Sri Lanka held their nerve to pip England to a 3-2 Royal London Series victory in a controversial decider at Edgbaston.
England fought back after Sachithra Senanayake ran out golden boy Jos Buttler, backing up at the non-striker’s end, but not effectively enough as Mahela Jayawardene (53) and Lahiru Thirimanne (60no) struck their first half-centuries of the series and shared a crucial fourth- wicket stand of 98.
In pursuit of only 219 all out, with rain threatening for most of the chase, it kept Sri Lanka ahead of the game on the way to a six-wicket win with 10 balls to spare. The truth perhaps was that England’s top order, despite a hard-working 56 from Alastair Cook, did not press on as required – and the furore surrounding Buttler’s departure merely masked that important issue.
Senanayake sparked an angry reaction in the crowd when he ran out Buttler at the non-strikers’ end, albeit after warning him in his previous over for pinching yards. It is a legitimate mode of dismissal, but one often frowned upon and rarely enforced – only seven times previously, in fact, in the history of international cricket. Buttler’s status as England’s man-of-the-moment after his brilliant maiden hundred at Lord’s, and Senanayake’s as a controversial figure since he was reported for a suspect action in the same match, only added to the jeers.
The unusual event – captains more often call batsmen back in such instances, but Angelo Mathews chose not to – came in the 43rd over of an otherwise unremarkable innings in which England struggled for a par score after choosing to bat first.
Sri Lanka’s openers then set off in a hurry, but the tourists needed Jayawardene and Thirimanne to put them back on track after James Tredwell took two of three wickets to fall for seven runs. Harry Gurney’s second over had cost 14 runs, and Chris Jordan got through just one for 12 before Tredwell broke the opening stand with only his second delivery when Joe Root took a very good catch at short extra-cover to see off Tillakaratne Dilshan. Tredwell struck again in his second over, finding enough turn to have Kumar Sangakkara edging in back-foot defence to slip - and then James Anderson had Kusal Perera lbw.
At 62 for three, Jayawardene and Thirimanne had to dig in.
They had the reassurance of a target which would be within range if they could keep England’s bowlers at bay – and apart from a Jayawardene edge between wicketkeeper and slip on eight off Gurney, and Thirimanne’s mis-hook just short of long-leg off Ravi Bopara, there were no mistakes. It was not until Jayawardene holed out to mid-off that England had another chance, but Thirimanne saw the job through with an 89-ball 50 and the help of some late power from Mathews in an unbroken stand of 62.
In a patchy performance from England’s batsmen, the top six all got out after promising starts.
Cook and Ian Bell’s opening stand of 75 ended when the latter poked a return catch back to Ajantha Mendis. That was the last act of the batting powerplay, England adopting a complete change of tactics by taking it between overs 10 and 15.
Bell’s was the first of a series of soft dismissals which could be interpreted perhaps as the combined products of batsman error and a slow surface.
Gary Ballance also pushed a simple catch back to the bowler, Lasith Malinga (three for 50) this time with the first delivery of his second spell. Then Root and Cook both went caught behind to variations of the sweep, the Yorkshireman attempting a reverse. Cook had lost all momentum on reaching his 50, his last six runs eating up 16 balls.
Bopara’s response was manic – involving three stumping and run-out escapes – but it was Eoin Morgan who went next, mistiming a pull off Mathews.
Bopara’s own departure was a comical exaggeration of England’s difficulties, when he set himself to pull Mendis but instead contrived to be bowled through his legs as the ball failed to get to him in time for his intended shot.
It all meant England’s habitual six-hitters Buttler and Jordan had to join forces earlier than intended. They were beginning to gather a little purpose when Buttler was caught out of his ground – and after Jordan was run out more conventionally via a mix-up with Anderson, England were eventually all out with almost two overs unused.
They had therefore mustered only a very vulnerable total, and so it proved as a series success evaded them at the start of the Cook-Peter Moores era.