T20 World Cup: England’s tense win over Sri Lanka in tough conditions was an ideal test after dominance

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T20 World Cup: England’s tense win over Sri Lanka in tough conditions was an ideal test after dominance
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Against Sri Lanka on Monday, Jos Buttler played arguably the greatest T20 innings by an Englishman. It was a stunning knock that weathered a storm in the first 10 overs, then unleashed one of its own in the second.

Buttler emerged from a statistical flood soaked by sweat. He had become the first English man to score a century in all three international formats. He is averaging 219 at the World Cup, with a strike-rate of 154.

In 26 innings as a T20 international opener, Buttler now has an average of 60.5 and a strike-rate of 149.

It was an exhibition of the best of Buttler, a distillation of his ability to mitigate risk while walking the tightrope that is T20 batting. It is not just about blitzing sixes.

On a slow, low pitch, he took his time, soaking up pressure from Sri Lanka’s excellent spinners, before the seamers were flayed to all parts in the innings’ second half. 24 off 30 deliveries became a 67-ball century.

It is telling, though, that while they are happy for it to hog the headlines, it is not the continuation of their greatest white-ball batter’s perfectly-timed run glut that most pleased Buttler or England.

Most satisfying was that they worked their way out of a tight spot – twice. They did it by making smart tactical calls, then topping it off with skill: the brilliance of Buttler’s batting, then some magnificent fielding.

England’s night started badly, as they were made to wear garish red trousers by the ICC and – more painfully – they lost the toss. In dewy conditions as extreme as any seen in the World Cup, they became just the third team to defend a total in the Super 12s stage of a tournament that has favoured chasing.

They lost three early wickets, bringing Buttler and Eoin Morgan together. Morgan, particularly, could barely hit the ball off the square. The two had to use all their nous, but judged their charge to perfection. At one stage, Buttler thought 120 might be a par score, but they got plenty more than that.

Then, during the chase, another tight corner emerged. Tymal Mills pulled up having bowled just nine balls, leaving England without a death specialist in extremely dewy conditions that made him more important than ever.

The severity of the dew was on show when even the safe hands of Chris Woakes dropped a catch at deep square-leg. Every England fielder carried a towel, and no delivery was bowled without absolute certainty that the ball was dry.

Morgan had to decide how to use the final three balls of Mills’ second over, then his remaining two. With two right-handers, Wanindu Hasaranga and Dasun Shanaka, well set, and a short legside boundary, they did not want to use Moeen Ali’s off spin.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

He plumped for Woakes, who was having a tricky night, meaning Moeen had to bowl an over at the death. It worked; by the time he did, the game was in the bag.

“Maybe if we went again… I’m not sure our maths quite worked out there,” reflected Buttler. “But we just felt with the short side there that those would be a big three balls in the game. Those two would have targeted Moeen in that situation.”

While senior bowlers Adil Rashid and Chris Jordan really stood up, the victory also required “putting an immense amount of trust” in Liam Livingstone, which was repaid handsomely.

He found the key wicket of Hasaranga, helped by the outstanding relay catch between Sam Billings and Jason Roy. Buttler’s deadeye direct hit did for Shanaka, then Dawid Malan’s catch of Dushmantha Chameera sealed the win. The dew made each of those vital fielding interventions more challenging.

“What’s pleasing today is that we didn’t have the best of conditions, which we probably have had in the three games before, but still managed to show the character to get the win,” said Buttler.

Having won three games in similar, dominant fashion, England had to rough out a rockier route to victory this time. It will serve them very well indeed.

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