England beat Sri Lanka by 26 runs in Group 1 of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021 in Sharjah to put one foot firmly in the semi-finals.
An astonishing Jos Buttler century helped England to victory over Sri Lanka in Group 1 in Sharjah.
Buttler reached his ton with a six off the final ball of the first innings, with the brilliant 101* his highest individual score in T20 international cricket.
And Buttler played a crucial role in the field as Sri Lanka threatened to push England close in their chase of 164, with the wicketkeeper pulling off two excellent run-outs, the second with an inspired direct hit.
Sri Lanka’s reply petered out in the end, with Moeen Ali (2/15) picking up two wickets in the penultimate over to wrap up the innings with six balls remaining and Sri Lanka still 26 runs shy.
Sri Lanka’s Wandindu Hasaranga top-scored in the unsuccessful chase with a quick-fire 34 that had England worried.
And Hasaranga was the pick of the Sri Lankan bowlers too, with three for 21 off his four overs, becoming the fifth-fastest bowler in men's history to reach 50 T20I wickets in the process.
Powerplay inroads for Sri Lanka
Earlier, England faced a new challenge after losing the toss and being put in to bat on a low and skiddy Sharjah picked. But the Group 1 leaders started well, knocking 12 off the opening over with Jason Roy showing intent to take the attack to Sri Lanka.
However, Roy’s offensive lasted just one ball against Hasaranga, with the spinner skidding a googly under Roy’s attempted sweep and cleaning him up.
Dawid Malan, in at three, received a let-off on six when an inside edge off Dushmantha Chameera fell fractionally short of the keeper. But the top-ranked batter in T20I cricket fell the very next delivery, playing all around a peach of an inswinger to leave England 34/2.
And the decision to bring back Hasaranga for a second over in the Powerplay reaped rewards when Jonny Bairstow came down the track to his first ball and was struck on the pads. Sri Lanka reviewed and three reds sent Bairstow back for a duck, leaving England in trouble for the first time in the tournament.
Eoin Morgan struggled to get going through the middle overs but stuck with Buttler as the pair rebuilt towards the death, with the England captain eventually falling to Hasaranga for 40 off 36 balls.
But it was all about Buttler in the second half of the innings as England’s in-form opener raced through the gears, hitting 77 off his final 37 deliveries and finishing with 12 boundaries and six maximums in his outstanding 101*.
Buttler becomes the first England men's international to have hit a century in all three formats - T20I, ODI and Test cricket.
Struggles in the chase
Buttler was back in the thick of the action straight away in the field as he combined with Morgan to run out Pathum Nissanka off only the third ball of the innings.
England bowled four overs of spin in the Powerplay for the first time in T20I cricket, with Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone all called into action.
But it was an approach that paid dividends, with Rashid (2/19) picking up the scalps of first Charith Asalnka and then Kusal Perera to leave Sri Lanka 34-3 and needing a sizeable rebuild of their own.
And when Chris Jordan struck, trapping Avishka Fernando in-front for 13, Sri Lanka’s hopes of reaching the 164-run target seemed some way off, with the score 66-4 at the halfway stage.
Sri Lanka tee off
But Sri Lanka made a real game of it through the middle overs. Bhanuka Rajapaksa got the run rate flowing with 26 off 18 balls, before a dangerous partnership took the game deep.
Captain Dasun Shanaka and the exceptional Hasaranga put together a partnership of 53 to make England sweat.
And England’s afternoon got even more complicated when death-bowling specialist Tymal Mills pulled up with an injury midway through his second over and was forced to depart the field, leaving Morgan short of bowling options.
But two stunning bits of fielding delivered for England just when the game looked to be slipping away.
A brilliant catch from Jason Roy, flicking the ball back to substitute fielder Sam Billings, removed Hasaranga for 34 off 21.
And an inspired direct hit from Buttler as Sri Lanka attempted a quick single did for Shanaka, effectively ending the hopes of the chase.
Ali finished the job with the ball, taking on the penultimate over and picking up the final two wickets to leave Sri Lanka all-out for 137.
The result makes it four wins from four in the Super 12 stage for England, essentially confirming the world’s top-ranked T20I side as winners of Group 1, barring an unlikely set of results and a huge shift in net run rate.
Sri Lanka are not mathematically out of the tournament, but must beat West Indies heavily to improve their net run rate and hope that South Africa and Australia both fail to pick up any more points.