If the Sri Lankans were involved in a last-wicket thriller at the Providence Stadium a week earlier, they featured in a last-ball thriller at another new venue, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at North Sound, Antigua.
Sanath Jayasuriya struck the ball well, crashing 4 fours and a six in his 26-ball 25, but paceman Sajid Mahmood hit back to dismiss him and Kumar Sangakkara. As fortunes swung like a yo-yo in this match, Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene strung together a 91-run stand.
Then wickets started tumbling regularly as Andrew Flintoff prised out three key wickets. Sri Lanka folded for 235 as the overs ran out, and nobody knew whether this was a winning total. Sajid returned with a haul of four for 50 off 9 overs.
With a poor crowd response in this tournament until then, the gates were now thrown open, and people began to filter in.
Chaminda Vaas had skipper Michael Vaughan caught behind for a duck, and Lasith Malinga removed the other opener Ed Joyce. England were gasping for breath at 11 for two in 5.2 overs.
The tide turned once more, and for the second time in the match the third wicket partnership yielded 90 runs. Ian Bell (47) and Kevin Pietersen (58) resurrected the innings, but predictably the England innings went into a tailspin thereafter with Dilhara Fernando striking two vital blows.
Only this time, 21-year-old Ravi Bopara and wicketkeeper Paul Nixon halted further inroads. They kept up with the asking-rate of around a run a ball.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And Nixon stunned everybody with his audacity, reverse-sweeping the great Muralitharan not once, but twice, for a six and a four, as that 48th over produced 13 runs.
19 runs were needed off the last two overs, and Malinga once again had the ball in his hands at a crucial juncture. He conceded just three runs in his first four balls, and off the fifth delivery had Nixon taken by the skipper. Bopara cover-drove the last ball for a four.
12 runs were required off the final over to be bowled by the mercurial Fernando. Bopara had to take chances, and scooped the second delivery over short-fine leg to the boundary.
Four runs came off the next three deliveries. Now three runs were required off the last ball.
The tension was unbearable as Fernando ran in to bowl to Bopara. The batsman backed away to leg to make room, and the bowler bailed out. The lanky Fernando trudged back to his bowling mark.
Everybody in the stadium was transfixed.
Fernando ran in once more. Again Bopara stepped away and aimed a hit over cover. Fernando was right on target, Bopara missed and the ball crashed into the stumps. Sri Lanka pulled off a two-run win to balance out the disappointment of Providence Stadium a week earlier.
Vaughan vented his disappointment after the match: “We are just gutted. I always thought we would get over the line in that last over.”
But it was not to be for them. Just as Malinga’s amazing strikes were not enough to pip South Africa, the enthralling Bopara-Nixon act just failed to see England home.
Sri Lanka: 235 all out (50 overs), England: 233 for 8 wickets (50 overs) (CWC 2007)
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