Nervy England overcome Sri Lanka to reach T20 World Cup semi-finals

Relief: England grind out win over Sri Lanka  (AFP via Getty Images)
Relief: England grind out win over Sri Lanka (AFP via Getty Images)

And breathe. Less than a week ago, England’s T20 World Cup hopes were hanging by a thread and with three balls to go here they were still in some doubt.

But after getting back on track against New Zealand, Jos Buttler’s side made sure they will be involved in the business end of this tournament, reaching the semi-finals with a final over four-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Sydney that eliminated defending champions Australia in the process.

The equation had been made simple by the hosts narrow victory over Afghanistan 24 hours earlier, which kept England in command on net-run-rate and meant a victory by any margin would seal second spot in Group 1 behind the Kiwis.

That was duly delivered, with Alex Hales’ 47 off 30 setting up what should then have been a more comfortable chase of 142 after Sri Lanka had failed to capitalise on their own flying start, slipping from 72-1 to 141-18 from their 20 overs.

Instead, middle-order wickets fell, some questionable shot selection as much to blame as a tricky surface, to set up a nervy finish but Ben Stokes’ knack for the big occasion kicked in as the all-rounder, elevated to No3 after Dawid Malan’s injury in the field, played a restrained knock of 42 off 36 to see England home with a couple of balls to spare.

After dawdling to victory over Afghanistan, a rain-affected defeat to Ireland and a washout against Australia had left question marks over England’s credentials but Buttler’s men have risen to the challenge of consecutive must-win matches and will take momentum into what at this stage looks likely to be a last-four meeting with India in Adelaide on Thursday.

This had the makings of an awkward night against a Sri Lanka side who, under an old friend in Chris Silverwood, had won the Asia Cup earlier this year but seen their own hopes of reaching the semi-finals ended by Australia’s win on Friday.

Pathum Nissanka (67 off 45) led a powerplay charge that had Sri Lanka 54-for-one after six overs but starting proved tricky for new batters with spin to the fore as England’s bowlers fought back, the final ten overs going for just 61 runs.

Adil Rashid, wicketless in the tournament until now, was superb, taking 1-16 from four overs in a man-of-the-match display, while Sam Curran’s superb campaign continued with another miserly spell at the death and Mark Wood ended with 3-26 after his first over had cost 17. Even the one downer on the innings, Malan’s groin tweak, came with the added benefit of introducing Chris Jordan as sub fielder, who duly took his third catch in two games in the role.

For a while, Malan looked unlikely missed with the bat either as Hales and Buttler (28 off 23) put England in command, sharing a 75-run first wicket partnership before the skipper became the first of two scalps for Wanindu Hasaranga.

As Sri Lanka had found, however, batting beyond the powerplay proved more challenging. Harry Brook’s quiet tournament continued as both he and Liam Livingstone made only four and when Moeen Ali followed for one England were still 31 runs short.

A string of dots at the start of the 18th over and then the wicket of Curran trying to clear the ropes gave hope to both Sri Lanka and Australia and meant 13 were still required off the final two.

Stokes was calm, though, milking the strike and running hard between the stumps, his innings including just two fours, before Chris Woakes cut through backwards point to reach the fence and seal victory.