Seamer Jade Dernbach held his nerve to strike twice in two balls and clinch a 16-run victory for England over Sri Lanka and a 3-2 series win.
With the game on a knife edge as Dernbach was given the ball for the 49th over with Sri Lanka 16 runs short of England’s total of 268, Dernbach removed potential matchwinner Angelo Mathews with a crafty slower ball before knocking over Lasith Malinga’s stumps to settle a game which had swung from one side to the other throughout.
Although the two sides had fought neck and neck in the series scoreline none of the four matches which led to this decider had gone down to the wire, yet the series came to a climax at Old Trafford thanks to a battling 102-run partnership between Mathews (62) and Jeevan Mendis (48).
The pair came together in the 27th over with the score on 131 for five on the back of Dinesh Chandimal and Kumar Sangakkara’s dismissals, and with the game seemingly lost.
However they scored at better than a run a ball over the course of the next 20 overs to take Sri Lanka within sight of England’s total, only for Mendis to hole to deep midwicket with 36 runs still required.
That prove the defining moment in the chase, and the wickets tumbled from then on as Nuwan Kulasekara pulled down deep midwicket’s throat and Suraj Randiv was run out without facing a ball before Dernbach stepped in to finish the tourists off in clinical fashion.
Three quick wickets had reduced Sri Lanka to 29 for three, with debutant Dimuth Karunaratne, captain Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene all falling inside the opening nine overs of the innings.
Tim Bresnan, who finished with figures of 3 for 49 from nine overs, was the chief destroyer at the top of the order as he picked up both the openers and left Sri Lanka with a mountain to climb.
Sangakkara (48) and Chandimal (54) rebuilt the innings with a steady partnership of 94 to give the middle order something to work with, but ultimately Sri Lanka were always behind in the chase and it proved only a matter of time before England produced the hammer blow.
The hosts had let Sri Lanka back into the game in some respects by blowing a fast start and only finishing with a par score.
Having won the toss and decided to bat first, England looked in imperious form as Alastair Cook and Craig Kieswetter ripped the Sri Lankan attack to shreds.
However, the hosts continually lost wickets in bunches, hindering their ability to push on in earnest and as a result posted a total well below what seemed possible.
Not for the first time in the series Dilshan opened the bowling himself, but the ploy backfired with the England openers making light weight of the spinner who didn’t help himself with a host of wides.
Kulasekara at the other end didn’t fare much better initially. However, more worrying for the visitors was that not even the introduction of Malinga could halt the run scoring.
While the track produced some spin, which saw Stuart Broad dropped in favour of Samit Patel, Cook and Kieswetter made the most of the hard new ball, smacking it to all ends in a great stand of 85 in a shade under 13 overs.
Kieswetter was lucky to still be there when England seized the initiative by taking the batting powerplay in the 12th over, having been dropped by Sangakarra when the ‘keeper was standing up to the stumps.
Cook (31) was less fortunate, looking to stamp his authority on proceedings in the first over of the powerplay, he came waltzing down the track but when his heave failed to make contact, he was left stranded and Sangakkara completed an easy stumping.
What followed was the start of a trend that hamstrung the home side, with Kieswetter (43) bowled in the next over by a delivery that kept low from Dhammika Prasad.
Kevin Pietersen (5) fell soon after and having lost three wickets for just ten runs, England were on the verge of losing the momentum created by a great opening stand.
Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan came together to stabilise the ship and they did so with great effect. Their partnership of 118 in which both men past the fifty mark may have lacked the brutality of that seen by Cook and Kieswetter, but was appropriate for the situation.
Morgan (57) was undone by a flatter delivery from Dilshan that saw him stumped and as with Cook’s stumping earlier in the innings it sparked a flurry of wickets.
Ian Bell (4) came and went without troubling the scorers too much, becoming Randiv’s second scalp of the day as he provided long-on with catching practice courtesy of a meek chip.
Trott fell just eleven runs later and in rather bizarre fashion. Fooled by a Randiv delivery that bounced a bit more than expected, the ball rebounded off the batsman’s thigh and back onto the stumps.
What followed was a procession of wickets, with the big hitting Patel (8) and Bresnan (6) failing to get off the ground. The impressive Randiv accounted for both men and in the process picked up his first five-wicket haul in one-day cricket.
With the final throngs left to James Anderson and Graeme Swann to make the most of it, it came as no surprise that the closing overs failed to deliver the required scoring as England stuttered to the fifty-over mark.
Nevertheless it proved enough thanks to Bresnan’s burst at the beginning of the reply and Dernbach’s cunning slower ball to remove the dangerous Mathews at the death.