England's World Twenty20 hopes were brought back to life on Thursday by Alex Hales, whose 116 not out was his nation's first T20 international century in their history in an six-wicket win over Sri Lanka.
Stuart Broad's side won the toss and chose to field first, but after Mahela Jayawardene got a controversial first-ball reprieve, he went on to make 89 from 51 balls as Sri Lanka posted 189-4 in their 20 overs.
In reply, Hales and Eoin Morgan showed resistance after a calamitous start which left England 0-2 after 1 over, with the opener getting the job done with just three balls to spare, finishing the innings with a huge six with just four balls remaining.
The result blows the group wide open—any of the top four could qualify, although Sri Lanka's net run rate gives them a sizeable advantage.
|Sri Lanka Innings|
|Dilshan||c Jordan||b Dernbach||55||97||47|
|K Perera||c Buttler||b Dernbach||3||4||6|
|M Jayawardene||b Jordan||89||83||51|
|T Perera||not out||23||21||12|
|Sangakkara||c Hales||b Jordan||0||5||1|
|Extras||2nb 4w 0b 2lb||8|
|Total||for 4||189||(20.0 ovs)|
|Sri Lanka Innings|
|Lumb||b N Kulasekara||0||2||5|
|Moeen||c Senanayake||b N Kulasekara||0||1|
|Morgan||c Mathews||b N Kulasekara||57||72||38|
|Buttler||c Chandimal||b N Kulasekara||2||3||3|
|Extras||1nb 3w 0b 0lb||4|
|Total||for 4||190||(19.2 ovs)|
Sri Lanka came into the match unbeaten, and for the most part they played like it. The early loss of Kusal Perera was a huge boost to England—particularly as replays showed he had not hit the Jade Dernbach delivery which he was given out on.
Jayawardene was caught by Michael Lumb off Dernbach's next delivery, but with the ball low to the ground the verdict was overturned by the television officials. It was a hugely controversial call, which even had the likes of Matt Prior venting on Twitter:
Absolute shocker!!!!!— Matt Prior (@MattPrior13) March 27, 2014
From there, however, the wheels came off England's efforts. The fielding was abysmal—even in a winter typified by poor fielding, the chances put down were tragicomic.
Ravi Bopara, whose medium pace looked as if it was ideal for the conditions, was not called upon to bowl, while Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan laid siege.
Thisara Perera applied the finishing touches late on, and 190 gave England a mountain to climb.
When Nuwan Kulasekara opened with a double-wicket maiden, accounting for Lumb and then Moeen Ali for ducks, it looked more remote still.
But Morgan and Hales combined, rebuilding slowly and then going on the attack.
England's fourth highest T20 partnership of all time. Hales has been involved in all of them.— Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) March 27, 2014
By the time both men had passed their half-centuries, in the process recording England's highest-ever partnership in WT20 cricket, it suddenly looked as if the match might yet be within their grasp.
Hales then cut loose, and in an extraordinary over hit Ajantha Mendis for 25 runs. After putting on 152 runs together, they looked in a great position, until Morgan holed out for 57.
The equation had changed to 38 required from 22 balls, and Kulasekara strangled the required run rate still further.
Jos Buttler came and went, becoming Kulasekara's fourth wicket of the evening, but Hales remained, bringing up his century from his 59th delivery with a six over the off side, then another the next ball over midwicket to suddenly leave England needing just a run a ball for victory.
Hales was ranked the world's top batsman in the format not long ago, but his form, like England's, had ebbed away in recent times.
It was a surprise to see it come back, but it suddenly gives England cause for optimism for the first time in a long time as their campaign continues.