Sri Lanka held their nerve to claim the Royal London Under-19 One-Day Series with one match to spare after a tense finish in Chelmsford.
The tourists, who had won the first match of the series comfortably in Wormsley last Wednesday, seemed to be cruising again at 229 for three in the 36th over, after England had posted 315 for eight.
But the dismissal of their opener Avishka Fernando for an excellent 117, run out by a direct hit from Somerset’s off-spinner Dom Bess who was again the pick of England’s bowlers, breathed fresh life into the contest.
Ben Green, Bess’s Somerset team-mate who also grew up in Devon, took three wickets and there were two more run outs, leaving Sri Lanka nine wickets down and still needing two to win at the start of the 50th over.
But Shammu Ashan, who scored an unbeaten 60 at Wormsley, drove the first ball from Aaron Beard through the covers for the match winning boundary, to set off wild celebrations among the Sri Lankans – who completed a 1-0 win in the two-match four-day series between the teams earlier this month.
Ashan ended with 77 from 75 balls, and England will now be playing for pride in the last match of the series at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence on Tuesday – a day-night match starting at 2pm and being televised live by Sky Sports.
England’s total had been built around three significant contributions from Tom Moores, George Hankins and George Bartlett – all old boys of Millfield School.
Moores, the Nottinghamshire wicketkeeper-batsman who has just completed a successful loan spell at Lancashire, came in to open with captain Max Holden, and shrugged off the loss of his partner in the first over to make 70 from 68 balls with nine fours and a six.
Hankins, the tall Gloucestershire right-hander who had opened in the defeat at Wormsley, played a sensible supporting role in stands of 123 in 24 overs with Moores, and 148 in 22 with Bartlett.
The Somerset batsman fell in the 47th over for 85 from 68 balls with eight fours and two sixes, one of them soaring over long-on and into the River Can.
Hankins then fell agonisingly short of a century, middling a square cut but picking out backward point after making 98 from 144 balls.
Worcestershire’s Zen Malik and Surrey wicketkeeper Ollie Pope contributed handy cameos in the closing overs, allowing England to set a tough target.
But Sri Lanka made a flying start to their reply, with an opening stand of 67 inside nine overs before Yorkshire’s Ed Barnes had Dilan Jayalath coolly caught on the square leg boundary by Malik for 41 from 34 balls.
That was the first of three boundary catches by Malik, and Bess bowled beautifully to concede only 36 in his 10 overs. Worcestershire’s left-arm spinner Ben Twohig took two wickets on his debut, but England paid a heavy penalty for an inconsistent ground-fielding display.