Malinga had been relatively quiet in the tournament until today, taking three wickets in five matches, but doubled his tally in the blink of an eye when he was brought on for the third over. Luke Wright, promoted to open after Craig Kieswetter was dropped, unleashed a fierce square cut but sent it straight to backward point, Jonny Bairstow was done by a slower ball to end a difficult tournament and next ball Alex Hales was pinned by an inswinging yorker, although replays suggested it was sliding down leg.
There were low expectations from outside the England squad before the tournament and they have never looked like being capable of defending their crown. Patel, at least, could hold his head high with a powerful 67 off 48 balls to show he has been underused whereas others, like Jos Buttler, who gave Malinga his fourth when he hooked to long leg, often appeared out of their depth. Graeme Swann swung strongly, making the highest score by a No. 9 in T20s, and the fifty stand with Patel came from 26 balls but, as against West Indies – whose progression was secured by England’s defeat – it always needed a miracle of Medinah proportions.
The top order has cost England throughout the tournament and reshuffling did them no good. From 18 for 3, their hopes were lifted by Patel, who before this innings had not faced a ball in the tournament. Sent in a No. 4, in a failed attempt to keep Eoin Morgan away from the first six overs, he drove a straight six before adding five fours – including three of Ajantha Mendis’ first over – in his first 20 deliveries. For all the talk of spin, Sri Lanka bowled one over of it in the first eight.
Unlike most of the strong totals at this tournament, Sri Lanka’s effort was not underpinned by one substantial effort but was forged by free-scoring throughout the line-up, which quietened the concerns about the middle order. Not that the top three, the big three, failed to lay the foundations and it was Mahela Jayawardene, curiously not officially listed as captain at the toss, who marshalled the first half of the innings with a classy display.Mendis continued to prove expensive when Patel collected two more off-side boundaries and it was his 18-year-old team-mate, Akila Dananjaya, who struck the blow that hurt England the most when Morgan missed a reverse sweep. Ravi Bopara, surprisingly recalled as Kieswetter’s replacement, has looked a tortured soul with the bat of late and it was no surprise when he basically missed a straight delivery from Jeevan Mendis. It may be a while until he is back in an England shirt.
England’s bowling attack could be split in half. The combined eight overs of the three players brought into the attack who didn’t face New Zealand – Dernbach, Patel and Bopara – went for 81 while the established trio of Broad, Swann and Steven Finn produced 6 for 82 from 12.
Swann evened the contest when he had Jayawardene caught at deep midwicket and next ball Kumar Sangakkara was given caught behind, although he did not appear pleased with the decision, before a counterattacking response from the middle order. It was a fantastic response by Angelo Mathews and Jeevan Mendis to the loss of two key batsmen. Neither took a backward step – Mendis opening his innings with two boundaries off Swann – and Mathews showed elegant clean striking as the fifty stand came from 29 balls.
Again England hit back with Broad this time taking two in two balls when Mendis spliced to midwicket and Mathews dragged a pull on to his stumps. Still Sri Lanka kept on swinging and the 18th over, bowled by Dernbach, included a six apiece for Thisara Perera and Lahriu Thirimanne. The sixth-wicket pair added 35 in 19 deliveries to ensure the home side remained ahead of the game. When England’s chase reached the 13th over they were guaranteed a semi-final spot but by then an overwhelming victory was also in the bag. It will take a very good performance to stop them.