Captain Cook leads from the front for England
ALASTAIR Cook narrowly missed his second successive hundred as England beat the weather and trounced Sri Lanka, at Trent Bridge to level the NatWest Series at 2-2.
An Old Trafford decider therefore beckons on Saturday, after James Anderson did most to derail Sri Lanka for only 174 and then captain Cook answered his critics again.
His and Craig Kieswetter's record opening stand was interrupted by a heavy shower at 55 in under eight overs, and the threat of more rain was the only conceivable danger to England – who knew 20 overs of their innings were mandatory to constitute a result in a match they dominated throughout.
But in pursuit of a revised target of 171, Cook (95 not out) followed up last weekend's Lord's century as he and Kieswetter (72 not out) ensured any doubt about the outcome was fleeting on the way to a ten-wicket margin – with an astounding 24.1 overs to spare.
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Anderson (3-24) had shone again, on his most productive international ground, as England's seamers hustled Sri Lanka out in only 43.4 overs.
Three of Sri Lanka's top five went for six runs between them to Anderson, at the venue where he took 11-71 against Pakistan in last summer's Test series.
Kumar Sangakkara (75) then dug in to rescue a still under-par total after his team had been put in and lurched to 57-5.
Anderson took his one-day international tally to 14 wickets in Nottingham – the best by anyone here – and Tim Bresnan also shifted danger man Mahela Jayawardene cheaply with the new ball.
Tillakaratne Dilshan was first to go, for a fourth-ball duck, via a thin edge behind as Anderson immediately found swing and away movement off the pitch too in his first over.
Jayawardene was undone at the other end by Bresnan, edging another that left him low to slip.
Young number three Dinesh Chandimal then achieved cricket's hero-to-zero feat, following his match-winning unbeaten Lord's hundred with a duck when Anderson got one to hold its line and pin him lbw pushing forward.
Thilina Kandamby became the fourth consecutive departure for a single-figure score when he edged exaggerated movement off the seam to be caught at second slip by Graeme Swann.
Much therefore depended on Sangakkara, joined by a promoted Suraj Randiv.
The latter, listed to come in at ten, belied that billing in a useful stand of 37 which bought Angelo Mathews some time before he would have to contend with the moving ball.
Stuart Broad broke his duck for the series when Randiv gloved him behind down the leg-side. But Sri Lanka's decision to tweak the batting order nonetheless appeared to work, the combative Mathews able to play with enough freedom to strike both Broad and Jade Dernbach for sixes in a sixth-wicket partnership of 72 with Sangakkara.
The all-rounder eventually fell to a memorable piece of work by Bresnan, who extracted enough bounce to hit the shoulder of the bat and then demonstrated impressive athleticism and determination to hold a diving caught-and-bowled chance with his outstretched left hand.
Sangakkara reined in his shots, allowing himself just a smattering of five boundaries in his 80-ball 50 and blunting the threat of Swann's off-spin – which nonetheless permitted only 31 runs in 10 overs.
Sri Lanka were even tempted into a powerplay on 157-7 at the 40-over stage. But too much early damage had been done – and Dernbach (3-38) made the most of favourable circumstances to take the last three wickets in only ten balls.
Sangakkara was last out mistiming an attempted big hit to point, for his highest one-day international score against England.
He had done his considerable best. But it was a long shot that it would be anywhere near enough to help Sri Lanka wrap up the series after all, with one match to spare.
Cook and Kieswetter had one eye on the threatening skies, but fixed both on the ball at the crucial moments as they each unleashed a flurry of boundaries.
Cook's 37-ball 50 contained ten – and after taking the batting powerplay as soon as it was available, the century stand was up in the 14th over.
Kieswetter completed his 48-ball half-century with a slog-swept six off Randiv. But it was surely Cook who had most reason for satisfaction, even after Kieswetter's late hitting left him short of his third ODI hundred.
England's new captain made a mockery of his previously modest limited-overs strike rate, hitting the ball cleanly not just in his favoured areas square of the wicket but to all parts off front and back foot.
On this evidence, there is no reason to worry if he can be as effective in this format as he has been so memorably in Test cricket for much of the past 12 months.