England, its host for a majority of the tour, has comprehensively outplayed it in both Tests and ODIs so far, and in doing so, has claimed an unassailable lead in the new multi-format points system. So it is that when the two sides clash one final time in a Twenty20 International at the Rose Bowl in Southampton on Tuesday (July 5), Sri Lanka will be fighting to avoid a clean sweep across formats.
After a 0-2 loss in the Tests and a 0-3 reversal in the ODIs, Sri Lanka will find it a struggle to boost morale. After the final ODI – a comprehensive 122-run loss in Cardiff – Angelo Mathews, the captain, found himself fending off questions about his captaincy, saying: “This is a tough time for me as a captain and for the whole unit. But you can’t run away from it.”
The hope was that the ODIs would help Sri Lanka emerge strong from its troubles in Tests, the hope stemming from the possibility of the shorter format narrowing the gap between the teams. However, England – a markedly different side in limited-overs internationals since Sri Lanka defeated it in the ICC World Cup 2015 – proved too strong once again, and apart from the first ODI which ended in a tie, was comprehensive winner in the remaining three completed matches.
The problem for Sri Lanka has been that its departments have struggled to work in tandem. The batsmen posted 305 for 5 in the fourth ODI, but the bowlers struggled to restrict England to below that score. Then, when England set it 325 to win in the fifth, its batsmen were contained to 202. “I’m pretty sure if we keep improving day by day, we can come out of this hole,” said Mathews after the final ODI. “For the past two months, we’ve been having the same problems, either batting, bowling or fielding has let us down in every single game.”
Ahead of the final clash of what has been a tiresome series, Sri Lanka will hope to depart with its heads held high. A late cameo or a couple of miscues usually prove decisive in T20s, and Sri Lanka knows it has its best chance yet to put one over England. Recent form doesn’t favour Sri Lanka in that respect either – England reached the final of the ICC World T20 2016, while the Sri Lankans failed to get out of their group.
England, meanwhile, is expected to blood a few youngsters in the one-off clash, including Tymal Mills, the paceman. He comes with a reputation for searing pace, something that gained momentum after he roughed up Chris Gayle during the NatWest T20 blast last month. "I'd love to see him play. I won't be the sole selector, but from my point of view, it would be great to see someone like that charge and give it everything," said Trevor Bayliss, the England coach. "It's good to see some batsmen ducking and weaving.”
Eoin Morgan, the England captain, spoke before the ODIs of how much of a confidence booster it was for the side to reach the ICC World T20 2016 final, and warned of coping with bigger expectations. Those expectations would only have increased after its performances in the series so far.
England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Sam Billings, Johnny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan, David Malan, Tymal Mills, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, James Vince, David Willey.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Upul Tharanga, Dhananjaya de Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Kusal Mendis, Dasun Shanaka, Farveez Maharoof, Suraj Randiv, Seekkuge Prasanna.