England make history
England sealed a historic series win after strolling to a five-wicket victory in the fourth one-day international over Sri Lanka in Colombo.
They produced a hugely impressive bowling display to restrict the hosts to 211 for nine, and the loss of two wickets in two balls when they were within sight of their target was the closest they came to a slip-up in reply.
Having not won a one-dayer in Sri Lanka for 25 years before they left home, England produced arguably their best performance of the tour to record a third successive triumph in the space of six days - not to mention a first major series win in the sub-continent since they beat Pakistan in 1987.
In achieving such a feat after losing the opening game of the five-match series, England overcame what coach Peter Moores termed the “ultimate challenge”, and the improvements made during even this brief trip augur well for his developing side.
As was the case in their previous two victories, the platform for England’s success was laid by the bowlers, the consistently excellent Ryan Sidebottom the pick of them.
He built on a magnificent opening spell of 7-2-13-1 to finish with 3-27, while James Anderson, having failed to take a wicket in the opening three matches, claimed 3-33 to become the fourth highest ODI wicket-taker for England.
Praise must also go to Stuart Broad, who removed Chamara Silva and Kumar Sangakkara in the space of seven balls to check the momentum generated during a 126-run stand for the fourth wicket.
Though Sri Lanka were indebted to Silva (67) and Sangakkara (69) after they slipped to 20 for three, the loss of five wickets in the final nine overs cost them the chance to set England anything more than a testing total.
Alastair Cook rediscovered his form to anchor the England reply, making light of the loss of Phil Mustard and Ian Bell en route to a measured 80.
He was ably assisted by Kevin Pietersen, who mixed the occasional brutal stroke with aggressive running in his unbeaten 63.
Their 110-run alliance for the third wicket broke the back of what was comfortably the biggest run-chase of the series, which was completed with 19 balls to spare.
Sidebottom, whose displays have been central to England’s comeback from 1-0 down in the series, set the tone with the ball by removing Upul Tharanga in his second over, caught by Owais Shah at slip as he chased a full-length delivery that left him off the seam.
Sanath Jayasuriya drove Anderson to Pietersen at mid-off, having laboured 22 balls for his three, and Sri Lanka were in even greater peril when skipper Mahela Jayawardene top-edged Anderson to third man, where Broad took a fine catch running in at speed.
The Sri Lanka fightback was led by Sangakkara and Silva, both of whom batted with a deal of common sense against England’s slower bowlers.
Sangakkara progressed to an 80-ball fifty containing just three fours, and he and Silva brought up the hundred stand shortly after as Sri Lanka began to realign their sights.
Silva also managed only three boundaries en route to his half-century, which occupied 89 deliveries, but he fell to the fourth ball of Broad’s second spell, a bouncer which he helped into the hands of Ravi Bopara at third man.
Sangakkara pulled another short ball from Broad to Bopara at deep backward square-leg in the next over; Kausal Lokuarachchi fatally played back to Paul Collingwood in his first over back, and Tillakaratne Dilshan hit an entertaining 17 before he was bowled through his legs attempting to sweep Anderson.
It was the fast bowler’s 116th ODI wicket, taking him above Phil DeFreitas in the England all-time list.
Sidebottom saw Chaminda Vaas chip a low full toss to Pietersen at mid-wicket and capped a wonderful performance when he pegged back Jehan Mubarak’s leg stump as he stepped across to the off side in the final over of the innings.
The start of the England innings contrasted sharply with that of Sri Lanka, Mustard’s departure for 19 - made at quicker than a run a ball - the only aberration during the first hour.
All but three of his 19 runs came in boundaries, but he wasted a promising start for the fourth successive game when a mistimed drive off a slower ball provided Lasith Malinga with a return catch.
Cook, who eschewed extravagance in favour of steady accumulation, reached double figures for only the second time in seven innings as he and Bell put on 54 for the second wicket in 14 overs.
Bell’s disappointment at seeing a mistimed pull off the last ball of the final powerplay find mid-on was compounded by the rain arriving two balls later.
However, Cook and Pietersen were unaffected by a 40-minute stoppage, the left-hander moving serenely to a 76-ball fifty and Pietersen lifting Lokuarachchi for a glorious straight six to reach his milestone, off 19 fewer deliveries.
It was a measure of the value of their partnership that the departures of Cook, who played on, Collingwood and Shah had no impact on the result.