Match Analysis

England find the squeeze when it matters to keep World Cup dream alive

Nervy chase highlights importance of bowlers' fightback on used pitch at Sydney

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
On a used pitch at the SCG where England were going to have to chase, Sri Lanka sat at 52 for 1 after five overs. The pressure was squarely on Jos Buttler's team and there will have been a few interested Australians taking notice.
Eventually they got the win to book a semi-final in Adelaide, though they made sure those Australians watching will have kept the television on longer than looked likely. When Moeen Ali fell, 31 were needed from 33 balls with Dawid Malan carrying a groin injury; when Sam Curran hooked to long leg it was 13 off 12.
"I'm not a great watcher to be honest," Buttler said, having been spotted chewing his nails in the dugout. "So I didn't enjoy that much but we knew we had to find a way to win the game coming here today, so thankfully we did that."
The strain to get over the line emphasised how important it had been that they weren't chasing anything more challenging. For a while, as Buttler and Alex Hales compiled the highest powerplay score of the tournament, it looked as though the win would be capped by the white-ball batting that has become England's trademark, but the fact it became a scramble brought into focus that it was a victory for the bowlers.
"If we could have maybe nipped one more wicket there, it would have made things very interesting," Sri Lanka head Chris Silverwood said, after a first meeting with his former team. "We thought if we could have got 20 more runs, maybe 160 would have been a very competitive score."
Whichever way it is broken down, the manner in which England squeezed after the opening five overs was outstanding: Sri Lanka made 89 off 15 overs and 61 from the final 10. From the 16th into the 19th over, there was a 20-ball period where nothing more than a single was scored.
Although Chris Woakes removed Kusal Mendis in the fourth over, Sri Lanka had flown away inside the powerplay and Buttler was desperate to reassert some control. Adil Rashid started the repair work by conceding just two runs off the last over of the fielding restrictions to begin what was a superb spell. It finished as the fourth time in his T20I career that he had bowled a boundary-less four overs and they have all come against Sri Lanka. What made that more noteworthy was that he was always bowling with the shorter boundary to the off side, therefore a hit with the turn for the Sri Lankans, but they couldn't manage it.
"Having lost the toss, we knew the wicket would probably slow up as the game went on being a used wicket," Buttler said. "I thought it was a fantastic over from Adil Rashid at the back end of the powerplay to change the momentum."
Coming into the match Rashid had figures of 1 for 168 from the five games he had played on this trip to Australia, although he had bowled better than those suggest, and the vital wicket of Pathum Nissanka took him level as England's leading men's bowler in the format with Chris Jordan, who took the catch as a substitute.
But when Rashid finished after the 16th over, England still needed to close out well to ensure they weren't chasing something upwards of 160 which would have left less room for error. The previous over of seam in the innings, the 15th from Woakes, had gone for 12 even as he varied his pace and used cutters, which have been effective on this surface throughout the last three matches.
For the last four overs, though, Buttler entrusted the job to two highly contrasting bowlers; the left-arm skiddiness and low angle of Curran and the high-octane pace of Mark Wood whose previous over had gone for 17 amid Sri Lanka's early onslaught. They produced a masterclass in closing out an innings.
Wood was too quick for Dasun Shanaka and the lower order, with only one delivery in his two overs going for more than one run either off the bat or as an extra. At the other end, Curran continued what is becoming one of the performances of the World Cup - his evolution as a go-to death bowler from a player who may not have been in the first-choice XI. Shanaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa could barely connect with his combination of slower balls and yorkers, the latter with which he has shown tremendous control. The only boundary he conceded in his final 12 balls was when Wanindu Hasaranga inside-edged one of those yorkers down to fine leg.
"He's someone who keeps growing and growing," Buttler said. "He's that sort of fierce competitor who wants to be in the tough moments. He's got real method to what he's doing and he's got a lot of different options which makes him tough to line up."
Since arriving in Australia, Curran has taken 15 wickets at 10.26 with an economy of 6.79, 10 of them coming in the World Cup. He is the joint-leading wicket-taker among those who have played only in the Super 12s. The death-over figures across those four matches mark him out even further: he has bowled 41 balls and conceded just 34 runs. For bowlers who have sent down at least 20 balls in the death phase (overs 17-20) he is the most miserly.
In a tight T20 game there are many moments and small phases of play that can be picked out as critical. Hales' impact in the powerplay gave England what became vital breathing space and Ben Stokes, not for the first time, was there when it really mattered. But for a team that has made its name on their free-wheeling white-ball batting, it has been the bowlers that have got them into the semi-finals.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo