England 163 for 4 (Buttler 101*, Morgan 40, Hasaranga 3-21) beat Sri Lanka 137 (Hasaranga 34, Moeen 2-15, Rashid 2-19) by 26 runs
Two days ago in Dubai, we all thought we had seen the very best of Jos Buttler, as he mashed a demoralised Australia with jaw-dropping disdain. But in very different circumstances in Sharjah, the respect that he was obliged to show Sri Lanka was his defining feature this time out, as he completed the set of Test, ODI and T20I hundreds with quite possibly his finest, most versatile innings of the lot.
On an uncompromising Sharjah surface - slow, low and nigh on impossible to force the pace - Buttler somehow conjured a masterful 101 not out from 67 balls, riding out one of the most fallow passages of play in England's T20I history to batter 51 runs from his final 22, including the last of his six sixes, a flick off the hips high over square leg to reach his landmark on the final ball of the innings.
In doing so, Buttler converted a 45-ball fifty, his slowest in the format, into a team total of 163 for 4, which England defended with outstanding tenacity on a dew-drenched night. Their challenge was made all the more complex when Tymal Mills limped out of the attack midway through his second over with a worrying quad strain. But Eoin Morgan shuffled his resources magnificently, backed by superb fielding, to close out only the fourth victory in this tournament by a team bowling last after losing the toss.
England's innings stuck on red
At the halfway mark of England's innings, the team's faces were threatening to look as red as their new-look trousers - a switch from their usual navy-blue due to an ICC kit-clash regulation. After losing their first toss in four games and being obliged to set the tempo rather than chase in the dew, they had dribbled along to 47 for 3, their lowest ten-over total since that tournament nadir against the Netherlands in Chittagong in 2014.
Sri Lanka's spinners had applied the handbrake after a misleadingly rambunctious first over, with Wanindu Hasaranga's second ball pegging back Jason Roy's off stump to serve England a collective reminder of the dangers of cross-batted strokes. Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow succumbed in the powerplay too, and for one agonisingly dour 33-ball period, right up until the drinks break, England dealt exclusively in dots and ones - 13 of them in fact - as Buttler and Morgan, desperately out of form after a grim run in the IPL, swallowed their pride and focused on batting deep from an awkward 35 for 3.
There really wasn't much that England dared to do to break the shackles. Maheesh Theekshana, flicking the ball out of the front of his hand, offered no width and oodles of stump-threatening skid, backed up by an excellent pitch-battering length from the seamers, which was too short for England to rush down to meet, and bouncing low enough to keep the stumps permanently in play.
A glug of Gatorade, and a thumping drive through the covers, brought Buttler only his third boundary in 31 balls. But it also signalled a fateful shift in Sri Lanka's approach. As if pre-programmed to go to their pre-set death plans, the seamers began searching for a fuller length, right up to the toes, which suited Buttler's spring-loaded wrists down to the ground. A brace of half-volleys from Lahiru Kumara were smoked into the stands, before Dasun Shanaka suffered similar treatment in the 18th over, as Buttler laced him for six, six, four, to wrench the contest England's way.
Morgan too joined the party, eventually holding his own in a 112-run partnership with 40 from 36 balls despite at one stage seeming stranded on 10 from 21. A freebie from Hasaranga got him going, a full-toss on the legs flicked through backward square, while Kumara was also in his sights with a classical inside-out bosh over long-off. Hasaranga got his revenge with another googly but not before England's captain had confirmed his game-brain was still ticking.
The search for that century wasn't Buttler's overriding concern as he faced up to Dushmantha Chameera's final over. But after surviving a sprawling chance in the deep and missing out on an attempted reverse scoop, Buttler received the gimme he'd been angling for from the final ball of the innings, a full toss on the legs that he launched into the stands to vault from 95 to 101.
The fact that England were able to turn on their after-burners may have been linked to the sightings of a few towels for Sri Lanka's fielders as the evening moisture began to make itself known. It obliged Morgan to get imaginative from the outset of Sri Lanka's chase. Moeen Ali served up the first over, in which Pathum Nissanka was run out third-ball, but after some rare tap for Chris Woakes from Charith Asalanka, Adil Rashid was swiftly called into action. The change did the trick, two googlies to the left-handers Asalanka and Kusal Perera resulted in a pair of hacks into the covers, as for the first time in their T20I history, England bowled four overs of spin in the powerplay.
Still, Sri Lanka kept pressing, with more zip off the bat in the altered conditions, not least for Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who greeted Liam Livingstone with a clout over the sightscreen and then made Woakes regret a bad miss at square leg by slamming him for a six and a four in consecutive balls. But Woakes responded with an offcutter which Roy swallowed in the deep, and at 76 for 5 in the 11th over, England were chipping away at their opponent's resources.
Their own resources, however, received a body blow when Mills limped from the field. Despite their wealth of options, Rashid was already bowled out, and when Woakes surprisingly finished off the final three balls of the incomplete over, he too only had one more up his sleeve. It was time once again for Livingstone to show his mettle, and sure enough, he delivered the killer blow in the 17th over, drawing a rampant Hasaranga into a swipe to wide long-off, where Roy pounced brilliantly with a dive inside the rope, before offloading for the substitute Sam Billings to complete the take.
Three balls later, however, there was no longer any doubt which direction the match was headed. That man Buttler pounced from behind the stumps and pinged down the wicket to run out Sri Lanka's last remaining hope Dasun Shanaka. England had come through their toughest assignment of the tournament with a statement victory and proven that while the conditions are still a massive factor, excellence can yet seize the day.