England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as hosts lose fourth ODI
England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as hosts lose fourth ODI despite Buttler's best efforts
Sangakkara and Buttler urgency brings series to life
And so with the warmer weather came a significant ramp up in zest – and finally, improbably, an absolute humdinger. The signs were promising from early on. Sri Lanka’s innings started energetically – frenetically in terms of Kushal Perera and Tillakaratne Dilshan’s early exploits between the wickets – and then, with the arrival of Kumar Sangakkara, the team began to channel their energies. In the course of the game’s first batting partnership masterclass, Sangakkara was the epitome of urgency, picking up runs all around the wicket and with half of his 14 fours coming from advances down the pitch to the spinners, before he perished going for another sashay against the canny James Tredwell. His innings was a fine example of how, even while Twenty20 cricket creates a wandering army of blasters and biffers, there remains a place in any batting line up, in any form of the game, for elegance and class. And yet with all of that, and even in victory, he was to be comprehensively upstaged. At one point during England’s chase, the Sky Sports ‘WASP’, which assesses batting teams’ likely totals and chances of victory, gave the hosts a 0% chance of success, and few would have disagreed. For 30 overs, the sting seemed to have been drawn from the game, with the England top order restricted to thrusts and nurdles. Eoin Morgan looked livelier when he came in, but then fell in a similar manner to Sangakkara – and for precisely 100 runs fewer. That, though, only brought in Jos Buttler. Lancashire’s recent signing has made a big impression on this England team, and is surely destined in the not too distant future to not see much of Lancashire at all. He went to 50 off 34 balls and to his 100 off a further 27, and there was a brief period, particularly after consecutive sixes had taken him from 79 to 91, when the impossible suddenly looked inevitable. Supported by excellent running from Ravi Bopara (whose individual record when chasing is significantly better than when England bat first), he put Sri Lanka under huge pressure in the field, overthrows and misfields mounting up as the target came within reach. In the end, Buttler could not find one more fierce blow against Lasith Malinga, and so it was Sangakkara who had the last laugh, but what an effort it had been.
Two’s company, five is an attack
In close-fought contests such as this, in games in which you don’t bowl a team out for 67 (when England didn’t even need a fifth bowler) or 99 (when Dilshan and Angelo Mathews bowled three overs between them), you need everyone to contribute to the bowling effort. England fell seven runs short in this game, and their fifth bowler, a combination of Bopara and Joe Root, saw ten overs disappear for 76. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, managed to find ten overs between Mathews and Ashan Priyanjan during which only 45 runs were conceded, with the bonus dismissal of Root. But for the heroics of Buttler, England’s inability or unwillingness to get after anyone in the middle period of their innings (with no boundaries at all struck between the ninth and 31st overs, during which period Malinga did not bowl) would have seen this game ended significantly sooner. Both Bopara and Root have had, and will have, better days with ball in hand for their country, but it was difficult to avoid the thought today (in a match, what is more, which saw England concede 16 wides to Sri Lanka’s three) that England were missing Ben Stokes.
Credit to the third umpire
In amongst the pyrotechnics, today’s game also provided an opportunity to give a brief nod to the technology. Granted, there was a brief moment when it all went a bit silly, as Sri Lanka were refused an opportunity to review an appeal for leg before wicket against Bopara apparently for having delayed their request while the batsmen completed their runs, but before that, there were three examples of good, honest on-field umpiring calls being given sensible support from third umpire Chris Gaffaney and his machines. First, Gary Ballance claimed a catch at short fine leg after Lahiru Thirimanne had pulled a ball from James Anderson straight to him, and despite persistent concerns as to what the cameras can truly show about low catches, it seemed like the right decision was made to give the batsman out. Lasith Malinga was similarly grateful to the man behind the scenes when a marginal lbw decision against Alastair Cook went his way early in England’s innings, and then Ballance had a caught behind dismissal successfully overturned off Kulasekara after it transpired that his bat had clipped pad rather than ball. In years gone by, without any suggestion of impropriety or incompetence, all of those decisions could have gone the other way. These days, they do not have to.