Alastair Cook put Joe Root’s “phenomenal” batting in an esteemed bracket after the Yorkshireman’s third one-day international hundred of the year helped England to a five-wicket win over Sri Lanka.
Root (104 not out) and James Taylor (68) made a mockery of the consensus that England would struggle to chase 240 on an awkward, spinning surface at the Pallekele International Stadium.
Instead, after the loss of both openers, the third-wicket pair put on 104 together and then Root stayed till the end, first in another important stand with Ravi Bopara (28) and then to ensure a minor late wobble did not cost the tourists.
The win helped England reduce the series deficit to 3-2 with two more matches to play, and captain Cook compared Root’s batsmanship to the “masterclass” he had witnessed from Sri Lanka great Kumar Sangakkara 24 hours earlier.
Sangakkara made 91 out of 239 all out, eventually falling as one of Chris Woakes’ six victims, before rain intervened between innings and left England with what seemed likely to be a tough task on the reserve day.
Thanks principally to Root and Taylor, adding another half-century to his 90 in Colombo four days ago, Cook had plenty to smile about.
“The way we bowled, first of all, was fantastic,” he said. “It’s great credit to Chris Woakes that he’s got two of the best three sets of figures (for England in ODIs).
“Then the way James Taylor, and particularly Rooty, played was just phenomenal batting today.
“I thought the way Sanga played yesterday was a masterclass in batting, and I thought Rooty hit the same level as that.
“Sanga was brilliant, and when Rooty went on and was there at the end that was in the same league.”
The upshot is that England still have a chance of starting their World Cup winter with a much-needed series victory – in difficult climes. “This is a really important win today,” said Cook. “It would be great to get to Colombo 3-3 (for next week’s final match) and have a series final.”
To do that, England will have to prevail again here tomorrow. Cook added: “If we play anything like that, we can put pressure on Sri Lanka. But as we know, the challenge of it is ‘Can we back it up?’ ”
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was naturally less enthused by his team’s performance – excluding Sangakkara and off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake who took the early wickets of Cook and Moeen Ali in his first match since being cleared of a suspect action.
“At first, I thought we were about 20 or 30 runs short,” said Mathews.
“But 239 was still challenging on that wicket, because it only got worse.
“It’s just that the spinners – apart from Sachith, who was brilliant in his first match back – didn’t bowl well. I was disappointed with them.
“We started bowling well after the 40th over. That was too late for us. All in all, it was a bad performance.”