As England edged past Sri Lanka in their first T20 meeting on Wednesday night, they seemed to be spoiled for wealth, but there was a time when the teams met again 24 hours later where they flirted with a simple embarrassment. After limiting Sri Lanka to the meager total of 111, they turned a procession into a problem with the loss of four first wickets, but a partnership of 53 between Sam Billings and Liam Livingstone calmed their nerves and, after their goal had was reduced to 103 due to a brief delay in rain, they won by five wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
Livingstone hit innings more explosive than his 26 balls 29 here, but it was perfectly suited to the situation his team found themselves in. England captain Eoin Morgan subsequently complained that “every time we seemed to be taking a risk, we lost a wicket. ”But Livingstone played conservatively until, with the dice seemingly thrown, he raised Dushmantha Chameera to six, his only limit. “With Sam, we tried to hit the defensive players and run as hard as we could, and drop the points that way,” he said. “The rain has helped the field a lot. It was not easy at first and the ball skidded more.
The game had started, like the first, with Sri Lanka winning the toss, choosing to strike and making a pretty bad fist. The start of their heats here was bad enough to be historic.
It turns out that England and Sri Lanka had played precisely 133 Twenty20 internationals before this one. Not once had England prevented their opponents from scoring a single border on the power play, and neither had Sri Lanka failed to score one. Indeed, that had only happened 15 times in 2,336 officially sanctioned T20 games, most recently when the Czech Republic faced Austria in the Central European Cup in May. But Sri Lanka took until the fourth ball of the eighth, the 46th in its inning, to hit a four, a feat greeted with massive cheers of varying levels of irony by all present.
After six overs, Sri Lanka had 26-for-two, a miserable record, and with the game only lasting a few minutes, the rest of their night was destined to be a struggle. After 10 overs they were 47 for two, and after 19 they were 97 for seven. It was only thanks to Isuru Udana’s success in Chris Jordan’s final that they posted a completely respectable total, and even then it was the lowest ever against England when the 20 overs were played.
It wasn’t too hard for the English bowlers to look good, but most were exceptional. David Willey, playing for the first time in two years after replacing Chris Woakes in one of the two changes for England (Jos Buttler was also replaced by Billings after reporting slight calf strain) was excellent at the start and at the end of the sleeves.
But the combination of Mark Wood and Adil Rashid in the middle, blazing pace on one side and cunning on the other, was top notch. Between them, they took four wickets, with Wood’s two entering as many deliveries in his third with Wanindu Hasaranga barely surviving the treble ball, completing his shot with the long gone ball.
Having failed badly with the bat, Sri Lanka’s only chance for victory was to play with irresistible venom from the start and relentlessly. They certainly pulled off the first of those tasks: Chameera’s opening was terrific, costing just one run, and then Binura Fernando came in from Taff End and improved. The 6-foot-6 crimper was playing his first game since August 2015, but hadn’t needed time to acclimatize and his second ball was a marvel, straightening up to push Jonny Bairstow through the gate. When Chameera trapped Dawid Malan lbw in the suite over England, it was eight for two, and the most unlikely victory was in the works.
At the end of their own power play, England had 30-for-three with Morgan cutting Hasaranga straight at the back point, and the teams appeared to be fighting mostly for ignominy at bat. Three balls later, Jason Roy hit Hasaranga directly at Dasun Shanaka, sparking some crazy celebrations among a defensive team that had unexpectedly fought back to get back into the game.
With so little risk rewarded, Billings and Livingstone simply stopped taking them. They mostly scored at one and two, keeping their team’s total just above the DLS target as the rain started to fall. England were 69-for-four when the referees halted play and appeared to relax once they returned. Billings didn’t quite come to the conclusion, cutting a delivery of Hasaranga from his stumps, but there was no way back for Sri Lanka, and a six from Sam Curran ended it.