Jos Buttler further embellished an outstanding record at the top of England’s order with a ninth half-century in 20 innings as opener to power England to an eight-wicket victory over an emphatically outplayed Sri Lanka, whose sub-par display was summed up by the game’s final moment.
With three overs remaining and just one run required for victory Buttler hit an uncharacteristically wild shot and edged to the tourists’ captain and wicketkeeper, Kusal Perera. Buttler set off towards the dressing-rooms assuming the worst, but the ball flicked off the webbing of Perera’s right glove and England’s batsman just slightly amended his path and walked to the other end to complete a single and with it the match.
“Chasing down a target is one of the best feelings in the game,” Buttler said later. “To be able to walk off not out having done your job for the team. I thought our bowling performance was fantastic and once we got away in the powerplay it put the game to bed really. I thought it was a great performance, but one we’ll look to improve on.”
In hindsight Sri Lanka may reflect that it was not only by regularly dumping the ball straight at their opponents’ best fielder that they played into England’s hands here. For a start they won the toss and chose to bat, which given that it is nearly five years since England last did the same (against Pakistan at Old Trafford in September 2016; they lost by nine wickets) is unlikely to have disappointed anyone in England’s dressing-room.
Neither would what followed, with the tourists struggling to adapt to the variable pace of the pitch and England’s rotating cast of bowlers. They also proved worryingly fond of hitting the ball straight into the velcro hands of Chris Jordan, of all the players in England’s side surely the least likely to drop it.
The result was that Jason Roy and Buttler came out with a low score to chase, and few opening partnerships are less forgiving in that situation. “He’s a great person to bat with,” Buttler said of his fellow opener. “He takes a lot of pressure off you at the other end, the way he comes with a lot of intent. I think he’s such an intimidating guy to bowl at, and it certainly makes my job easier at the other end because he puts so much pressure on the opposition.” By the end of their powerplay Sri Lanka were 29-2; England were 61 without loss and had already hit more fours than their opponents managed in their entire innings.
It was notable in the opening overs of the game that the ball rarely pinged off a Sri Lankan bat with the satisfying sound that characterises a perfectly-timed shot, and it took them 17 balls and a complete misfield from Sam Curran at midwicket to hit a boundary. Only Dasun Shanaka, who brought some desperately-needed impetus to the innings towards the end, showed any real fluency. Even he struggled early in his innings, particularly against the express pace of Mark Wood, but he made up for it at the end, scoring 24 of his side’s 25 runs off the last two overs, when neither of England’s death bowlers, Jordan and Sam Curran, excelled. He eventually completed his half-century off the penultimate ball of the innings, before getting out off the last.
England never had the same issues finding fluency, as Buttler proved by caressing the fourth ball of their innings through the covers. From there the home side, much like that ball, sped inexorably into the distance, with only Wanindu Hasaranga, whose four overs cost just 12 runs, exerting any degree of control.
Though Cardiff, with its short boundaries, is rarely considered a helpful ground for spinners in the shortest form of the game both Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone also impressed. “He’s such an exciting package,” said Buttler of Livingstone, who played only his third T20 international and bowled for the first time. “He can bat at the top of the order, is powerful in the middle, bowls offspin and legspin to international level within the same over, is a brilliant fielder and he’s a great person to have in your XI.”
It will be interesting to see how long he remains in it. Some degree of rotation is inevitable for the second game in the series, which will be played on the same ground on Thursday night, both to rest tired players and to assess alternative options with an eye on the World Cup later this year, and while Sri Lanka are unlikely to suddenly transform into a great side neither should they play any worse. “It’s a great start,” said Buttler. “But it is only a start.”