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Match Preview – England vs Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka in England 2021, 3rd T20I

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Onus on visitors’ batting to find an extra gear after flat displays in first two T20Is

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Three days on from the World Test Championship final, the Ageas Bowl (as it is once again allowed to be known) plays host to a final of a rather less epochal variety. The final T20I between England and Sri Lanka will be a daylight-hours dead rubber after England’s comprehensive victories in Cardiff earlier this week, and if that prospect fails to set your pulse racing then never fear – at least you’ll be able to flick over to Wales versus Denmark during the second innings if the going gets too stodgy.

Perhaps that’s unfair. Thursday night’s rain-interrupted second encounter had its moments, perhaps most notably Sam Curran’s sublime side-foot into the stumps to run out Danushka Gunathilaka. But for all that England’s bowlers have been excellent in both contests, the grim truth is that Sri Lanka have limped along to consecutive totals of 129 and 111 in their 20 overs – a series run-rate of precisely one a ball. And impressive though their initial defence of that second total may have been, the jeopardy was short-lived once England’s middle-order pair of Liam Livingstone and Sam Billings had calibrated the appropriate tempo for their chase.

It is, as Sri Lanka’s coach Mickey Arthur acknowledged, a case of No. 1 versus No. 9 in the ICC T20I rankings, and the gulf has been plain for all to see. Even the continued absence of England’s most accomplished white-ball batter is unlikely to close up the gap between the sides. Jos Buttler has been ruled out for the remainder of the Sri Lanka tour with a minor calf tear, but Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy – reunited at the top of the order – aren’t exactly a second-best option among white-ball opening partnerships.

It’s hard to see exactly where Sri Lanka can hope to catch a break in this contest. Wanindu Hasaranga has impressed once again with his legspin, while their new-ball pairing of Dushmantha Chameera and Binura Fernando bowled with heart and fire in the Powerplay. But Adil Rashid goes from strength to strength, rising to every new role that Eoin Morgan seeks to audition him for, while Mark Wood’s lavish loosener-free pace is a bruising option to bomb the middle overs. When you’re barely stretching the ability of a player with as much star billing as Sam Curran, you know you’ve got your bases covered.

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