For the fifth time on Sri Lanka’s sorry tour, England cruised to victory. This one, by eight wickets, sealed the ODI series with a game to spare, and saw Sam Curran take a maiden international five-wicket haul. And while there were fifties for Jason Roy and Joe Root, it was Eoin Morgan’s welcome return to form that will have pleased England most.
When Morgan stuck Sri Lanka in and they fell to 21 for four, the game appeared to be following a similar – if more extreme – path to Tuesday’s opening ODI at the Riverside. At that stage, it appeared that the 14,000 people at the Kia Oval, the biggest crowd here since the 2019 Ashes, were on the way to being short-changed, and might be left with an evening to fill.
But Dhananjya de Silva, back in a bolstered batting lineup, led a spirited resistance with a counter-attacking 91, and Sri Lanka recovered to post 241 for nine from their 50 overs.
As the great pairing Roy – back after a hamstring injury, for Liam Livingstone – and Jonny Bairstow got to work sharing a run-a-ball 76, an England victory never looked in doubt. But both men fell, and the chase was dragged out to the 43rd over. Root made his second unobtrusive half-century of the series, while Morgan ended a run of 15 innings for England without a fifty to see them home with the minimum of fuss.
It was England’s left-arm seamers that won the game for them. Chris Woakes – as he so often is – was rested, meaning a rare start for Tom Curran, and his brother Sam sharing the new ball with David Willey.
That pair provided a frenetic start to the game. In the opening over, Pathum Nissanka was given out lbw to Willey, and reviewed. but it was overturned. In the second over, Kusal Perera and Avishka Fernando were given out lbw to Curran. Both reviewed, but neither was overturned. In his next over, Curran bowled Nissanka through a gaping gate. Having come into the game with seven ODI wickets in nine balls, he had three more in nine balls.
When Charith Asalanka pulled Willey straight to midwicket, Sri Lanka had slumped to 21 for four, and looked in desperate straits.
Just as Perera had at Durham, de Silva assumed the role of senior citizen and began the rebuild with Wanindu Hasaranaga. They shared 65 before Hasaranga got greedy, pulling Curran to the deep, but de Silva cracked on, continuing to flay delightfully crisp boundaries off seam and spin. His partnership with Dasun Shanaka was worth 80 by the time he was caught in the deep off Willey, nine short of a maiden ODI century.
The tail wagged once more, but Willey returned to dismiss Shanaka and Curran bounced out Chamika Karunaratne to complete his five-fer. For Curran – a man who has ticked off remarkably few of cricket’s conventional coming-of-age milestones – this was not a maiden ODI five-fer, but his first in international and List A cricket, too.
Willey was unlucky not to nab his own, but the two Northampton-born left-armers (both also sons of former Northamptonshire players) had combined for nine for 112, while the three right-armers had shared none for 128. Curran Sr was one of that trio.
As Roy flew out of the blocks with a series of fine boundaries, it appeared it would be double delight for Surrey. After Bairstow – who was a little more watchful – played on to Hasaranga, Roy passed fifty, but soon plinked Karunaratne to midwicket.
The ever-reliable Root ticked along, and was overtaken by Morgan as they both passed fifty. In a series that is teaching England little, Morgan’s runs might just be the start of something very helpful indeed. It had not been a classic, but England will not mind one bit.