England emerged victorious from a rain-affected thriller in Cardiff last night after making heavy weather of chasing down Sri Lanka’s modest 111.
When rain stopped play at 9.15pm, Eoin Morgan’s team had reached 69 for four after 12 overs, and were just four ahead on the DLS run charts.
And it could have been worse. When Jason Roy drove leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga straight to long-on, England were 36 for four in the seventh over, and in danger of embarrassment against a side who had lost 10 of their previous 11 completed T20s.
Sam Curran of England with his foot runs out Danushka Gunathilaka of Sri Lanka
A 40-minute break reduced the equation to 103 off 18, and although Sam Billings was bowled by Hasaranga for a useful 24, Liam Livingstone made an unbeaten 29, including an audacious ramp for six off Dushmantha Chameera, before Sam Curran sealed a five-wicket win by launching Akila Dananjaya for six with 11 balls to spare.
A tired pitch did not help their cause, restricting strokeplay to an unacceptable degree for an international match, and limiting both teams to a total of 12 fours and four sixes. Even so, after romping to an eight-wicket win the night before, a dogfight was not quite what England had in mind. They have fewer than a dozen T20s to go before October’s World Cup, and they want to learn lessons from each.
They missed Buttler’s clean hitting at the top of the order, and England are awaiting the results of a scan after he hurt himself during the first match.
Promoted to open, Jonny Bairstow — who also took over the gloves — was bowled for a third-ball duck by an inswinger from left-armer Binura Fernando, before Dawid Malan fell lbw on review to Dushmantha Chameera for four. Malan has faced more scrutiny than most during his 26-match T20 international career, but his star is on the wane at just the wrong moment.
Morgan connected with a couple of blows before slashing Isuru Udana to backward point for 11 to make it 30 for three, before Roy’s departure for 17. With the Sri Lankans suddenly energised, their small band of supporters were outsinging their England counterparts.
Earlier, the only chanting had come from the home support as Sri Lanka struggled to lay bat on ball across 20 painful overs.
Once upon a time, it was England who batted like this in white-ball cricket, and Sri Lanka were one of the teams who would routinely duff them up.
But the Sri Lankan greats are all retired now, replaced by a mixture of the half-decent and the moderately passable. In these conditions, many of them aren’t even as good as that.
For most of their innings, it was as if a bunch of club cricketers had turned up to the wrong game. It was hard to say just how good England were, because Sri Lanka were so awful. Captain Kusal Perera had promised ‘fearless’ cricket before the series, so you have to worry for his side if and when they go into their shells.
For the first time in their 133 T20s, Sri Lanka failed to score a boundary in the powerplay. And for the first time in their 133, England didn’t concede one.
Until Udana plonked Chris Jordan over mid-on in the last over, then helped him into the River Taff, the only Sri Lankan to hit a four or six had been Kusal Mendis, who made a run-a-ball 39. And until Udana’s late intervention, it seemed doubtful the tourists would reach 100.
Even their final total was the lowest England had conceded against a team batting out their 20 overs. If nothing else, the innings confirmed the depth in England’s white-ball bowling ranks. It seemed ludicrous Chris Woakes, following months on the sidelines cursing his luck, should be rested the day after bowling all of three overs, but that allowed David Willey to get through four tidy overs for 17 in his first T20 international for two years.
Mark Wood’s pace troubled everyone, and he would have had a hat-trick if Hasaranga’s drive had connected with the ball rather than fresh air. Adil Rashid added two for 24 to the two for 17 he had taken on Wednesday, and Morgan gave Livingstone two overs after the powerplay to show off his mixture of off-spin and leg-breaks. He conceded just 10.
It was also a good evening for Curran, who literally kickstarted the procession, running out Danushka Gunathilaka with his right boot in the second over.
Curran then persuaded Avishka Fernando to try to clear the ground’s long boundary, but his attempted pull was easily intercepted by Livingstone.
Perera and Kusal Mendis added 50, but too slowly to damage England, and when Perera made a mess of a switch hit off Rashid, his boundary-free 21 off 25 balls summed up the Sri Lanka effort.
For England, it all seemed so simple —– until they got into a tangle of their own.
Sam Curran celebrates with Jonny Bairstow after he ran out Danushka Gunathilaka
England batsman Liam Livingstone plays a paddle shot for six on his way to unbeaten 29
Dushmantha Chameera of Sri Lanka is congratulated after taking the wicket of Dawid Malan