Three days on from the World Test Championship final, the Ageas Bowl (as it is once again allowed to be known) plays host to a final of a rather less epochal variety. The final T20I between England and Sri Lanka will be a daylight-hours dead rubber after England’s comprehensive victories in Cardiff earlier this week, and if that prospect fails to set your pulse racing then never fear – at least you’ll be able to flick over to Wales versus Denmark during the second innings if the going gets too stodgy.
Perhaps that’s unfair. Thursday night’s rain-interrupted second encounter had its moments, perhaps most notably Sam Curran’s sublime side-foot into the stumps to run out Danushka Gunathilaka. But for all that England’s bowlers have been excellent in both contests, the grim truth is that Sri Lanka have limped along to consecutive totals of 129 and 111 in their 20 overs – a series run-rate of precisely one a ball. And impressive though their initial defence of that second total may have been, the jeopardy was short-lived once England’s middle-order pair of Liam Livingstone and Sam Billings had calibrated the appropriate tempo for their chase.
It is, as Sri Lanka’s coach Mickey Arthur acknowledged, a case of No. 1 versus No. 9 in the ICC T20I rankings, and the gulf has been plain for all to see. Even the continued absence of England’s most accomplished white-ball batter is unlikely to close up the gap between the sides. Jos Buttler has been ruled out for the remainder of the Sri Lanka tour with a minor calf tear, but Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy – reunited at the top of the order – aren’t exactly a second-best option among white-ball opening partnerships.
It’s hard to see exactly where Sri Lanka can hope to catch a break in this contest. Wanindu Hasaranga has impressed once again with his legspin, while their new-ball pairing of Dushmantha Chameera and Binura Fernando bowled with heart and fire in the Powerplay. But Adil Rashid goes from strength to strength, rising to every new role that Eoin Morgan seeks to audition him for, while Mark Wood’s lavish loosener-free pace is a bruising option to bomb the middle overs. When you’re barely stretching the ability of a player with as much star billing as Sam Curran, you know you’ve got your bases covered.
Sri Lanka may be tempted to make changes to their line-up, particularly in the batting, but such is the volatility of their current team, at some stage too they will need simply to opt for continuity and trust their chosen players to come out of their shells. That said, it took until the eighth over on Thursday for Sri Lanka to post their first boundary, and nonsensically only two players all night managed so much as hit a four. Kusal Mendis top-scored with a run-a-ball 39; Isuru Udana ruined Chris Jordan’s figures with some belated intent in the 20th over of their innings. Without that, they might not even have scraped past 100.
Who knows what England can learn from these contests, although the state of the wickets in Cardiff suggest that they are focused on used-pitch practice given the likelihood of the T20 World Cup taking place in the UAE, straight after the IPL has swiped what little juice the surfaces may have had. That is, after all, the real end-game. This is just another staging post in the quest for further ICC silverware.
(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LLLWL
In the spotlight
Dawid Malan has been drafted into England’s ODI squad as a replacement for Buttler, which may help to reassure him that he is still a hugely valued part of the white-ball set-up. But there’s no question he’ll be feeling the heat as the focus intensifies on his place at No. 3. In six T20s this summer – two for England, four for Yorkshire – he has a highest score of 23, while his consecutive scores of 7 and 4 in Cardiff were, incredibly, only his second and third single-digit returns in 26 T20Is. A truer surface in Southampton may be what he needs to get back to his dominant best, although quite how much of a pointer that would be for the T20 World Cup’s conditions is anyone’s guess.
Wanindu Hasaranga has been a flicker of hope in a rough period for Sri Lankan cricket. His three-card trick to bamboozle Sam Billings on Thursday capped another fine display of legspin – 2 for 20 in four overs on this occasion – and he is now ranked in the top ten T20I bowlers in the world, according to the ICC. With his combination of accuracy and variety, including a superb googly, if any one player is likely to put in the sort of performance that can earn Sri Lanka a consolation win, it is him.
Pitch and conditions
This will be the first T20 at the Ageas Bowl this season – Hampshire have played a glut of away games in the Blast while the ground was being used as India’s base ahead of the WTC final. To judge by that contest, there should be plenty of carry for the quicks on offer, but most importantly the weather is set fair after the nonsense of this time last week. A pleasant summer’s afternoon is in prospect, come what may.
As a rule, England are loath to make too many changes to their XIs, although the continued absence of Buttler has caused a degree of upheaval in their ranks. Bairstow is set to open with Jason Roy once more, and probably retain the gloves too, even though Billings was on standby to make his Test debut as a keeper against New Zealand earlier this month. After two blistering displays, Wood may be due a rest – compared to Chris Woakes, his recent workload has been whip-crackingly brutal. Woakes ought to return – otherwise, what did England hope to learn from his recall after a six-year gap? – but then there’s Moeen Ali, absent for ten T20Is and counting.
England: (possible) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Sam Billings, 7 Sam Curran, 8 David Willey, 9 Chris Woakes, 10 Chris Jordan, 11 Adil Rashid
There’s a chance that Sri Lanka may choose to blood their latest all-round prospect, the 22-year-old Dhananjaya Lakshan, whose lusty hitting and variety-laden seam bowling shot to prominence at the recent Lanka Premier League, where he claimed at least one wicket in each of his outings, and thumped Galle Gladiators into the final with some timely hitting in their semi-final victory over Colombo Kings.
Sri Lanka: (possible) 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Avishka Fernando, 3 Kusal Perera (capt/wk), 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Dhananjaya Lakshan, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Binura Fernando
Stats and trivia
England have won five of their previous eight T20Is at Southampton, including the very first such contest they ever played – and only the second globally – by 100 runs against Australia in 2005.
Sri Lanka have placed two T20Is at the ground, winning the first by two runs in 2006, but losing the second, ten years later, by eight wickets
Sri Lanka are yet to score a boundary off Adil Rashid in the series, who has combined figures of 4 for 41 from his eight overs.
“It’s something I’ve worked hard on for this sort of opportunity, to push my way into a team as someone that can offer something in all three facets of the game.”
Allrounder Liam Livingstone believes he’s got the skills to enhance England’s T20I line-up
“We’re consistently talking about freedom, about taking the handbrake off as a batting unit. But you can only bat as well as you’re allowed to and I thought England were world-class with the lengths they hit.”
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur praises the discipline and skill of England’s attack.