A sensational maiden ODI century from England all-rounder Moeen Ali could not stop Sri Lanka taking a 1-0 in the seven match ODI series after they edged the tourists by 25 runs in Colombo.
The off-spinning all-rounder hit the third quickest hundred by an Englishman which was made all the more incredible by the fact he was opening the batting for the first time for his country as they looked to chase the hosts imposing total of 317-6 off their 50 overs.
When he was eventually out for 119 off 87 balls it was left to the returning Ravi Bopara to try and guide Alastair Cook’s side home but the score ultimately proved too much, despite a superb 65 off 62 balls the Essex man hauled out needing 26 runs off the remaining 18 deliveries with last man Harry Gurney at the opposite end.
That brought an entertaining match to an end which certainly had plenty of positives for Cook who won the toss which took place an hour later than scheduled due to persistent drizzle at the R. Premadasa Cricket Stadium.
The England captain confirmed Steven Finn was absent with a slight groin niggle and was replaced by left-arm bowler Gurney in the XI while Bopara was recalled in place of Chris Jordan in an otherwise unchanged team from the side that beat Sri Lanka A last Friday.
Cook decided to bowl first and he gave the new ball to Gurney and Chris Woakes but England had to wait until the 23rd over to find a breakthrough which came via a run out with Joe Root, Bopara and Jos Buttler combining to run out Kusal Perera for an impressive 59.
That brought Kumar Sangakkara to the crease to join Tillakaratne Dilshan who had already passed his 50 but he didn’t hang around long thanks to a beauty from England’s star of 2014 Ali who trapped him lbw for just 2.
As one Sri Lankan legend departed another entered the fray in Colombo as Mahela Jayawardene became the third batsman to reach 50 after forming two separate partnerships with Dilshan who was caught and bowled by Woakes for 88 and captain Angelo Mathews who made a brisk 33.
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Mathews became James Tredwell’s first victim in his penultimate over and he then followed it up by dismissing Jayawardene for 55 with Buttler taking a fine catch behind the stumps which left the hosts 253-5 after 43 overs.
TAKING THE PACE OFF
Tredwell ended the innings as England’s most successful bowler taking 2-52 in his 10 overs, however, it was the under used Bopara who was most economical with his four overs conceding just 15 runs.
Woakes finished with 2-68 from his allotted overs which was helped by a fantastic catch by his captain to dismiss Thisara Perera before Lahiru Thirimanne and Jeevis Mendis upped the ante in the closing overs as Sri Lanka ended on 317-6 from their 50 overs.
England’s chase started extraordinarily as Cook was given out twice in the first over which was bowled by his opposite number Mathews yet he survived thanks to DRS on both lbw decisions. Both calls were marginal and as hawk-eye proved both deliveries would have crept above the stumps.
Shortly after a mistimed pull shot by Ali rolled onto his stumps but remarkably neither bail was dislodged and the opener took full advantage as he went on to score the second fastest half-century by an Englishman in ODI cricket.
However, Cook was not third time lucky as he was finally dismissed lbw to Dilshan for 10 off 17 balls as Ali picked up the pace, along with his new partner Ian Bell.
Bell made a run a ball 35 until he was caught at first slip of the bowling of Thisara Perera and the same bowler had Root caught behind to disrupt England’s progress at 121-3. Ali was then given another life after being dropped in the deep before Eoin Morgan played onto his stumps to leave the tourists on the ropes.
The collapse continued as Buttler joined Morgan in the pavilion but that didn’t stop Ali reaching his maiden ODI century from just 72 balls as he continued to keep England in the game in Colombo.
At that stage Bopara was at the crease with the Worcestershire all-rounder and he was doing well to give Ali the strike as he cracked another leg-side maximum. However, things turned sour the very next delivery as the ball stuck in the pitch and all he could do was loop it back to the Mendis for a simple caught and bowled.
It was a magnificent knock and despite the efforts of Bopara England struggled to form a partnership with Ben Stokes, Woakes and Tredwell only hanging around for short stints as the Essex all-rounder tried to keep Cook’s men in the game with Gurney the last man.
A few lusty blows followed but in the end Bopara was turning down singles and going for the big shots alone as he ran out of partners with Kusal Perera taking a wonder catch to dismiss him and hand Sri Lanka the early advantage going into Saturday’s second ODI.
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