Sri Lanka beat England by six wickets in the fourth ODI, but were very nearly taught a tough lesson in death bowling.
With England batting first after winning the toss, their travelling support in Colombo was given the chance to see the much-called for opening partnership of Moeen Ali and Alex Hales.
However, the pressure of moving up the order appeared to reach Ali, as he was unable to replicate his century in the first one-day. Hales, meanwhile, made way for a golden duck, though his poor innings is unlikely to affect his chances of opening at the World Cup.
The absence of captain Alastair Cook – suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for skippering a slow over-rate – allowed James Taylor into the side, and the Notts star did not disappoint, falling agonisingly short of a ton with a well-executed innings of 90.
Without Cook, England also had the opportunity to once again experiment with Eoin Morgan’s captaincy. The Irish-born batsman, who admits he lost focus over the summer, has an average of 73 with the bat when he captains, and weighed in with a quick-fire 62 – his first half century in 15 ODIs.
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While Morgan could be accused of being too timid in the field as Sri Lanka chased a target of 266, there was little he could do to stop Kumar Sangakkara at his best as he cruised alongside Mahela Jayawardene.
The latter was eventually dismissed on 44, clean bowled by Chris Jordan. Sangakkara, however, was Sri Lanka’s lynch pin, getting the hosts going after Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kushal Janith Perera were sent packing by Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali respectively.
Needing just a run a ball for most of their innings, Sangakkara led the way until he was caught by Woakes off the bowling of Chris Jordan, putting the pressure on Angelo Matthews and Lahiru Thirimanne, who saw them over the line in a nervy finish.
Lessons to learn for the tourists
For England, there are also lessons to learn going into the New Year. Ben Stokes still has a fight on his hands to retain his place, having struggled for most of this series, while Ravi Bopara was given just three overs to bowl, as the Barmy Army continue their clamour to see him utilised more effectively.
Nonetheless, for head coach Peter Moores, there have been plenty of positives to take from the game, even as England trail the series. Taylor’s innings in Cook’s absence will certainly have given him food for thought, though Cook’s suspension now means the slate is wiped clean as England look forward to a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year.
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