Sydney: England rode on the experience of Ben Stokes as they scampered their way to the T20 World Cup semi-finals with a four-wicket win over Sri Lanka, the result ending reigning champions and hosts Australia’s campaign in the tournament.
Sri Lankan opener Pathum Nissanka gave them an explosive start with a 45-ball 67 but the English bowlers roared back to restrict them to a modest 141 for eight.
Chasing a tricky target on a dry SCG wicket, Alex Hales (47; 30b) and skipper Jos Buttler (28; 23b) produced a ruthless opening partnership of 75 runs from 43 balls.
From there, they just needed 67 from 77 balls but in no time, half of the English side were down with crafty spinner Wanindu Hasaranga (2/23) once again triggering a collapse.
He dismissed the English openers in addition of just seven runs, before the likes of Dhananjaya de Silva (2/24) and Lahiru Kumara (2/24) got into the act. With their designated No. 3 Dawid Malan injured (groin), England had a rejigged batting order and looked shaky, needing 31 runs in 33 balls when Moeen Ali became Dhananjaya de Silva’s second victim.
But English Test skipper Stokes, looking to find form in this tournament, held his nerves and closed out the chase with a composed 42 not out from 36 balls. He was associated in a nervy 15-run partnership with Chris Woakes.
After rain proved to be a dampener in the Australia-England clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground earlier in the Super 12, the Aussies ended their group stage campaign with seven points, and their semifinal hopes rested on a Lankan win over the Englishmen.
England finished second behind New Zealand in Group 1 and will take on the Group 2 toppers in the last-four.
It was a rollicking start for England as Hales played the role of the aggressor while Buttler took time to settle down.
Gradually, the English skipper also got into the act as he smashed the wily Hasaranga for consecutive fours and a six.
Earlier, Nissanka provided the perfect start as he blazed his way to a 33-ball fifty after his team elected to bat.
The stylish opener took the English attack to the cleaners and slammed five sixes and two fours, but leg-spinner Adil Rashid (4-0-16-1) brilliantly turned it around by taking his maiden wicket of the tournament in the form of Nissanka.
Seamer Sam Curran (4-0-27-1) also bowled a tidy spell in the middle overs as Sri Lanka, who were going at over eight runs an over at the halfway mark, faltered in the back-end.
The lack of power-hitters cost the Lankans dear as boundaries dried up, and they could manage just 25 runs in the last five overs, a phase where they also lost five wickets.
England pacer Mark Wood also overcame a woeful start and hit his straps at the back end to return with 3 for 26 as England denied their opposition about 15-20 extra runs.
Buttler brought in his pace ace Wood in the third over and Mendis took him on in the very first ball with a six over deep square leg. Taking a cue from his opening partner, Nissanka finished the over with another maximum as the over yielded 17 runs.
Rashid’s entry slowed down their run-rate and wickets kept falling at the other end, but Nissanka continued his counter-attacking approach en route to his ninth fifty, and second of this World Cup. Rashid and Curran then pegged the Lankans back with their smart variations.