England began competitive life under Peter Moores for the second time with a 9-run defeat against Sri Lanka.
The Three Lions asked the T20 World Champions to bat first, and they set a high target of 184 in an innings that just seemed to slip out of England’s grasp.
It was a game that marked a new era for both sides – England under Peter Moores, and Sri Lanka under Marvan Atapattu – and Lasith Malinga proved to be the difference, taking 3 excellent wickets for 28 to undo England’s chase.
Openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kushal Janith Perera got proceedings underway and gave Chris Woakes a torrid time in his first over. However, England soon found their feet as debutant Harry Gurney enjoyed a dream start, clean bowling Dilshan on 14 before Perera knocked a ferocious ball by Perera straight to a stationary Ravi Bopara. The left-armer was economical throughout, and his performance will certainly not have gone unnoticed by Moores.
All the talk before the game, at least in Sri Lankan headquarters, was of whether their exciting young top order would respond well to the absences of stars Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Their own T20 debutant Kithuruwan Vithanage put any such fears to bed, settling his side after the early wicket with some beautiful reverse sweep shots.
One area that will concern England was their fielding, as Vithanage was repeatedly able to exploit their positioning; Moores’ men were found wanting at third man time and again, and an early missed stumping was followed by three missed catches, the last of which saw Eoin Morgan and Michael Carberry both go for the same ball.
Vithanage was eventually dismissed by caught out by Carberry off the bowling of Woakes, but Sri Lanka’s impressive final total owed much to number seven Thisara Perera, who made the most of the pitch and the short boundary at the Kia Oval to smash a quick-fire 49 off 20 balls before eventually falling to Gurney in a thrilling end to the innings.
Lahiru Thirimanne was also crucial to the effort, adding 40 the scorecard, as Sri Lanka finished on 183-7, in no small part because of a late charge in the last few overs.
In reply, Michael Carberry failed to impress on his T20 debut for England as he was out for just 7. Fellow opener Alex Hales put in a gallant effort, cruising to a 66 that included 7 fours and 2 sixes. Malinga was eventually to prove his, and England’s, undoing after the Nottinghamshire batsman mishit a deceptive slow ball by the man known as ‘The Slinger’.
Bopara did his claims for a more regular berth in the side no harm as he led the chase after Hales’ departure, adding 28 and taking the game right down to the final over, where he hit a six and a four, but was not able to help England over the line.
England may not have been able to get back to winning ways, but Moores will undoubtedly take some heart from a valiant display against the best T20 side in the world. Once again, however, it proved a case of too little, too late.
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