Though the series result is decided – England lead 3-0 with a game to play – there’s still plenty on the line for both teams.
With a third victory in three ODIs, England have achieved the bare minimum. Anything less than a series victory would have been a serious blow to their Men’s Cricket World Cup preparations, especially this close to the tournament, and in truth, they haven’t been made to work too hard.
Even playing in second gear as they have throughout most of the series they have been too good for a Sri Lanka side in something close to disarray. England have been professional, and even when they have been under pressure they haven’t shown it.
Perhaps they haven’t learnt much about themselves as an ODI outfit that they didn’t know already, but the confidence gained from a consummate series victory, away from home in a region they have traditionally struggled in, can’t be underestimated. A fourth victory would onlu add to that.
Still, with the series safe, the fifth ODI presents an opportunity to perhaps learn a bit more about their options within the squad. There are four players in the squad who haven’t played this tour – Liam Plunkett, Joe Denly, Sam Curran, and Mark Wood – and it’s likely that at least three of them will come into the side.
Therefore, while England will want to win, and have a strength in depth envied the world over, Sri Lanka should see the final game as an opportunity to snatch a much-needed victory. The fourth ODI was also the closest of the series – England won by 18 runs on DLS, and it would have been closer had Joe Root not been reprieved by a no-ball just before the rain fell – and amidst the darkness there have been minor chinks of light.
Niroshan Dickwella again impressed while the lower order helped Sri Lanka get up to a tall total after they had been struggling. Two wickets for Akila Dananjaya also showed that perhaps England’s mastery against spin isn’t as complete as had been assumed. A final ODI victory would change perceptions considerably, and could kick-start Sri Lanka's World Cup preparations
Niroshan Dickwella (Sri Lanka): The model of a Dickwella innings has become set in stone in five-year international career – come in, swing hard, get out. Though justified because of the shortened contest in the third ODI, his 20-ball 38 was typical, Dickwella getting out just when England were wilting.
But in the fourth ODI the script changed. He made 52 off 70 balls with just five boundaries, showing he can bat time. He always looks due a big score, but with a slightly more patient approach, now could be his moment to make a statement hundred and confirm himself as one of Sri Lanka’s senior, premier batsmen.
Joe Denly (England): When Joe Denly last played an ODI, in the Champions Trophy 2009 semi-final, Eoin Morgan had just made his England debut. That’s how long it’s been. In the intervening time he’s lost form, adjusted his technique, moved clubs, moved back, his England career receding all the while. Now finally he’s set to resume his international career.
He wasn’t even in the squad originally, but with injury preventing Liam Dawson from cementing his place as England’s third and back-up spinner, a steady spell of leg-spin could see Denly make a bolt for England’s Men’s Cricket World Cup squad. It would be quite some story.
There is plenty of rain forecast – there always is in Sri Lanka this time of year – but the change in venue could offer some respite. The forecast says the thunderstorms will be ‘scattered’ rather than continuous, and thanks to the tireless Sri Lankan groundstaff, the teams should be able to get a game in between delays.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (c), Upul Tharanga, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Amila Aponso, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Pradeep, Kasun Rajitha, Kusal Perera
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett (last two games only), Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood