England beat current champions Sri Lanka in a nail-biting ICC World T20 group game in Delhi to secure a place in the semi-finals.
In the last limited overs meeting between the two sides before they compete in the Royal London One-Day International Series this summer – with Edgbaston hosting the second match on Friday 24 June – England secured victory by 10 runs.
Asked to at first, England had a tough start with Alex Hales out lbw trying to sweep Herath’s fourth ball of the second over after being tied down by three previous dot balls.
Fellow opener Jason Roy combined with Joe Root to lead a good recovery and built a platform for a big last 10 overs. The partnership ended when Root picked out Thirimanne in the deep off a long-hop from Vandersay for 25.
With the wicket falling just over midway through the England innings, the innovative Jos Buttler was promoted above skipper Eoin Morgan, and made an immediate impression with a ramp shot going for four off Angelo Matthews.
Morgan joined Buttler at the crease, after Roy was adjudged lbw to Vandersay for 42, with England struggling at 88 for three off 12.5 overs. However, the captain put his recent poor form behind him in taking apart Perera’s first over – the 16th – with a four and six in successive balls.
The pair added 74 runs off 39 balls, but it was Buttler who grabbed the headlines with a series of powerful blows that wrestled the momentum for England. Buttler brought up his half century, off 28 balls, with straight six that clipped the second tier of the stadium and the Sri Lankan ploy of Herath, Vandersay and Matthews bowling their allotted overs early appeared questionable.
Morgan was run out for 22 backing-up after a powerful Buttler straight drive was returned to the bowler in the second ball of the final over. However, a six from Stokes off the last ball of the innings took England to 171; a total that was talked about as very competitive in Delhi and with the Sri Lankans yet to chase a total in excess of 170 in an ICC World T20.
England made the perfect start as the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan picked out Liam Plunkett at deep square leg when trying to flick the third ball of the first over, from David Willey, to the boundary. Jordan’s second ball in the second over then caught the edge of Chandimal’s bat to leave Sri Lanka four for two after eight deliveries of the chase.
But things got worse as Siriwardana was caught by Morgan off Willey for seven, then Thirimanne was run out by Stokes for three next ball. Sri Lanka had scored 15 runs and had the misfortune of being four wickets down after the first three overs of an IT20 innings for the first time in their history.
Skipper Matthews and Kapugedera led the fightback and, at the halfway stage, Sri Lanka were 59 for four and required 113 runs off the final 60 deliveries for an unlikely victory.
Three sixes from Matthews in the 12th over, bowled by Rashid, gave impetus to the chase as they set a record for the highest fifth wicket partnership for Sri Lanka in an IT20. Yet the impressive Plunkett’s return to the attack in the next over ended the 80-run record as Kapugedera, on 30, mistimed a fast, short ball and Stokes took the catch inside the legside boundary.
Matthews reached 50 at the end of the 15th over, but a twinge to his right hamstring gave cause for concern as the Sri Lankan physio joined him out in the middle for a quick treatment to help the skipper continue his charge towards victory. But the drama continued as he deposited the next two deliveries off Ali for six, with 21 runs taken in total off the 16th over.
Jordan made a crucial breakthrough in the 17th over with Perera caught by Willey at mid-off after causing 20 runs of destruction in just 11 balls. The game was finely in the balance with 35 runs required off 20 balls, with Matthews still at the crease; albeit on one leg!
Shanaka’s initial introduction to the crease was nervy, but he yielded 12 runs from the 18th over and it was only an incredible diving catch from Joe Root that dismissed him for 15 off 10 balls. A fine yorker from Jordan off the final delivery of the penultimate over bowled Herath and left 15 runs required from the final six balls with two wickets remaining.
Stokes rose to the challenge of bowling at the death, delivering four dot balls to secure a 10-run victory. Matthews remained unbeaten on 73 off 54 balls with five sixes.
England are now set to face New Zealand in the semi-finals of the ICC World T20, also in Delhi, on Wednesday.
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