Lancashire’s Jos Buttler produced one of the best innings his captain Alastair Cook has ever seen as England nonetheless narrowly failed to pull off a near record one-day international run chase.
Buttler has made a name for himself as one of the world’s most powerful and clinical strikers of a ball.
But even by those standards, he upped the ante with his maiden England century from just 61 balls at Lord’s.
The only, significant, shame for him and Cook was that Buttler’s 121 was not quite enough as England fell seven runs short of Sri Lanka’s 300 for nine and must therefore head for a series decider at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
Buttler and Ravi Bopara (51), in a stand of 133, returned fire on Sri Lanka century hitter Kumar Sangakkara (112) – who shared a partnership of 172 with Tillakaratne Dilshan (71) in this run-fest.
Ultimately, though, England had left their sixth-wicket pair too much to do after faltering initially to 10 for two and then struggling for the requisite momentum.
After Malinga had then returned to bowl the last over of the match for only four runs – he had Chris Jordan caught in the deep, and Buttler was run out – Cook reflected on a cruel outcome for the wicketkeeper-batsman in particular.
“It’s a hell of an innings. He doesn’t deserve to be on the losing side, playing like that,” Cook said.
“It’s one of the best innings I’ve seen.”
When asked if he can explain Buttler’s power, he said: “I can’t. I wish I could.
“I don’t know where he gets his power from. It is an incredible talent.
“Having him coming in, you’re never out of the game.
“He’s got great hand-eye coordination, and his head is so still when he hits the ball so incredibly well.”
Even Buttler could not quite seal the series for England, though.
“When you lose wickets at the top of the order, you do have to rebuild and give yourself that chance to take the game deep,” added Cook.
“You know you can catch up.
“It’s not the ideal way of playing it – because when you score 120 odd off 70 balls, you should win games of cricket.
“But he almost got us there.”
Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara managed to hold their nerve with dead-eyed yorkers at the death.
Cook said: “They were brilliant, kept it very simple, and ‘hit the hole’ nine or 10 out of the last 12 (balls).
“Under that pressure – Kulasekara especially, after getting pumped three or four overs earlier – to come back like that, you have to give credit.”