Thirimanne relishes Anderson's absence
At times in the English summer, it seemed as if James Anderson only needed to swear quietly into the breeze for Lahiru Thirimanne to combust at the crease. With Anderson absent from this series, Thirimanne extended his return to form with 62 not out from 47 balls, leaving his captain Angelo Mathews to dub his knock the most encouraging aspect of Sri Lanka's five-wicket defeat in Hambantota.
Failures in England had put Thirimanne in a form rut that saw him dropped, then dropped again, then relegated to the A team. But he has now struck three fifties in four innings upon his return to the top level. The only occasion he missed out, was in the first ODI of this series, when he finished on 27 not out. He led Sri Lanka's death-overs surge, which brought 62 runs from the final five overs.
"I'm very impressed with the way he's batted," Mathews said. "He played according to the situation. He had to hang in there and bat till the end of the 35th over, and he did exactly that with the tail. That's his role. He was very smart in manoeuvring the ball, and rotating the strike. That's what we want. He's not a power hitter, but an elegant, classical player."
But while Thirimanne built on his personal successes during the India tour, the team returned to the bad habits that had plagued them. Thirimanne himself dropped a simple catch off Alex Hales - though the batsman was out later in the same over - and misfields leaked runs, perhaps enough to make a difference in the eventual tight finish. Sri Lanka's bowling was also mediocre, particularly towards the death.
"England batted well, but there were too many loose balls from our side," Mathews said. "It was slightly slippery conditions, but you can't give any excuses. I thought 235 was a fighting score on that wicket. We needed to pick up wickets and we did, but at the end a few catches here and there and a no ball really put us on the back foot."
The no-ball he was referring to came in the 32nd over, when Joe Root squeezed a full delivery from Dhammika Prasad in the air to cover. Sri Lanka began to celebrate the wicket, and Root started to trudge off, before the third umpire ruled that Prasad had overstepped. England hit 21 runs in that over, which effectively swung the game definitively in their favour.
"The spinners were finding it hard to grip the ball, that's why I brought in a fast bowler," Mathews said of his decision to bowl Prasad at that point. "He wasn't able to bowl the balls he wanted to bowl. That's why there were so many runs."
Mathews also defended his meagre use of Jeevan Mendis during England's innings, despite Mendis having conceded only nine runs from his first two overs - a better economy rate than any other Sri Lanka bowler managed. "At that time, maybe I should have used him more. But our frontline spinners are Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis, and they are the ones who took wickets in the previous matches as well. So I gave them the opportunity. It didn't work out. Hopefully we can give Jeevan a few more chances with the ball in the future."
Sri Lanka had three spin options in addition to Tillakaratne Dilshan, in this match, while England chose instead to strengthen their seam attack. Mathews suggested the surface did not turn out to be as spin-friendly as expected, in addition to the rain having made it harder for slow bowlers to grip the ball.
"We weren't sure when the rain would come. The track here also looked a bit slow before the match. That's why we played with the two frontline spinners and didn't change the side. When the rain came, maybe the water bound the pitch together a bit, and then the ball started coming on to the bat a bit more."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando