Eoin Morgan had told England to reconnect with their best of their one-day performances over the past 12 months and, despite a top-order implosion from the bad old days, they delivered on the order with a thrilling tie in their series opener with Sri Lanka.
Liam Plunkett, at No10, slotted the final ball of a game that looked dead and buried straight down the ground for six, allowing Morgan’s side to match the 286 runs scored by the tourists in a moment of pure last-gasp drama that followed an almighty recovery job.
Chasing under lights, on the ground where they memorably cruised to a target of 350 against New Zealand a year ago, England had crumbled to 82 for six by the end of the 18th over, leaving Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes staring at a mountain of runs.
The pair stepped up, their stand of 138 in 24.3 overs taking the game deeper than anyone expected with Buttler’s 93 from 99 balls eclipsed only by an unbeaten 95 from Woakes, who recovered from the loss of his partner to a stunning catch in the deep by Dasun Shanaka in the 43rd over to steer the game to the final six deliveries.
In that last over Woakes and Plunkett needed 14 for the win, and while a scrambled three off the penultimate ball – aided by a misfield - effectively ruled out a victory, the junior partner held his nerve to send the seamer Nuwan Pradeep into the night sky and share the spoils.
“There was nothing else but to try and hit it out of the ground,” said Plunkett after the tie, England’s eighth in one-day history. “I was telling myself that I’ve been hitting it well for Yorkshire, so stay still and hopefully I can get enough on it. You know when you have nailed the ball, it’s like a golf ball off the tee – a similar feeling.”
Woakes, whose 95 not out was the highest score by a No8 in ODI cricket, was rightly man of the match following his earlier two for 56 with the ball. He acted as the perfect foil for Buttler’s typically lustered batting and demonstrated why he can go beyond simply being an understudy to the injured Ben Stokes. “Woakes was outstanding,” said Morgan. “His story is that he has been competing with Stokes but the two of them are incredible cricketers – we are lucky to have both of them around. We are very lucky to get out of this game with a tie and go to Edgbaston on Friday all square. That was as bad as we have performed with the bat over the past year.”
It was Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankan captain who was so subdued in the recent Test matches, who shone for the tourists, top-scoring with 73 from 109 balls in their 286 for nine before his medium pace returned two for 22 from six overs. Injury, however, meant he was off the field when his players suffered their last-ball woe.
Mathews said: “I thought we had the game in the bag for most of the overs. Unfortunately the yorker fell just off line and went for a six.”
Sri Lanka’s innings, after being put in on a sunny afternoon in Nottingham, had been pockmarked by wickets that continuously tap-tackled the tourists during their climb to a sizeable total on a ground where two scores in excess of 400 have been recorded in county cricket this summer.
David Willey, with two for 56, removed the openers, Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Perara – the former hitting a checked drive to cover, the latter edging to backward point – before Woakes had Kusal Mendis caught behind feathering a pull to reduce Sri Lanka to 59 for three at the end of the powerplay. Adil Rashid then twirled away for 10 straight overs of leg-spin at a cost of 36 runs and by the time the Yorkshireman had bowled out, Sri Lanka sat at 138 for four at the start of the 30th over with Dinesh Chandimal having swept Moeen Ali to backward square on 37 to end a stand of 64 with Mathews.
If Mathews, in from the ninth over and getting to within three of the end, was Sri Lanka’s rock, then Prasanna was their rocket. Called into the squad from a spell at Northamptonshire and pushed up the order to No6, he ignited the afterburners with a 28-ball half-century that ruined the figures of Moeen and Plunkett before a duffed pull off Woakes offered a simple return catch.
A second charge from Mathews did not materialise as the drip of wickets continued, ending with Suranga Lakmal run out off the last ball of Sri Lanka’s innings.
The home side’s chase was derailed from the outset, however, with Jason Roy pinned lbw in the second over by Mathews and Alex Hales clipping Lakmal to midwicket in the third, prompting a baffling review of Shane Watson proportions that confirmed what everyone else already knew: that a heavy chunk of bat had been struck in the squeeze against his front pad.
Root, whose head lies uneasily with the dual crowns of England Test and one-day player of the year, chopped Mathews on to his stumps on two while Jonny Bairstow, the replacement for Stokes, pushed Lakmal meekly to point to defy his current run of form, leaving the scorecard showing a sorry 30 for four in the ninth over.
Morgan rallied with the initially dormant Buttler for a 49-ball 43 before Pradeep removed him, caught behind, and Moeen, playing on, in the space of two overs.
The required run-rate was at more than six an over by that stage but Buttler and Woakes approached it phlegmatically, easing up through the gears towards a great escape on the banks of the Trent.Shanaka’s stunning intervention to remove the former on the rope felt like a killer blow, however, with Willey then caught off Farveez Maharoof – the seamer’s foot barely behind the line.
But Plunkett provided more than the necessary support, allying with Woakes in for 51 from 26 balls, including the scrambled last over that would have one dramatic last-ball twist.
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