Chamari Athapaththu sets up T20 series decider as Sri Lanka cruise past England

Chamari Athapaththu sets up T20 series decider as Sri Lanka cruise past England

Chamari Athapaththu scored a half-century and took a key wicket as Sri Lanka defeated England at Chelmsford. Photograph: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Source : theguardian

England may come to regret treating their September series against Sri Lanka as an Ashes afterthought. Saturday’s T20 at Chelmsford was an embarrassing display of hubris, which the hosts lost by eight wickets, after being bowled out for 104 in 18 overs – their worst performance at home since Australia saw them off for 87 eight years ago.

Heather Knight, though, was still bullish. The captain said: “We’ve had a bad day, we’ve lost a game of cricket. There’s not going to be a big inquiry about it. We haven’t played well and Sri Lanka have given us a bit of humble pie.”

Inquiry or not, the reality is that Sri Lanka have not beaten them in international cricket in more than a decade, and never before in a T20 international – and this was not just a defeat, but a hammering.

It was a sign of the times that the sell-out Essex crowd cheered loudly when England’s total tipped over 100 – it was about the only thing they had to cheer about all afternoon.

That milestone came courtesy of a ninth-wicket partnership between Issy Wong and Charlie Dean, who slammed three consecutive fours off Inoka Ranaweera before finally being yorked by Udeshika Prabodhani to end England’s miserable effort with 12 balls left unbowled.

The captain, Chamari Athapaththu, then unleashed an astonishing display of power-hitting with the ball sailing firstly out of the ground and then over the top of the sightscreen, as she brought up a half-century in just 26 balls. England’s new-ball pair, Kate Cross and Dani Gibson, were punished for 36 runs off their opening three overs and this time there was no Sophie Ecclestone to bail England out.

Instead, Wong – playing her first international since December 2022 – was thrown into the lion’s den. Perhaps she had solved the rhythm issues that have plagued her all summer? Apparently not. Three no-balls and a wide, 12 runs off the over; and then, to add insult to injury, Knight brought her back to bowl a second, with 13 runs needed for the win. It went for 12 and a young bowler who coach Jon Lewis admitted pre-series was struggling with confidence issues was back to square one.

Two balls later, Harshitha Samarawickrama (30 not out) clobbered a six over midwicket and Sri Lanka were celebrating a famous win.

Danni Wyatt is bowled by Chamari Athapaththu during England’s defeat by Sri Lanka. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters

Knight defended the decision to bowl Wong, saying that her role was to “keep backing her”: “We wanted to get a bit of context of where she is at. She’s been trying a few things and listening to a lot of different voices, which has led to her run-up issues. She didn’t really have those earlier in the summer.”

This was almost the exact same England batting lineup that smashed 186 runs in 17 overs against Sri Lanka at Hove on Thursday (Wong the one change). Here, they looked as if they were expecting it to be easy, and could not quite work out what to do when facing conditions that suited Sri Lanka – bright sunshine and a hybrid pitch at a ground known to offer turn.

At the other end off-spinner Inoshi Fernando, who missed out on selection in the opening game, immediately made her presence felt. Dot, dot, dot, dot, dot to the hot head of Alice Capsey. Trying to break the shackles in the next over, Capsey holed out to mid-off – none other than Fernando.

Fernando then chimed in with a wicket of her own: Maia Bouchier tapping up an easy catch to extra cover, minutes after whip-cracking a beautiful boundary through point.

By the time Fernando came back to bowl the 12th over, the middle order had collapsed in a heap. In the scrambled panic from England, the spinner took her second wicket, and Sri Lanka’s seventh, as Gibson fell to an excellent diving catch at short third man, attempting the reverse.

Time to wish England good luck before the series decider at Derby on Wednesday. They are going to need it.

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