This was England’s first chance to bounce back from the defeat they suffered in the second four-day match against the Sri Lankans in Northampton last week, albeit with a slightly different team.
Instead they were dismissed for 149 after restricting the tourists to 257 for 7, losing their last eight wickets for 53 – seven of them shared by Sri Lanka’s three spinners.
England made four changes to the team who had lost in Northampton. Kent’s Hugh Bernard, Worcestershire’s Zen Malik and the Somerset pair of Ben Green and Dom Bess came into the team – Malik and Bess making their Under-19 debuts, among seven players who were winning their first one-day caps.
Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to bat, but Bernard gave England the perfect start when he pegged back Dilan Jayalath’s middle stump with the third ball of the match.
Green then broke a dangerous second wicket stand of 67 when he had Avishka Fernando well caught by a diving Ollie Pope.
But Sri Lanka’s captain Charith Asalanka picked up where he had left off in Northampton, striking 70 from 96 balls with eight fours.
The tourists seemed on course for an imposing total but were pegged back in the middle of their innings by Bess, an offspinning allrounder from Devon who had already had Asalanka dropped at long on before taking a sharp return catch to dismiss the Sri Lankan captain himself.
Bess ended with impressive figures of 1 for 30 from his 10 overs, and Bernard then claimed his second wicket courtesy of a superb legside stumping by Pope standing up to the Kent seamer.
Green also collected a second wicket and there was one for Yorkshire allrounder Ed Barnes, and England seemed to have restricted Sri Lanka to a manageable total.
They suffered two early setbacks in their reply when the former Millfield School team-mates George Hankins and George Bartlett, now at Gloucestershire and Somerset respectively, were undone by wiry seamer Thilan Prasan. That left England relying on their captain Max Holden, who was joined by Malik in a promising partnership of 61 in 14 overs.
But the loss of Holden was a hammer blow as he fell to the off-spin of his fellow captain Asalanka, well taken by Wanidu Hasaranga at short extra cover after making 40 from 69 balls.
That set off a procession, as England struggled to cope with the pressure exerted by Sri Lanka’s spinners and their excited chatter in the field. Pope ran himself out, Malik chipped a catch to mid-wicket after making 32 from 60 balls, and when Dell gave a return catch to Damitha Silva, England had lost four for 10 to slip to 106 for 6.
Green and Bess stemmed the flow slightly but Green’s dismissal triggered another burst of four wickets in six overs, with Aaron Beard left unbeaten on 17 from 15 balls – the third highest score of the innings. Silva ended with 3 for 28 from his 10 overs, Hasaranga had 2 for 28 from eight, and Asalanka 2 for 27 from 6.3.
England must now win both the remaining matches to take the series, in Chelmsford on Saturday before a day-night match at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence next Tuesday which will be televised live by Sky Sports. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)