On a day of two satisfying England results, the first one day international sat second by way of tension, Eoin Morgan’s cricketers claiming a five-wicket victory against Sri Lanka and at one point threatening to do so before their footballing counterparts had kicked off.
As it was, the big match at Wembley was 29 minutes old when Sam Curran hit the winning runs with 91 balls to spare and 7,500 spectators drifted off to find a TV screen; theirs was clearly an enjoyable day out, the north-east sunny and the beer plentiful, but the cricket had only fleetingly been competitive.
This was in part down to the clinical excellence of Chris Woakes, his figures of four for 18 helping to bowl out the tourists for 185 in 42.3 overs, while Jonny Bairstow also burst out of the traps in the chase with a 21-ball 43 that once again underlined the force he has become as a white-ball opener.
But though Sri Lanka briefly threatened to induce some panic, Dushmantha Chameera’s two wickets reducing England to 80 for four in the 12th over, Joe Root delivered a typically frictionless 79 not out from 87 balls with only four fours to seal the 1-0 series lead. Had Kusal Perera not dropped Moeen Ali first ball, en route to 28 in a stand of 91 with Root, things might have been different.
“Joe’s innings was a very calming influence as usual,” said Woakes, who had earlier presented Root with his 150th ODI cap. “It was a great knock to see us home. He certainly reminded people today he’s a class act. We’ve got an aggressive lineup but he’s the glue through the middle.”
Already heavily bruised by their 3-0 defeat in the Twenty20 series, Sri Lanka had then stuck Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka on the first flight home – economy class, it was stressed – after they had broken the team’s biosecurity rules on Sunday evening. It left the tourists with three debutants, an imbalanced lineup and looking ripe for the taking.
England appeared in no mood to muck about, Eoin Morgan electing to bowl at the toss and seeing Woakes and David Willey strike three times in the powerplay. Sri Lanka’s captain, Perera, blazed 32 from 16 balls inside the first 10 overs and 73 from 81 overall but could only despair as wickets fell at the other end.
Woakes, it must be said, was immaculate in a five-over burst that yielded only six runs, fooling Pathum Nissanka with a slower-ball bouncer and nicking off the overpromoted Dasun Shanaka. Willey took some tap but claimed the wicket of the newcomer Charith Asalanka when Root clung on at slip.
From 46 for three in the ninth over Sri Lanka rallied through a 99-run stand from Perera and Wanindu Hasaranga, the latter dispatching some inventive blows off his fellow leg-spinner Adil Rashid in a 65-ball 54 that threatened to turn the tide.
The return of Woakes prompted a collapse of seven wickets for 40 that was riddled with indecision, however, Hasaranga perishing to a fine catch in the deep from Liam Livingstone and Root bettering his earlier take at slip when the left-handed Dhananjaya Lakshan fenced at a cross-seam ball.
Perera had shaken off blows to the hand and biceps from Curran – an unlikely enforcer, it must be said – but when he holed out off Willey in the 33rd over, amid figures of three for 44 from the left-armer in his 50th match, the rest of the bathwater took little time to disappear down the plug hole.
The running by the tail was shambolic – the head coach, Mickey Arthur, fumed on the balcony – and, though England did not take every chance, and a drop by Root denied Mark Wood a wicket on his home ground, it felt fitting that a lasered direct hit from Sam Billings should shut down the innings.
Bairstow flew out of the traps in response with six fours and one huge six but by the end of the sixth over both he and Livingstone (opening in the absence of Jason Roy) had departed. When Chameera wiped out Morgan and Billings in the space of six balls England were still 106 runs short of their target.
Once Moeen had shaken off his first-ball aberration he and Root set about chiselling away at the remainder. Moeen eventually handed the impressive Chameera a third wicket when bowled off the inside edge but, with 15 runs to go, the result had long since been a formality.