New Delhi: England clinched a semi-final berth in the World Twenty20 after quelling a spirited challenge from defending champions Sri Lanka by 10 runs in a closely contested Group I match, here tonight.
England win meant that formidable South Africa were also knocked out of the global event, rendering Proteas final match against the 2014 champions as one of academic interest.
Courtesy Jos Buttler’s unbeaten 37-ball-66, England piled up a challenging 171 for four after being put into bat and then managed to restrict the Island nation to 161 to end their group league engagements with six points from four games.
Chris Jordan bowled a brilliant penultimate over to finish with figures of 4/28 in 4 overs while David Willey chipped in with 2/26.
For Sri Lanka, skipper Angelo Mathews fought valiantly with hamstring injury to score unbeaten 73 off 54 balls with three fours and five sixes.
With West Indies in all likelihood to win against Afghanistan in their final group league outing, the England team, who are likely to finish second in the group, will take on New Zealand in the semi-final at the Feroz Shah Kotla on March 30.
Defending champions Sri Lanka are going through a very transition phase as they have won only two of their last 10 T20 internationals. The more embarrassing piece of statistic is the fact that the two wins have come against associate nations Afghanistan in this World T20 and United Arab Emirates in the Asia Cup.
The Lankan chase as a contest seemed over within the first three overs, with the team reeling at 15 for four but Mathews fought well, keeping the chase alive till the final over when the team needed 15 runs.
Mathews kept the strike with him but could not get the desired big shot and played as many as four dot balls. He threw his bat in disgust at the end of the match.
At the start of the chase, Tillakaratne Dilshan (2) was out third ball trying to pull left-arm seamer David Willey. Dinesh Chandimal (1) chased a Chris Jordan delivery that could have been left alone only to guide into Buttler’s gloves.
Milinda Siriwardana (7) hit a six but was out trying to clear Eoin Morgan standing at cover, who positioned himself exactly at the edge of the 30-yard circle.
It became 15 for four as Lahiru Thirimanne (3) was brilliantly run-out by Ben Stokes. It became a catch-up game for the Lankans after that despite a valiant 80-run stand between Chamara Kapugedara (30) and Mathews.
In the 12th over, Kapugedara and Mathews took 21 off leg -spinner Adil Rasheed hitting him for three sixes. But in the next over, Kapugeedara was holed out in the deep as Sri Lanka were reduced to 95 for five.
But Mathews tried his best with lusty blows but it was not enough in the end.
Earlier, Buttler, who came in the 11th over, sent the Sri Lankan bowlers on a leatherhunt as England fetched 72 runs in the final five overs.
Having bagged a fat IPL contract with the Mumbai Indians, Buttler showed why he is so sought after in the shortest format, as he hit eight boundaries and three huge sixes in his 37-ball knock.
He completed his 50 off 28 balls with a six, a classic lofted on-drive off Dasun Shanaka. The third six was a monstrous hit over long-on off Dusmantha Chameera that sailed over covering a distance of 97 metres.
With skipper Eoin Morgan (22), Buttler added 74 runs for the fourth wicket in only 6.3 overs.
The momentum shifted in England’s favour in the 16th over bowled by Thisara Perera in which 18 runs were scored. Captain Morgan first whipped Thisara over short fine leg for aboundary and then lofted him over long-off for a six.
The over set the perfect platform for acceleration in the final four overs. In the very next over, Buttler hit Dusmantha Chameera through covers and a straight hit for a one bounce four. The third one was a cheeky boundary through point region as 14 came off that over.
Put into bat, England batsmen countered the Lankan spin threat admirably displaying good technique and character with opener Jason Roy (42) playing a completely contrasting innings compared to his carnage at the Wankhede Stadium, last week.
There were few significant partnerships including 61 for the second wicket between Jason and Joe Root (25).
To describe the pitch, it would be fair to say that the ball was gripping and there was some slow turn on offer with the occasional deliveries keeping low.
Strokemaking wasn’t easy which prompted skipper Angelo Mathews to straightaway bring in his premier bowler Rangana Herath into action in the very second over.
Alex Hales (0) looked distinctly uncomfortable as he tried playing for the turn during the first three deliveries. The fourth delivery was an arm ball that he tried to sweep and was caught plumb in-front.
Mathews introduced leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay to replace himself. But Root and Roy, who had scripted a mammoth run-chase against South Africa showed impressive footwork to smother any turn that was on offer while on occasion they played for the spin.
Both got a few boundaries in the bargain through cuts, firm pushes and the reverse sweeps.
Root was content to the play the second fiddle as Roy took charge post Powerplay overs as he got a couple of sixes charging down to the left-arm spin duo of Herath and Milinda Siriwaradene.
Milinda bowled a full-toss that was promptly hit straight into the sightscreen while he used his feet to reach to the pitch of the delivery dispatching Herath to the cow corner.
The 50-run stand came off 48 balls as England reached 65 for one at the halfway stage. From there, Buttler took over to make a competitive total look comprehensive.