Sri Lanka v England: Win a small step up a big hill - Simon Hughes

By Simon HughesBBC Test Match Special
England cricket team
England celebrated only a fourth win in the last 12 one-day internationals

In spite of England's nervy victory and their willingness to be flexible in the third one-day international, the debate about their future prospects, and Alastair Cook's place in England's one-day side, will rage on.

Cook's 34 from 42 balls neither silenced the doubters nor soothed the supporters. He may have been the second violinist to another virtuoso performance from Moeen Ali, but he played a decent melody.

There were two crisp drives off Angelo Mathews and two deft late cuts in the opening five overs, at which point he was scoring at almost a run a ball.

Joe Root and Jos Buttler
Joe Root (48 not out) and Jos Buttler (55 not out) shared 84 in 10.3 overs to see England home with eight balls to spare

If there was a criticism, it was his inability to push quick singles. There was composure and control but no real urgency.

Crucially, he does not impose himself on a bowling attack. You know he will put away the bad ball, but he is not intimidating to bowl at.

Openers who are - such as Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Moeen come to that - bristle with intent. They pounce on any tiny lapse in line and length. They loom large in the bowler's mind, forcing them into error.

A batsman like Dilshan or Moeen can have a debilitating effect on a bowler's optimism. Cook tends to be controllable. Bowlers don't fear him.

That said, Cook and Moeen's opening partnership of 84 was the ideal platform for this short run chase. Moeen's batting was again exhilarating and after his early surge, Cook largely gave him the strike.

Frustratingly, he lapsed into a bad old habit - poking at a slightly wide full delivery and nicking to the keeper. The jury is still out and, regarding Cook and one-day cricket, it will probably never return.

England's one-day struggles
Since the Champions Trophy in 2013, England have lost 15 of their 23 completed ODIs against Test-playing opposition
Alastair Cook has lost seven of his last nine ODIs as captain
England's last ODI series win under Cook's captaincy was in New Zealand in February 2013 (having won in West Indies under Stuart Broad in Feb/Mar 2014)

But if another of the objectives of this short series was to expose the less experienced members of the batting order to pressure situations, it was a useful exercise.

After some wanton wastage of wickets - Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan the most culpable - 50 were required off five overs.

Jos Buttler had the bat speed to slice and pull Ajantha Mendis for two fours, and 40 runs were needed off four. Joe Root, who had stabilised the innings, then produced an amazing six with the first ball of the 32nd over.

When Root was then caught at extra cover off the next delivery, it seemed as if England would again sacrifice themselves on the altar of over-ambition.

But the fractional overstepping by the bowler, Prasad, preserved Root's wicket. It was the slice of fortune England craved, if hardly deserved.

Buttler carved five fours through the offside afterwards, rattling up a 34-ball fifty, and the job was as good as done. Root calmly finished it off. But it was a small step up a very steep hill.