parts of the field to bring up the 230 required for victory with a whopping 64 balls to spare. England had earlier made a pedestrian 229 for six off its 50 overs, a total that looked generous after a shoddy fielding performance that saw the Sri Lankans put down three simple chances.
England enjoyed a roller-coaster ride in this tournament and provided some lasting thrills. It was its never-say-die spirit that took it to a breathtaking tie with India and a totally unexpected triumph over South Africa. The last-ditch win over the West Indies for a place in quarterfinals was a result of sheer determination. But the team had its abysmal moments as well. How would one explain those losses to minnows Bangladesh and Ireland?
As mentioned in this space earlier, I honestly thought the English authorities had suffered a brain cramp for scheduling such a long tour of Australia just prior to the World Cup. It finally caught up with the players. They looked jaded in the Colombo heat and humidity that also took its toll on both Dilshan and Tharanga. They both limped out at the end, while ace spinner Muttiah Muralitharan had to leave earlier with a pulled hamstring.
England captain Andrew Strauss minced no words in his assessment of the embarrassing loss.
“We have been thoroughly beaten by a better side. We have to be honest, we haven’t been good enough and that’s why we are going home,’’ he said.
“We just haven’t played with enough quality with the bat and ball. At the end of a World Cup you’ve got to sit down and think what the best way forward is.”
The difference yesterday was that England’s earlier batsmen played as though it was a Test match. The first 100 had only four boundaries and there were 12 in total. Jonathan Trott led the way with 86 off 115 balls, a quickfire 50 by Eoin Morgan who was dropped when on 16, 33 and 34. Bopara weighed in with 31. The Sri Lankan openers, on the other hand, plundered three sixes and 22 fours.
Sri Lanka’s three spinners also held the upper hand over their English counterparts. Muralitharan, Herath Rangana and Ajantha Mendis were able to tie down the batsmen with their line and length, while Graeme Swann and James Tredwell truly got whacked by Tharanga and Dilshan.
This is the second time in this tournament the openers had hoisted a 200-run partnership.
In a group match against Zimbabwe three weeks ago, the two put on 282 with Tharanga making 133 and Dilshan 144.
Sri Lanka will be favoured against New Zealand, who stunned South Africa in their quarterfinal. Sri Lanka defeated New Zealand by 139 runs in a group match earlier and this should give it added confidence.
Sri Lanka expects both the openers and Muralitharan to be fit for Tuesday’s encounter.
New Zealand has never made it to the final in five attempts, while Sri Lanka, a past winner, will be hoping to advance to its second consecutive final. Four years ago in Jamaica a fine century by Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan vice-captain, ended the Kiwis’ run in the last four.