England v Sri Lanka, T20, The Oval May 20, 2014

SL future glows brighter in victory

Encouraging innings from Kithuruwan Vithanage and Lahiru Thirimanne suggested Sri Lanka can handle the Jayawardene-Sangakkara succession issue

Kithuruwan Vithanage's debut provided another encouraging sign for Sri Lanka © Getty Images

Sri Lanka had worked towards this match for some time. Not for the game at The Oval, in particular. Not for the foreign conditions, the opposition, nor even the tour as a whole. Sri Lanka have spent much of the last 18 months consumed in the quest to secure their future. A future beyond Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

This reality is only one match old. Things happen quickly in cricket, including the unraveling of seemingly capable sides. The team may not even discover exactly how successfully they have regenerated until the end of next year's World Cup. But in this victory over England, they have suggested there is no cause for alarm. It is not that the seniors were not missed. It is just that even without the juggernauts in the top order, Sri Lanka possessed so much substance.

Sri Lanka's batting was a whirl of kinetic energy; a raw, writhing mass, lacking the shape and finesse Jayawardene and Sangakkara provided but forceful enough to bash through to a daunting score. As batsmen came and swung hard at the ball, the self-belief that had bloomed during the team's successful run in Bangladesh was evident. Kithuruwan Vithanage bludgeoned an important innings, spoiling the impetus England had gained from two early dismissals. He threw his heart at every ball, but used his brain as well, reading the field each over, and shaping only to hit to the open spaces, perilous though many strokes were.

It is too early to suggest this batting unit will achieve the success it had with Jayawardene and Sangakkara, but lately, the signs have largely been encouraging. Lahiru Thirimanne is being groomed as a like-for-like replacement for Sangakkara at No. 3, and his studious method has begun to pay off in 2014. He lacks the power of most of his team-mates, and that vector alone would have seen him left out of many international T20 teams. But he drives himself to collect the singles and twos efficiently, and possesses enough insight into his own cricket to discern the balls he can flay.

He has many mountains to scale before he can match Sangakkara's record - perhaps he never will. But at 24, Thirimanne has a wider range of strokes and a steadier temperament than a young Sangakkara did. The older man had said as much last year. Thirimanne has now been installed as vice-captain in all three formats, and his challenge will be to maintain his rise, as he shoulders more responsibility. Sri Lanka had appointed two young leaders last year as well and, of those, Angelo Mathews grew in stature, while Dinesh Chandimal seemingly regressed.

While Thirimanne held the innings together, others would begin their knocks with ambition. Perhaps it was the assurance they had batting down to No. 8 or maybe it is because even the batsmen had caught some of their new captain's fire. A 17th over formed entirely of slower balls revealed something of Lasith Malinga's soaring self-confidence. Alex Hales, England's best batsmen of the match, anticipated the offcutter and walloped the third ball to the midwicket fence, but Malinga was unperturbed. The next one, even slower, clattered into the stumps and sent Sri Lanka to touching distance of the win.

After the World T20, Malinga had returned to Sri Lanka with his swagger embellished, even suggesting on a television show that he should have been T20 captain a year ago. Sri Lanka fans value humility more than most but they will forgive him his ego if it continues to drive him to success. If his attitude affects the collective mood, then perhaps all the better; a fearless approach has rarely let Sri Lanka down in its limited-overs past.

Sri Lanka were far from perfect on Tuesday. On other evenings, they will have fewer runs off the outside edge. Most games, the opposition will hold their catches. It might have been tougher if they had been asked to chase a good score without the newly retired men there to guide the effort but, through pure white heat, Sri Lanka earned their first win outside Asia this year.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pinidiya on May 22, 2014, 23:05 GMT

    1st ODI showed again, the VALUE of MISSING EXPERIENCE at The TOP! SL missing the services of a stable, experienced opener, who can stem the side and play a long inning in these conditions! Opener should be able to stay there, until the middle order is exposed (min. 25 ov), while Dilshan is making the initial impact from the other end. Otherwise, its going to be a real burden for others in front/middleorder, as repeatedly seen during the past 10 months! Middle order cannot handle this pressure as they did in subcontinent The only SL opener who can prevent this is Tharanga. His track record proves it!

