Sri Lanka 110 for 2 (Athapaththu 55) beat England 104 (Dean 34, Fernando 2-16, Dilhari 2-17) by eight wickets
After winning her second toss of the series and choosing to bowl first, Athapaththu showed her team how it needed to be done by bowling the dangerous Danni Wyatt for 1 in her first over, and never let up in her leadership thereafter, as England were hustled out for 104 in 18 overs – a far cry from the 186 for 4 that they had posted in just 17 overs in Thursday’s opening fixture.
Then, sensing a chance to crush England from the outset of the chase, Athapaththu climbed onto the offensive with the bat, cracking eight fours and two sixes with similarly positive support from Harshitha Samarawickrama, who sealed the contest with a massive swipe over midwicket to finish unbeaten on 30 from 35 balls.
Chamari sets the powerplay tone
Speaking at the toss, Athapaththu insisted – with some justification as things turned out – there had been some “positives” to take from a one-sided series opener at Hove, but recognised that their bowling had to improve after England had romped along at close to two a ball on that occasion.
And so the skipper herself added that burden to her already broadly laden shoulders, to set the tone for an astonishingly unrelentingly display. Despite one loose ball that Maia Bouchier carved for four, Athapaththu’s remit in the contest’s first over was to keep the stumps in play as much as possible, on a hybrid wicket that offered a touch of grip for her spinners, and in sunny afternoon conditions a world away from the dank misery of Hove.
The gambit paid agenda-setting dividends with the sixth ball of Athapaththu’s over. A beautifully flighted offbreak lured Danni Wyatt on the drive, but a hint of dip and spin bowled her clean through the gate for 1. Suddenly a partnership that had realised 77 from 45 balls at Hove had been broken before it had begun, and that carefree youth that had so flourished in game one had a different scenario to counter.
Inoshi in on the action
Alice Capsey had made a belligerent 51 from 27 on that occasion; here she was restricted to an anxious 3 from 9 as Inoshi Fernando followed her skipper’s lead in her first outing of the series. First, her tall offbreaks pinned Capsey to the crease for five consecutive dot-balls and a single, then she snapped the trap shut in the field one over later. Itching to break the shackles, Capsey lashed through the line at Sugandika Kumari and Fernando was almost blown off her feet at mid-off as she clung on well to a flat chance.
Bouchier by this stage had connected well on another cuff through the covers, but Fernando’s impact was not done yet. The first ball of her second over was flapped in ungainly fashion straight to Kavisha Dilhari at extra cover, and Bouchier attempted to bend her bat around her helmet as she traipsed off for 12 from 10. Not only were England truly in the m(aia)ire at 21 for 3, but she’d missed a golden opportunity to rebuild a faltering innings, and seize the opportunity for seniority that she’s been handed in the absence of the likes of Tammy Beaumont and Nat Sciver-Brunt.
Old guard falter too
Instead, England’s hopes were reinvested in a familiar pair of middle-order stalwarts. Heather Knight and Amy Jones saw out a powerplay that, at 32 for 3, realised less than half the 66 for 0 that Sri Lanka had been subjected to at Hove, but neither batter really exuded an air of permanence in an uncompromising match situation – least of all Jones, who so nearly holed out to backward point as an attempted reverse-sweep off Fernando fell inches short.
On 10, Knight successfully over-turned an lbw decision after her attempted reverse-sweep was shown to have flicked her glove before crashing into the pad, but one over later, Jones’ scratchy stay was ended in the opposite fashion – Ranaweera trapped her on the back pad, and after Atapaththu’s last-ditch decision to review, the ball was shown to be thumping the top of leg stump.
Jones was gone for a run-a-ball 12, and if 41 for 4 in the eighth over was a dicey scenario, England’s issues were only just beginning. Freya Kemp picked off two singles off two legal deliveries, only to be stumped off a wide in Dilhari’s next over, as she galloped out of her crease for Sanjeewani to gather well down the leg-side and beat her despairing dive, and all hopes of a competitive total ended when Knight spooned a back-foot punch back to Ranaweera. At 48 for 6, England were fully braced for ignominy.
Dean digs for double-figures
Only Charlie Dean, last out for a feisty 34 from 26, found anything like the requisite blend of endurance and aggression, including three fours in a row off Ranaweera – two firm sweeps and a well-dispatched full toss.
At the other end, however, the progression continued. Danielle Gibson opted for aggression without endurance, as she survived a slash through deep third that flew inches wide of the fielder, before scuffing a reverse-sweep straight into the lap of backward square.
Cross, Wong bear powerplay brunt
If England thought their day had hit its nadir, Athapaththu had further indignities to deliver. She signalled her intention to keep the hammer down with a second-ball drive for four off Kate Cross, and even though Sanjeewani fell in Gibson’s subsequent over (after two no-balls had hinted at England’s anxieties), Sri Lanka’s captain was only just getting warmed up.
Cross’s second over was utterly taken to the cleaners – 21 runs in total, compromising three blazed fours in a row and a simply vast flog over square leg, off the roof off the Felsted School Stand and into the garden of a bemused lady looking on from her balcony. After some similarly rough treatment at the back-end of the first T20I, Cross’s figures for the series now read 4.2-0-55-0 – a reminder perhaps her impeccable lines have been overlooked in this format since 2019.
Nothing, however, was quite as gruesome as the public pillorying that Wong would endure in her first international over of the summer. Her absence from the firing line has been a bit of an ongoing mystery in recent months, given the excitement that surrounded her all-round game last summer, but here was public evidence of a player at war with her own technique.
Her first over of the match lasted for ten deliveries, the first four of which amounted to a tragicomedy in themselves – a huge front-foot no-ball that Harshitha Samarawickrama flicked off her pads for four, followed by a flick to deep square leg off that most of the crowd failed to realise was a free hit . Another leg-side no-ball followed, then another catch off the free hit – an astounding one as it happens, as Cross at mid-off snaffled the ball in her outstretched right hand.
By the end of it all, Wong could only grin in self-effacement as Glenn jogged down to give her a consoling pat on the shoulder, and as Sri Lanka blazed towards their victory target with barely a shot out of place, it was something of a surprise to see her reintroduced with 13 runs still needed and little left to be gained. Three more drilled boundaries duly drew the scores level, leaving Harshitha to heave Cross into the pavilion for the winning six.
Wong’s inclusion for this match had come at the expense of England’s new young thing, Mahika Gaur, and her struggles rather underlined the importance of Knight’s pre-series warning about the youth in this team. Expecting too much too soon is a dangerous thing.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket