Tom Curran needed just three words to describe being back in England’s dominant one-day side and winning games of cricket – “so, so good”.
Curran returned to England colours for the first time in more than six months after being picked to replace the injured Liam Dawson for the third one-day international in Pallekele and spent the best part of six frustrating hours watching the rain fall.
When the covers were finally removed and play got under way at 8.15pm there was only room for 21 overs per innings, but that was plenty for the tourists – and their 23-year-old seamer – to take care of business.
“So, so good,” said a beaming Curran after a seven-wicket victory for the world’s No 1 side. “It’s nice to be back in this team and nice to go 2-0 up in the series after a long day. I just wanted to get out there.”
Eoin Morgan (58no) and Ben Stokes (35no) sealed victory with the bat but Sri Lanka were painfully short of runs with 150-9. They faded after a blistering start as Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid claimed 4-36 and Curran turned in exemplary figures of 3-17.
His combination of seamers, cutters and back-of-the-hand slower balls accounted for dangerman Niroshan Dickwella, captain Dinesh Chandimal and all-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva and cost one boundary in four overs.
With England’s pace bowling stocks as swollen as they are ahead of next year’s World Cup – Curran joins David Willey, Mark Wood, Olly Stone and brother Sam in vying for a maximum of three places in the final 15 – it is the kind of display that is not just desirable, but necessary.
“That’s the beauty of the strength in our squad, there is such competition for places,” he said.
“When you get your go you might only have one or two games to impress. When guys are outside the team and on the tails on the guys in the side it’s only going to help the side play better.
“It’s a great place to be with guys knocking on the door because the guys who are in the side will only be working hard to keep their place.”
When play belatedly got under way Dickwella got Sri Lanka off and running with seven boundaries from his first 12 deliveries, dancing around the crease as he directed the ball to all four corners of the ground.
There was a pair of authentic cover drives and a disdainful slog off Chris Woakes, then a pull and an uppercut off Stone. England had barely digested his footwork by the time the scoreboard read 55 for nought off five overs.
That was as good as it got for the hosts, though, with their next 16 overs yielding 95 runs and nine wickets.
Curran got the ball rolling, drawing the mis-hit from Dickwella and watching nervously as Woakes took a tricky catch at the second attempt.
Kusal Mendis banked a golden duck, suckered in by an brilliant Rashid googly, and the swagger never returned. Rashid claimed Sadeera Samarawickrama and Thisara Perera with successive deliveries – a rank full-toss and a tempting leg-break skied towards the sprawling Jason Roy.
That was enough to earn him a fifth over, with one bowler given that privilege in the revised conditions, and he summoned another fine googly to castle Dasun Shanaka.
Curran returned at the back end and laid down his marker. He first picked off de Silva with a slower ball and then ended Chandimal’s laboured 34 during a classy final over, which ended with him adding a run out off the final ball.
England’s response began perfectly as Lasith Malinga, ably assisted by an aggressive Roy, donated 17 runs from his first visit.
Left-arm spinner Amila Aponso fashioned an instant response, having Jonny Bairstow caught at mid-off with his second ball then skidding one past Joe Root and rocking back middle stump.
Roy and Morgan took some of the sting out of the situation with a calming stand of 46, during which the required rate dropped to less than six an over.
Roy (41) continued to win his personal duel with Malinga and heaved Akila Dananjaya for six moments before falling lbw sweeping the spinner.
Morgan’s 92 anchored England’s win in the second ODI and he was doing important work here too, punching regular boundaries between cover and backward point.
Stokes proved a perfect foil, damaging Nuwan Pradeep’s ego with an outrageous over-the-shoulder ramp for six before clubbing the winning six straight down the ground in the 19th over.