Sri Lanka face the tough task of stopping England's juggernaut

Cricket


Big Picture

On the same night that they romped to the tournament’s highest powerplay total (66 for 0), they restricted Australia to a flatlining 21 for 3, just one run off their lowest ever total in the first six overs of a T20I (and with a fourth wicket falling one ball later). On the same night that Jos Buttler rained sixes into the Dubai stands in an innings of 71 not out from 32 balls, Australia had to wait until the 17th over to clear the ropes for the first time.

And despite coming into the contest with tournament figures of 4 for 35 in seven overs, Moeen Ali was not required to send down a single over, as Eoin Morgan manoeuvred his match-ups and kept his offspinner out of the hitting arc of the one Australia batter to survive the top-order cull, Aaron Finch.

It was another manifestation of the seamless – and seemingly bottomless – pool of white-ball talent that England have been able to call upon in recent years. How many other teams would be able to make light of the loss of such key campaigners as Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and, for the opening rounds at least, Mark Wood, and yet cover off their roles with a shrug and a rummage through a bag of other likely lads?

The success of Chris Woakes, Liam Livingstone, Moeen himself (hardly a first-choice in recent months) and Tymal Mills – for all that he took a bit of tap on Saturday – reinforces England’s standing as the No. 1 T20I team in the world. With three thumping wins from three, they are rapidly reclaiming the mantle of tournament favourites that they carried into their triumphant campaign at the 50-over World Cup in 2019.

Can anyone stop them? Well, you’d assume they’ll have an off-day at some stage of the tournament – for starters, they’ve yet to have to deal with the challenge of defending a total in the UAE dew. But to judge by their recent home series against Sri Lanka, it would be quite the transformation in fortunes if Monday’s opponents were the ones to halt the juggernaut.
Rewind four months to a rather bleak mid-summer campaign – laced with controversy following the year-long suspensions of three key players for their bio-bubble breaches in Durham – and all the chat was about the depths to which Sri Lanka’s cricket had sunk. The nadir came when they were bowled out for 91 in pursuit of 181 in the third T20I in Southampton, having already been crushed by eight and five wickets in their opening two contests.
And yet, when you place the ease of those wins – by 17 and 11 balls respectively – alongside England’s flattening displays against West Indies (70 balls), Bangladesh (35) and Australia (50), you’re obliged to reappraise the resistance that Sri Lanka put up.
Certainly it was hard to find too much fault with Sri Lanka’s bowling attack on that trip, except that they were rarely defending enough runs to make a fist of a contest. But with the magnificent Wanindu Hasaranga growing into his role of talisman-in-chief, there’s been all the more wriggle-room for the likes of Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara to let rip with their natural pace. The lanky left-armer Binura Fernando also showed signs of promise on that England trip but the conditions in Sharjah may require Sri Lanka to lean on an extra spinner instead of offering him a recall.
Sri Lanka’s batting too has blossomed since the summer. Charith Asalanka debuted in the ODIs on that England trip, making 0 and 3 in two over-awed displays, but since then he has racked up four fifties across formats, including a scintillating 80 not out from 49 to hunt down Bangladesh’s imposing 171 last week.
Sri Lanka have had a good look at the Sharjah conditions in recent contests, and so are potentially better acquainted to its vagaries than England. Had it not been for David Miller’s composure at the death at the same venue on Saturday, Sri Lanka could have been sitting in second place in Group 1 with a puncher’s chance of a semi-final berth. Instead they are going to need favours from here if they are to make the last four. For all the strides they seem to have taken, including an uncompromising display in the Qualifiers, it’s hard to see England being the ones to offer any hand-outs.

Form guide

England WWWWW (last five completed games, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LLWWW

In the spotlight

Since the last T20 World Cup in 2016, none of the teams in the Super 12s have fared worse against legspin than Sri Lanka, who have averaged 14 runs per dismissal at a pootling strike rate of 106. And so, the stage is set once again for Adil Rashid, who picked up 3 for 11 in his last overseas T20I against Sri Lanka, in Colombo in 2018-19 – a match better remembered for Joe Denly’s extraordinary comeback haul of 4 for 19. And with that success in mind, Liam Livingstone is likely to be right back in the thick of things too, after mixing up his leg- and offbreaks to magnificent effect against Australia on Saturday.
Is anyone capable of breaking England’s powerplay stranglehold? In consecutive matches, they’ve bitten the heads off their opponents before they can formulate a response – West Indies were restricted to 31 for 4, Bangladesh 27 for 3, Australia 21 for 3 – and while a variety of different operators have played their part in that process, the seam-hitting consistency of Chris Woakes has been the constant. For Pathum Nissanka, that fact may stir some awkward memories. Woakes toyed with him in the ODIs in England last summer, dismissing him in the first match as he was restricted to 16 runs from 48 balls in three outings. But he returns to Sharjah with confidence after a buccaneering 72 from 58 balls against South Africa, and the onus will be on giving Sri Lanka something to work with.

Team news

There’s no real need for England to change a winning outfit, but their comfortable placement at the top of the group means that there’s a case for a bit of rotation to keep their options fresh. Wood is returning to fitness, and while his extreme methods may not be the ideal fit for Sharjah’s dimensions, he could yet come in for Mills, who had a relatively bruising outing against Australia. Livingstone’s parsimony as the third spinner reaffirms the sense of serenity to their current team balance.

England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Liam Livingstone, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Tymal Mills/Mark Wood.

Sri Lanka have one win from three in the Super 12s so far, but they’ve put up a decent fight thanks to a settled batting line-up, powered by the explosive Asalanka and with Nissanka hitting his straps against South Africa too. Avishka Fernando is the one notable exception, with a total of seven runs in three Group 1 innings so far, and he may step aside for Dhananjaya de Silva. On the bowling front, Akila Dananjaya’s spin allsorts could come into the reckoning, after Kumara’s chastising final over on Saturday.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Kusal Perera (wk), 3 Charith Asalanka, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Chamika Karunaratne, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Dushmantha Chameera, 10 Maheesh Theekshana, 11 Lahiru Kumara / Akila Dananjaya

Stats and trivia

  • England have won eight of their 12 previous T20Is against Sri Lanka, including three of their four meetings at T20 World Cups, and six in a row since their victory in Delhi in 2016, en route to that year’s final.
  • With 31 T20I wickets for 2021, Wanindu Hasaranga is second only to Tabraiz Shamsi on this year’s wicket-takers list. If he can pick up three wickets against England, in his 30th innings, he will be the third fastest to 50 in the format, after Ajantha Mendis (26) and Mark Adair (28)
  • Eoin Morgan needs nine runs to reach 500 in T20 World Cups. Only Kevin Pietersen (580) has more for England at the tournament, though both are a long way short of Mahela Jayawardene (1016), the only man so far to pass 1000.
  • Quotes

    “That innings from Jos was pretty phenomenal. It was a pleasure to just sit there and watch a genius at work.”
    Liam Livingstone was a touch star-struck after watching his team-mate’s matchwinning knock against Australia

    Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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