Cricket-Thirimanne coming of age at right time for Sri Lanka

By Greg Stutchbury WELLINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - Lahiru Thirimanne's unbeaten century to guide Sri Lanka to a crushing nine-wicket victory over England in their World Cup Pool A clash on Sunday could not have come at a better time for the side who are now building some momentum. The 25-year-old Thirimanne stroked his way to his fourth ODI century and highest score to finish on 139 not out, while Kumar Sangakkara was 117 not out as Sri Lanka scored 312 for one in 47.2 overs to chase down England's 309-6. It gave Sri Lanka their third successive victory and was the highest successful run chase by a side at Wellington Regional Stadium, but more importantly it gave them some valuable confidence after a tiring two months in New Zealand. Thirimanne and Sangakarra's knocks on Sunday mean that all of the top four in their lineup have now scored a century at the World Cup. His coming of age at the tournament could prove to be influential in the later stages as they now do not need to rely so much on their 'Big Three' of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sangakkara, and Mahela Jayawardene to provide their runs. During Sri Lanka's one-day series against New Zealand in January, they relied so heavily on the trio that Thirimanne was the only other batsman to accumulate more than 100 runs in the 4-2 series loss. Dilshan scored 397 runs at an average of 66, while Sangakkara accumulated 321 at 64 in the six matches. Jayawardene scored 278 at an average of 46. Thirimanne, however, has scored 256 runs at 85.33 in his four innings at the World Cup with 65 against New Zealand, 52 against Bangladesh and then his unbeaten century on Sunday. He was dismissed for a golden duck on the first ball of Sri Lanka's innings against Afghanistan in Dunedin and he quipped on Sunday that the associate nation's bowlers had given him more trouble than England's had. "I only missed (out in) one match against Afghanistan. Other than that, I have scored runs so I am very happy with my performance," Thirimanne told reporters. "It is fantastic. Dilshan, Mahela, Kumar are all top class players," Thirimanne added of the influence of his team mates. "I think anything can happen in this tournament. We were one down when things started but we (have) come back really hard. "We still have to play Australia and we want to give our 100 percent and win that match as well." (Editing by John O'Brien)