England’s one-day bandwagon may continue to roll on after victory over Sri Lanka made it nine series wins in a row but captain Eoin Morgan is keen for his side to stay grounded.
The fourth one-day international followed a familiar pattern in Pallekele, with the world’s number one side proving too good for their hosts but thunderstorms preventing a full game from unfolding.
The tourists were home and dry in the pavilion when they awarded an 18-run win on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method, and with it an unassailable 3-0 lead.
No England side have ever won more consecutive series, though any claim this team have as record-breakers in that regard is compromised somewhat by their upset at the hands of Scotland in a standalone clash in June.
“It’s nice, but I think we have to continue being honest with ourselves,” said Morgan.
“We have played some good cricket along the way and the series that probably stand out are India in particular, Australia and New Zealand away. But we haven’t played great cricket so far in this tour.
“We are quite honest with where we’re at and where we need to improve. Today it was fielding, we were quite rusty, and we maybe could have been more disciplined in the areas that we bowled.”
England were set a challenging target of 274, and were comfortably in front of the DLS par at 132 for two when the rains set in.
Yet their margin would have dropped to just five runs had they lost a third wicket. That they did not was down to a costly error in the field, Joe Root reprieved by a no-ball call when umpire Lyndon Hannibal spotted an extra player outside the 30-yard circle.
“If it was not a no-ball we could have won the game but that’s our mistake and we are taking that,” said Morgan’s dejected opposite number Dinesh Chandimal.
Morgan admitted it was a closer equation than he would have liked, adding: “Myself and Joe got a couple of boundaries away and we were well ahead of it but it certainly would have brought DLS right up if Joe had been given out. The umpire called it straight away, I didn’t even notice it.”
England are now likely to make several changes for Tuesday’s dead rubber in Colombo. Sam Curran and Mark Wood have sat on the sidelines all series and can expect to feature, with Liam Plunkett and Joe Denly also probables after joining up with the squad this week.
“I think there’s an opportunity to make some changes, particularly the guys who haven’t played yet,” said Morgan.
“There’s guys who have played who haven’t really participated yet – Jos (Buttler) has only had one bat – but we have to try and make the most of what is probably a bad situation with the rain.”
Jonny Bairstow will go for a scan in Colombo on Sunday after missing the win with a twisted right ankle sustained playing football on the eve of the match.
“We’ll know more tomorrow. I haven’t seen him most of the day, he’s been icing it,” said Morgan, who also confirmed the much-loved kick around would not be banned as a result of the incident.
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Eoin Morgan’s side were almost halfway through their pursuit of 274 when the thunderstorms which have blighted the tour made their way to Pallekele and ensured the result would be decided by the mathematicians once again.
The final margin of victory, 18 runs on Duckworth-Lewis-Stern, was comfortable but England’s closing position of 132-2 after 27 overs would have been worse had Joe Root not been reprieved in unusual circumstances.
Root was on 22 when he was caught at short fine leg, only for umpire Lyndon Hannibal to signal no-ball having spotted a fifth fielder outside the circle.
The wicket was scrubbed off, tipping the DLS equation further against Sri Lanka, and a clerical oversight was turned into a decisive moment as Root and Morgan’s 56-run stand nudged England over the line.
If the rain-soaked finale lacked drama, it nevertheless continued the tourists’ dominance in a format where they have won their last nine series – a sequence only interrupted by a shock one-off loss to Scotland.
Chris Woakes delivered his usual reliable stint after Morgan opted to bowl first, allowing just 10 runs from five testing overs and drawing an edge from Sadeera Samarawickrama to open England’s account.
Niroshan Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal proved less obliging, settling down to a low-risk partnership worth 70 runs for the second-wicket.
Moeen Ali eventually drew errors from both men, Chandimal charging at one that spun sharply and hit off stump and Dickwella lbw for 52 on the sweep.
From 89-1 Sri Lanka were soon 102-4, Adil Rashid taking care of Kusal Mendis lbw on his way to the tidiest figures of the day, just 36 from his 10 overs.
Dasun Shanaka fared better than the rest by collaring the leg-spinner for two sixes, though the second owed as much to Alex Hales’ generous fielding on the rope.
Shanaka went on to hit five maximums including two in a row off Olly Stone, who had the least encouraging display of his maiden series as he went wicketless at 7.14 an over.
After reaching a career-best 66 Shanaka was needlessly run out at the non-striker’s end, leaving Thisara Perera (44) and Akila Dananjaya to (32 not out) to continue the good work.
England were slightly ragged in the final 10 overs, shipping 83 as they failed to halt a charge which saw Sri Lanka close the innings in good heart.
The chase began with some cheap runs, Dickwella gifting two sets of four byes from Lasith Malinga’s first over. When Jason Roy punched the next ball past cover it already felt like a large chunk of hard-won momentum had been reversed.
Roy continued to chip away at the target against the spin of Amila Aponso, clubbing successive deliveries down the ground for four and six.
Hales, standing in for the injured Jonny Bairstow, was less assertive and by the time he was smartly stumped pressing forward at Akila Dananjaya the stand-in opener had scored only 12 of England’s 54.
Root also started quietly and the cause took a blow when Roy, happily claiming responsibility for keeping the rate up as he made 45, was given lbw on review to an innocuous leg-stump delivery from Dananjaya.
With thick, dark clouds rolling in it quickly became apparent that the full 50 overs would not be bowled, placing an emphasis on DLS par.
A third wicket would have vastly improved the home side’s chances but once the moment passed Root (32 not out) and Morgan (31 not out) ensured England were safe when the weather changed.
Liam Plunkett is relaxed about inviting competition for his England place after missing the start of the Sri Lanka tour to get married.
Plunkett’s wedding with long-term American partner Emeleah took place last Saturday in the Cotswolds, the same day his team-mates were busy winning the second one-day international 5,000 miles away in Dambulla.
The 33-year-old booked the date when it looked as though the Test leg would be held in October but when the fixtures flipped, Plunkett put family first.
He and his new wife have now joined the trip, with an unusual honeymoon itinerary that takes in two ODIs and a Twenty20.
Yet competition for places has risen in his absence, with rookie seamers Olly Stone and Tom Curran taking advantage of the senior man’s absence to make impressive contributions in the series.
“We were so far into the wedding preparation…a lot of people had booked flights and I wasn’t interested in paying them back!” said Plunkett of his decision to press ahead.
“I spoke to Morgs (captain Eoin Morgan), and the hierarchy, and he encouraged me to go ahead with it. In the back of your mind you know someone will come in and do well, but that’s just sport., right? It’s good for the team that people come in and do well.
“Hopefully I get the nod and play one or two games here but if not I’ll hopefully get a go again.”
Plunkett is not expected to feature in the fourth game of the series, in Kandy on Saturday, due to a lack of acclimatisation time but is unlikely to be kept on the sidelines for long.
Since coming back into the side after the 2015 World Cup debacle he is England’s most successful 50-over pace bowler, taking 75 wickets in 44 games at an average of 27.45. Among seamers only South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada and New Zealand’s Trent Boult have been more prolific in that time.
“It’s nice to have some credit in the bank, it’s not been a one-off over the last few years,” he said.
“I think England know what I can bring to the game. But if someone comes in and gets four or five then it’s hard to say no to them. We’ve seen it with the batting, with the top two changing a bit.
“If I don’t get the nudge I will graft hard. People forget for the first seven years of my England career, I didn’t play much, I was 12th man or 13th man the whole time. I know how to deal with the situation.”
Given England’s extensive touring commitments wives, girlfriends and children are welcome visitors on the team’s winter travels, a policy Plunkett was happy to take advantage of.
“I got married, I couldn’t just say ‘cheers, thanks for being my wife. See you in a month’,” he joked. “It’s nice that she gets to come out, she’s doing her own thing while we train and I’m glad to be here.”