England beat Sri Lanka by five wickets to peg the hosts back to 2-1 in the seven match ODI series thanks to a solid team performance by Alastair Cook’s men in Hambantota.
Jos Buttler (55*) and Joe Root (48*) led the tourists home after a middle order collapse had threatened to give Angelo Mathews’ men a 3-0 lead. Once again Moeen Ali starred with the bat with a quick-fire 58 while Chris Woakes took 3-41 in the 35 overs-a-side match due to a prolonged rain break.
Cook made three changes to the team after losing the toss and they proved to be a success with the unfortunate Ian Bell making way for Alex Hales in the number three position while Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan replaced Harry Gurney and James Tredwell in the bowling department.
England were bowling first but the match only lasted two overs before the heavens opened which caused a rain break of over three and a half hours. At least England were sitting on an early breakthrough with Woakes dismissing Kusal Perera for a four ball duck which left Sri Lanka 6-1 during the rain delay.
When play eventually resumed the tourists kept up their momentum with Steven Finn claiming the wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan for 19 while Woakes had his second victim in the form of Thilina Kandamby who was well caught by Jordan in the slips.
That brought skipper Angelo Mathews to the crease as he joined Kumar Sangakkara as the pair steadied the ship in the Sri Lankan jungle. By the time Mathews was removed, Cook had rotated his bowlers constantly to try and stop any momentum the hosts were gaining.
Jordan was the bowler to end the 87-run partnership and he backed that up with the wicket of Sangakkara in the 26th over. Despite late wickets from Joe Root, Woakes and Ravi Bopara Sri Lanka still managed to post an impressive total of 242-8.
Dhammika Prasad smashed 21 off just eight balls in the latter stages while Lahiru Thirimanne ended on 62 not out from just 47 deliveries as five bowlers shared out the wickets with only Ali and Stokes unable to claim a victim.
There was a quick turnaround with only 10 minutes between innings due to the rain interruption but that didn’t hinder Cook and Ali with the pair flying out of the blocks to set the platform for England.
The captain was unable to build on a positive start as he was the first man to depart for 34 off 42 balls as he edged behind of the bowling of Prasad. However, he supported Ali admirably as the Worcestershire all-rounder teed off once again en-route to his third half-century in ODI cricket for his country.
He punished the host’s bowlers all around the park and had already hit six maximums and a brace of fours when he was run out after a mix-up with Alex Hales who appeared to be at fault for the loss of England’s second wicket and the man in form.
Hales tried to let loose himself and was given a life when Thirimanne dropped one of the easiest chances you’re likely to get in international cricket, he then whacked a six before losing his wicket for 27 as England started to feel the pressure in Hambantota.
Bopara was promoted to number five in the batting order but he was in and out in the blink of an eye due to a masterstroke by keeper Sangakkara. The Essex man had previously hit a superb straight six and then went to sweep but the Sri Lankan had anticipated where the ball would leave his bat and caught him way down leg-side.
Eoin Morgan was then out going for a big shot to leave the tourists stuttering at 152-5 with Root and Jos Buttler at the crease. However, England filled their team with full of capable batsmen with the likes of Jordan, Stokes and Woakes waiting in the wings.
In the end the lower order batsmen weren’t needed as the game changed with 21 runs coming off the 47th over which including Root being called back after he was caught off a no ball. The contest was over soon after with the Yorkshireman whacking a six before taking a single to win the match for his country as he finished on 48 not out but he couldn’t have won the game without the power hitting of Buttler.
The fourth game in the series takes place in Colombo on Saturday with the tourists aiming to level the series at 2-2.