England will endure far tougher games than this if they are to add the T20 World Cup to the 50-over version they won two years ago. But as early-season statements go, the one made last night by Eoin Morgan’s side could not have been clearer.
It was not so much the result — an eight-wicket win with 17 balls to spare against a team who looked every inch the world’s eighth-best side in this format.
What stood out instead was the manner of victory in the first of 12 white-ball internationals against Sri Lanka and Pakistan over the next four weeks.
Jos Buttler hit an unbeaten 68 and Jason Roy scored 36 as England cruised to the victory
England looked sharp and resourceful in the field, restricting the Sri Lankans to seven fours and three sixes during an underwhelming innings of 129 for seven. A total of 49 dot balls spoke volumes for their discipline.
And by the time they lost their first wicket in the chase, with Jason Roy acrobatically caught at mid-off by Danushka Gunathilaka, England had 80 on the board in the 10th over.
On his return to the side, Jos Buttler finished unbeaten on 68 off 55 deliveries, even if his winning single came courtesy of a drop by wicketkeeper Kusal Perera.
Comparisons between formats can be facile, but while England’s No 1 ranked T20 side were strutting their stuff in the Welsh capital, it was hard not to think back to the stuttering performance of Joe Root’s Test team against New Zealand across the border at Edgbaston. Red ball or white, a stroll in Sophia Gardens was just what English cricket needed.
England looked sharp and resourceful in the field with Chris Jordan taking three catches
Morgan has earmarked the next few weeks as a chance for fringe players to state their case for the autumn World Cup, which now looks likely to be shifted from Covid-hit India to the UAE. And that may lead to a small but significant change in strategy.
In India in March, a seam-friendly pitch in Ahmedabad meant England played only one frontline spinner throughout the five-match series, leaving Moeen Ali to carry the drinks. But the heat and pitches of the Middle East may demand a second spinner, and yesterday Liam Livingstone threw his hat into the ring.
Sending down a mixture of off-spin and leg-breaks, he struck with his fifth delivery, winning an lbw shout as Kusal Mendis missed a sweep, and hurried through two overs for just nine.
Adil Rashid bowled with his customary excellence — he barely broke sweat taking two for 17 — but Livingstone’s bowling gives him an edge over Sam Billings, a potential rival for the No 6 spot.
Eoin Morgan’s side began their World Cup preparations with an emphatic victory
While Livingstone is a relatively new kid on international cricket’s block, Chris Woakes had more points to prove than seems reasonable for a man with more than 250 wickets for England.
Not only was this his first game for his country since September, following a miserable winter in which he had to self-isolate on arrival in Sri Lanka, then failed to play at all before England left India two months later. It was also his first T20 international since late 2015. And Woakes wasted no time in reminding Morgan what he might offer in the powerplay overs — an area of concern for the captain over the past couple of years.
He conceded just two from the game’s first over, and seven from the third — including a misfield that cost four. It is a strong side that can afford to leave him out.
There was pace from Mark Wood, who repeatedly topped 90mph, left-arm guile from Sam Curran, and knowhow from Chris Jordan — until his figures took a dent at the hands of Dasun Shanaka, whose defiant 50 dragged Sri Lanka past three figures.
With Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes set to be added to the mix once they return from injury, and Moeen waiting with inhuman levels of patience in the wings, England are not lacking options.
Sri Lanka limped to 129-7 in 20 overs, with Dasun Shanaka making 50 on Wednesday night
A perfectionist might have wanted the batsmen to face a tougher target at a venue where the average first-innings score in six previous T20 internationals is 150. But Roy and Buttler set about it with contempt, and England’s six-over powerplay score of 61 without loss dwarfed Sri Lanka’s 39 for two.
After Roy had departed for 36 off 22 balls, Buttler raced to a 38-ball half-century that included a straight six in the direction of the River Taff.
Only Dawid Malan, who was bowled by Udana for seven off 14, missed the boat, but England could easily absorb both his innings, and a tidy spell of leg-spin from Wanindu Hasaranga, whose four overs went for just 12.
No international victory should be taken for granted, and the last time England hosted Sri Lanka for a white-ball game was during the 2019 World Cup at Headingley, where Morgan’s men slipped to a chastening 20-run defeat.
But the one-sidedness of this match means that anything other than another comfortable win in tonight’s second game here will feel like a letdown.
And Morgan looks like a captain who means business.