Jos Buttler guides England to victory after bowlers put squeeze on Sri Lanka
Jos Buttler was at his belligerent best after a polished bowling display from England, who drew first blood in their Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka with an eight-wicket victory in Cardiff.
Sri Lanka were restricted to a paltry 129 for seven after winning the toss, with a number of batsmen struggling to time the ball, but England had no such worries, overhauling their target under the lights with 17 balls to spare.
Buttler thrashed eight fours and one six out of Sophia Gardens in his 68 not out from 55 balls as the world number one T20 side were given few problems by a Sri Lanka team who have lost 10 of their last 11 completed T20 matches.
It was Buttler’s ninth half-century in just 20 T20 innings when he has opened for England.
Adil Rashid took two for 17 from his four overs and impressively did not concede a single boundary while Sri Lanka were ultimately grateful for Dasun Shanaka’s 50 from 44 balls on an evening where Chris Woakes was the only England bowler not to take a wicket in his first T20 international since November 2015.
Woakes did set the tone for a disciplined performance, conceding a single and a wide after sharing new-ball duties – in the absence of the injured Jofra Archer – with Sam Curran, who made the breakthrough when Avishka Fernando clubbed a half-volley to Chris Jordan at mid-off.
Jordan got himself in the wickets column when Danushka Gunathilaka, emboldened after three successive fours, went for a scoop, only succeeding in looping to Jos Buttler behind the stumps, with England putting the squeeze on thereafter.
In an attempt to cast off the shackles, Kusal Mendis went for a sweep off Liam Livingstone, included ahead of Moeen Ali with Ben Stokes unavailable, but was rapped on the front pad by the all-rounder, who utilised a mixture of off and leg-breaks to good effect.
Mendis reviewed the lbw decision but trudged off after watching the first replay.
With Dhananjaya de Silva steering the expensive Mark Wood to third man, much seemed to rest on the shoulders of Sri Lanka captain Kusal Perera.
He swiped Wood over long-leg for six, but in attempting to take the attack to Rashid he could only loft to Jordan running in from long-off.
Wanindu Hasaranga perished in exactly the same fashion after Shanaka had carved Wood for a couple of fours, but Sri Lanka’s inability to take advantage of the short boundaries at the venue was indicative of their struggles.
They belatedly reached three figures in the 17th over before Shanaka briefly lit up proceedings with sixes off Jordan and Curran en route to a 43-ball half-century. But he perished from the next and last delivery of the innings after spooning Curran straight up in the air, allowing Buttler another simple catch.
The total seemed modest at halfway and, while Jason Roy flashed and missed from the first two balls of the reply, Sri Lanka’s score was put into some context when England’s openers raced to 80 for nought in nine overs.
Some trademark Buttler drives and cuts saw him find the rope with regularity and, after a loose start, Roy soon joined in the fun, flaying Nuwan Pradeep straight down the ground for six.
Roy perished for 36 from 22 deliveries after picking out Gunathilaka, who took an outstanding catch leaping full-length to his left at mid-off, but Buttler heaved Akila Dananjaya out of the ground before bringing up a 38-ball fifty immediately afterwards.
Dawid Malan saw his stumps splayed after being beaten by one that nipped back from left-arm seamer Isuru Udana and, although England slowed down a touch as they approached the finish line, there never seemed to be any danger that the result was in any doubt.
Jonny Bairstow slog swept Dananjaya into the crowd to level the scores before handing over to Buttler, who got England over the line in fortuitous fashion, getting a thick edge which was dropped behind the stumps by Perera.
That allowed England to scamper through for a single and go 1-0 up in the three-match series, which resumes at the same venue on Thursday evening.
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