England's bowlers set up big win before Jos Buttler seals 1-0 series lead
Sri Lanka never really got to grips with the variation and control of the England attack
England 130 for 2 (Buttler 68*, Roy 36) beat Sri Lanka 129 for 7 (Shanaka 50, Rashid 2-17) by eight wickets
England have taken a one-nil lead in the T20I series against Sri Lanka with a comfortable eight-wicket victory in Cardiff achieved with 17 deliveries to spare.
A much-changed Sri Lanka side - there were six alterations from their previous T20I in March - never really got to grips with the variation and control of the England attack or a slightly sluggish surface that rendered strokeplay tricky. At one stage they went 10 overs (from 4.2 to 14.1) without hitting a four and there were just three sixes in their innings.
Eoin Morgan, the England captain, appeared to have an almost endless array of options and variations on hand in the field. And with Adil Rashid producing the third most economical four-over spell of his T20I career (he conceded 17) and Chris Woakes (three overs for 14) and Liam Livingstone (two overs for nine) adding equally miserly support in conceding just one boundary between them, Sri Lanka never looked to be on course for a competitive total.
While Dasun Shanaka, with his second T20I half-century, helped Sri Lanka plunder 25 off the final two overs of the innings to drag his side to something approaching respectability, only one of his colleagues, Kusal Perera, made 20 and Sri Lanka only took their run-rate above a run-a-ball in their penultimate over.
That left England chasing a modest 130 for victory. And even without the injured Ben Stokes, that was unlikely to test the side ranked No. 1 in the world in this format.
Jos Buttler and Jason Roy, took 61 from the powerplay to all but end the game as a contest. If Buttler, timing the ball beautifully both through and over the off side, was the more pleasing on the eye, Roy was no less effective as he thrashed through the leg side. It was some surprise when he was brilliantly caught attempting to flay one over mid-off.
By then, though, the openers had added 80 from 55 balls. And while Dawid Malan (seven off 14) was unable to get into his stride, Buttler brought up a 38-ball half-century by taking 10 off two deliveries from Akila Dananjaya - a pulled six followed by a drive for four - and ensured England cruised over the victory line with quite a bit to spare.
Perhaps the one-side nature of the contest was no big surprise: this was the No. 1 ranked T20 side playing at home against the No. 8 ranked side, after all. Spare a thought for Sri Lanka, though. In the age of Covid, we have become accustomed to teams performing without the warm-up matches and acclimatisation we once expected. Here, though, Sri Lanka were up against a side who are in the middle of their domestic T20 tournament - the Vitality Blast - and had only had a couple of inter-squad matches to prepare by comparison. It was hardly ideal and it may well have shown.
Buttler's opening statement
Buttler came into this game having spent the last couple of weeks batting in Lancashire's middle-order in T20 cricket. And with the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes also vying for the opening position in this format, he may have felt he had something to prove. If so, he did a fine job of making his point with an innings that was both controlled and brutal. Early on, it was his shots through the off-side - a lofted drive and a back foot punch, in particular - that caught the eye, but as the ball softened and the sluggish pitch made such strokes less productive, he produced some powerful thumps through the leg side. He gave only one chance, from the final ball of the match, when an outside edge was dropped by Kusal Perera. It was Buttler's second T20I half-century in succession and his third in four innings. For a man who scores at his rates, that is a remarkable level of consistency. He also scored a century in his final IPL innings.
Shanaka recorded the second half-century of his T20I career to justify his recall to the Sri Lanka side. Shanaka hadn't played an international match in this format since March 2020 but here, coming in with his side in some trouble (they were 52 for 4 in the ninth over), he provided the resistance. He looked hurried by Mark Wood initially - he was beaten by his first three deliveries and, after 16 balls, had scored just nine - but, as he settled, he unveiled some powerful strokes and accelerated nicely in hitting 23 from the eight deliveries before his dismissal from the final ball of the innings. Twice in succession, Wood was punished for some width by being cut to the boundary, while he also hit two-thirds of the sixes of the innings: a ferocious drive over long-on off Chris Jordan and a pull off Sam Curran. None of it was enough to take Sri Lanka to victory but he did, at least, give his bowlers something to defend.
Like a Livingstone
Some were surprised by England's decision to prefer Livingstone to Moeen Ali as their spin-bowling allrounder. But Livingstone's ability to bowl both leg and offspin does give him an edge in being able to adapt to left or right-handed batters. He has been in decent form with the bat in domestic T20 cricket, too, scoring an unbeaten 94 a couple of weeks ago and 45 and 65 in his two most recent games. He didn't have a chance to bat here but impressed with the ball in delivering two well-controlled overs containing both offbreaks and leggies and without conceding a boundary. It was a performance that provided his captain with a buffer should any of his frontline bowlers have an off day and must have done Livingstone's T20 World Cup chances no harm at all.
Hope in Hasaranga
Sri Lanka's bowlers weren't given much of a chance by their batters. But at least Wanindu Hasaranga gave Sri Lanka supporters some cheer with a really well controlled spell of leg-spin that saw him concede just 12 runs and deliver 14 dot balls. With just a little luck he could have had a couple of wickets, too, as England's batters struggled to predict which deliveries would turn and which would skid on. Malan missed one which slid past his outside edge and Bairstow came within an ace of playing on to another which hurried on to him. The impression was that, given a decent target to defend, he could have caused England quite a lot of trouble.
The return of Chris
The last time Chris Woakes played a T20I, Barack Obama was president of the USA and David Cameron was prime minister in the UK. So a lot has changed since November 2015. But with Jofra Archer missing and Woakes having enjoyed a decent IPL, England recalled him for his first international game since September; a remarkably long time for a player with a central contract who spent much of the winter in the squad's bio-bubbles. While Woakes didn't take a wicket, he more than justified his recall in conceding just one boundary in three frugal overs which contained 11 dot balls and cost only 14. With his control, his variations and his experience, he may well have put himself back in contention for a place in the T20 World Cup squad.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo