It’s been a long, thankless tour of England for Sri Lanka. It began early in May with a practice game against Essex and has spanned nearly two months. During the course of their travels, Sri Lanka have managed just two wins, both coming in One-Day Internationals in Ireland.
England, their hosts for a majority of the tour, have comprehensively outplayed them in both Tests and ODIs so far, and in doing so, they have claimed an unassailable lead in the new multi-format points system. So it is that when the two sides clash one final time in a Twenty20 International at the Rose Bowl in Southampton on Tuesday (July 5), Sri Lanka will be fighting to avoid a clean sweep across formats.
After a 0-2 loss in the Tests and a 0-3 reversal in the ODIs, Sri Lanka will find it a struggle to boost morale. After the final ODI – a comprehensive 122-run loss in Cardiff – Angelo Mathews, the captain, found himself fending off questions about his captaincy, saying: “This is a tough time for me as a captain and for the whole unit. But you can’t run away from it.”
The hope was that the ODIs would help Sri Lanka emerge strong from their troubles in Tests, the hope stemming from the possibility of the shorter format narrowing the gap between the teams. However, England – a markedly different side in limited-overs internationals since Sri Lanka defeated them in the 2015 World Cup – proved too strong once again, and apart from the first ODI which ended in a tie, were comprehensive winners in the remaining three completed matches.
The problem for Sri Lanka has been that their departments have struggled to work in tandem. The batsmen posted 305 for 5 in the fourth ODI, but the bowlers struggled to restrict England to below that score. Then, when England set them 325 to win in the fifth, their batsmen were contained to 202. “I’m pretty sure if we keep improving day by day, we can come out of this hole,” said Mathews after the final ODI. “For the past two months, we’ve been having the same problems, either batting, bowling or fielding has let us down in every single game.”
Ahead of the final clash of what has surely been a tiresome series therefore, Sri Lanka will hope to depart with their heads held high. A late cameo or a couple of miscues usually prove decisive in T20s, and Sri Lanka know they have their best chance yet to put one over England. Recent form doesn’t favour Sri Lanka in that respect either – England reached the final of the 2016 World T20, while the Sri Lankans failed to get out of their group.
England, meanwhile, are expected to blood a few youngsters in the one-off clash, including Tymal Mills, the paceman. He comes with a reputation for searing pace, something that gained momentum after he roughed up Chris Gayle during the NatWest T20 blast last month. “I’d love to see him play. I won’t be the sole selector, but from my point of view, it would be great to see someone like that charge and give it everything,” said Trevor Bayliss, the England coach. “It’s good to see some batsmen ducking and weaving.”
Eoin Morgan, the England captain, spoke before the ODIs of how much of a confidence booster it was for the side to reach the World T20 final, and warned of coping with bigger expectations. Those expectations would only have increased after their performances in the series so far.
England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Sam Billings, Johnny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan, David Malan, Tymal Mills, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, James Vince, David Willey.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Upul Tharanga, Dhananjaya de Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Kusal Mendis, Dasun Shanaka, Farveez Maharoof, Suraj Randiv, Seekkuge Prasanna.