    Tharanga was the Main Architect of 5-0 rubbing in 2006, His average stay at the wicket is 26.2 Overs! He had the highest Batting Average 69.4 with 2 x100s 120 R - 76.92S/R v Eng-Lord's(Thar 48.4 ov) 17 R- 56.66 S/R v Eng-Oval (Thar 9.0 ov) 41 R - 95.34 S/R v Eng-Chester-(Thar 16.4 ov) 60 R- 75.00 S/R v Eng-Manchester(Thar 24.5 ov) 109 R- 106.86S/R v Eng-Leeds (Thar 31.5 ov)

  • Pinidiya on May 22, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    SL Opener Upul Tharanga has the highest Batting Average followed by AN Cook (Eng) - ALL-TIME Batting Record of Eng Vs SL:

    Upul Tharanga (SL) - Ing 11 - Runs 578 - Av 57.80 - S/R 78.00 - 3x100 - 2x50 AN Cook (Eng) - Ing 13 - Runs 592 - Av 49.33 - S/R 78.51 - 1x100 - 3x50 GA Hick (Eng) - Ing 13 - Runs 587 - Av 48.91 - S/R 72.73 - 1x100 - 3x50 HP Tillakaratne (SL) - Ing 12 - Runs 258 - Av 43.00 - S/R 55.72 - 0x100 - 2x50 M Jayawardene (SL)- Ing 32 - Runs 1242 -Av 42.82 - S/R 85.59- 5x100 - 5x50 MTrescothick (Eng) - Ing 17 - Runs 697 - Av 41.00 - S/R 85.94- 1x100 - 4x50 KC Sangakkara (SL) - Ing 28- Runs 879- Av 38.21 - S/R 72.04- 1x100 - 7x50 PA de Silva (SL) - Ing 15- Runs 458- Av 38.16 - S/R 86.41- 4x100 - 1x50 ST Jayasuriya (SL) - Ing 15- Runs 152- Av 37.34 - S/R 101.3- 4x100 - 3x50

    Unfortunately, this young Opener is NOT In THE SQUAD, despite mainlining a career batting Average of 34! SL will NEVER Succeed, UNTIL they UTILIZE the VALUABLE RESOURCES available..!

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2014, 20:15 GMT

    Sri Lanka should have retained Kithuruwan for one day matches and unfortunately he's gone home.

  • Chandana on May 21, 2014, 19:08 GMT

    WOW, when was was the last time 2 ROYALISTS played in a SRI LANKA team?

    after Madugalle & deMel.....

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2014, 16:13 GMT

    Think Kithruwan is here to stay, shades of Lara, and seems to pick the gaps,another thing Lara did brilliantly. Looking at the bowling figures, and those with overs to spare, does appear that Malinga made some miscalculations, but ofc, all is forgiven. Someday soon, Sri Lanka will come to England and be more than the warm up for the 'more important' summer tours. And the only way to do that is to consistently beat England in the tests. And that can start in this series. I predict a one sided ODI series.

  • Rizwan on May 21, 2014, 15:17 GMT

    BHANUKA RAJAPAKSHE ( who captained Kusal Perera and Kithruwan Vithanage at Royal College ) should be given an opportunity - Bhanuka is an allrounder and has he ability to score even quicker than Kusal.

  • Al on May 21, 2014, 12:57 GMT

    Malinga showed he is not just a 'token' captain following instructions from Sangakarra and Jayawardene as many pundits and fans declared. He captained in his own right and led from the front. Please give the man due credit and be more supportive of this unique cricketer in the future...Thank you!

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2014, 12:37 GMT

    SL should bring back some experienced players in order to be better prepared for post-Mahela, Sanga, Dilshan, Herath era. Those four kept SL on track after Jayasuriya, Vaas, Murali retired, and now SL should bring back players who have international experience and success, such as Maharoof, Tharanga, Fernando etc.

  • Samantha on May 21, 2014, 12:11 GMT

    Well done Malinga, Thisara & Thiri. You guys are awesome and pulled the weight towards another victory for SL, as always did in the past despite repeated failures at the top! Although this article highlighted the least as the most, shadowing the pathetic failure & the most significant contributors :-) Predicting a Glowingly bright, eye-blinding future & ELONGATING the Elaboration (beyond Mahela Jayawardene/Kumar Sangakkara sans future) based on a single T20 performance, is little hilarious! It gives some insight to the inside story! It seems, when one juggernaut fails, SLC seem to have a list of earmarked list of juggernauts to "regenerate" the level of SL Cricket, beyond recognition. We are eternally grateful to the actual workhorses in the side, who are pulling enormous weight to make us Happy!

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2014, 9:18 GMT

    Allow Kusal to build his trust and timing against good fast ballers on seem friendly wickets. It will make us one step closer to the WC2015.

    Wow Kith... got talent.

    keeth and Kusal should be the opening pair for ODIs. then it like sanata and gayle