This is a World T20 of comebacks. After India mounted a come-from-behind victory that will not be forgotten soon, Sri Lanka nearly threatened to pull off the impossible, courtesy the irrepressible Angelo Mathews, but they eventually fell just short to hand England a victory and a place in the semifinals of the ICC World T20.
The result means Sri Lanka are out of the World T20 along with South Africa, who will be wondering what went wrong again in an ICC tournament.
Needing a win to ensure their spot in the semis along with West Indies from the group, England batted like champions, with Jos Buttler (66 n.o., 38b, 8x4, 2x6) leading the way to help his team pile on 171/4 at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi.
Sri Lanka chose to chase after winning the toss, and their challenge seemed to have ended in the first three overs of the second innings, after they lost four wickets for nothing. However, Mathews played one of those innings that you can only marvel at, refusing to lay down and play dead.
From absolutely nowhere, with the match looking certain to go England's way, Mathews (73 n.o., 54b, 3x4, 5x6) mounted a brilliant counter-attack to take the game all the way to the final over, before the hobbling captain fell just short as Ben Stokes held his nerve to hand England a 10-run victory.
England have been accused in the past of not being able to handle the pressure, and with this game being a virtual knockout for them, the pressure was certainly on. With Alex Hales, back from a back injury, falling in the second over to Rangana Herath, it looked like the spin pressure might get to them, but England played intelligent cricket in the first 15 overs, making sure they did not lose too many wickets.
At 99/3, with Buttler and Eoin Morgan at the crease, after Jason Roy (42, 39b, 3x4, 2x6) had set the nice little platform, England went into tonk-town, unleashing those sixes and fours with ease, to smash 72 runs from the final five overs of the innings.
Buttler, it goes without saying, was the wrecker-in-chief, showing how intelligent a player he is, even when hitting the leather off the ball. Sri Lanka, for much of the innings, knowing Buttler's penchant to play the reverse-sweep and paddle sweep, had kept the third man and fine-leg back, leaving mid-off up in the process. So, Buttler decided to hit straight, smoking a few boundaries straight back past the bowler, while favouring the extra cover boundary as well.
Sri Lanka just did not have an answer to Buttler, and following those final five-over assault, the soon-to-be-deposed champions just could not reply in kind. Particularly after they lost their two openers within the first two overs. Tillakaratne Dilshan was dismissed by David Willey in the first over, falling in to the trap of two men in the deep on the legside.
Dinesh Chandimal then played a stupid shot, trying to glide one to third man off Chris Jordan when there was a first slip in place. The ball just went off the face of his bat with the wicketkeeper Buttler completing a simple catch.
Milinda Siriwardana and Lahiru Thirimanne then fell in consecutive balls of the third over to leave Sri Lanka on 15/4. The match looked done and dusted at that point, but captain Mathews, who was at fault for the Thirimanne run out, and Kapugedera refused to give up, forging a wonderful patient-and-then-slam-bang partnership.
The chance of a Sri Lanka win came to the fore after a 12th over, when Mathews and Kapugedera pummelled legspinner Adil Rashid for 21 runs, which included three sixes. At 84 from eight overs, the target looked possible again.
However, Plunkett brought some control back for England again, by getting Kapugedera (30, 27b, 2x4, 1x6), who holed out in the deep, but Thisara Perera came in and smashed a six off Moeen Ali to keep the game interesting.
It was clear if England were going to hold on, they would have to rely on their pace bowlers, because the spinners were just getting carted around. However, with one more over of spin needed, Morgan gave the ball to Moeen Ali in the 17th over, and Sri Lanka smashed another 21 runs – the spinners of England went for a combined 63 runs in their four overs, without taking a wicket.
Now needing a serene 40 from 24 balls, England were the ones under pressure, and Jordan held his nerve rather well, conceding just six runs from the 18th over, while also sending the dangerous Thisara Perera (20, 11b, 1x4, 2x6) back.
However, Dasun Shanaka (15, 9b, 2x4, 1x6) came and thumped a few to the boundary to keep the game interesting, before a brilliant catch from Joe Root brought England back, with Jordan (4-0-28-4) leaving Ben Stokes 15 runs to defend after smashing down the stumps of Rangana Herath in the final ball of the 19th over.
There was only one man who was going to make it happen for Sri Lanka, and Mathews, bad hamstring and all, just could not pull out the necessary 15 runs from the final over to take SL to an improbable victory.
Watch the highlights of the England vs Sri Lanka match HERE