Athapaththu’s 55 from 40 balls led a withering batting display from Sri Lanka’s top-order, as England’s sub-par total of 104 was hunted down with 6.4 overs to spare. Her 21-run assault on Kate Cross’s second over included a huge six over square leg and into a neighbouring garden, as Sri Lanka broke the back of the chase with 67 runs in the six-over powerplay.
“Chamari has been playing some scintillating cricket for a long period of time,” Warnapura, the former Sri Lanka Test batter, said. “It’s lovely to watch. It doesn’t show any difference from watching a men’s game when Chamari is batting, the way she hits the ball so hard and doesn’t worry about gaps.”
Athapaththu’s influence on Sri Lanka’s victory extended to her role with the ball too – after her team had conceded a hefty 186 for 4 in 17 overs at Hove, she took it upon herself to set the tone with her offspin, and duly bowled England’s most dangerous player, Danni Wyatt, for 1 with the sixth delivery of the match.
“She’s been working really hard with the bat, but most of the time that when she was bowling, it was only over or two,” Warnapura added. “But now she has proven that she’s one of the best allrounders that we have in the world.”
Athapaththu’s aggression brought out the best in her team-mates too. Sri Lanka rejigged their batting line-up after their 12-run DLS defeat in Hove, with the wicketkeeper Anushka Sanjeewani moving up the order to open, thereby allowing Vishmi Gunaratne to slot in at No. 4 behind Harshitha Samarawickrama at three, who didn’t get to bat in Thursday’s rain-shortened chase.
Though Sanjeewani’s own impact proved to be limited, Samarawickrama proved the perfect foil for Athapaththu, as she sealed Sri Lanka’s chase with an unbeaten 30 from 35 balls, including a third six of the innings, over deep midwicket.
“We had to try something new and the girls took it in a very great way,” Warnapura said. “The way Harshitha finished the game didn’t show any difference to the way she bats as an opener. We have six or seven betters who can do the job but, when Chamari [is leading the way], I think for the rest, it’s much easier for them to play a supporting role.
“We wanted to make the batting order up to No. 7 a little bit stronger and because the wicketkeeper has been playing for a long time, it was an opportunity for her as well. Hopefully she will come back strong in the next game.”
Warnapura has only been in his role for a few months, but in that time, Sri Lanka have also beaten New Zealand – another traditional powerhouse of the women’s game – for the first time in T20Is. Earlier this year, they also beat South Africa in the World Cup opener in Cape Town, and he admitted it was an exciting time to be involved with the team.
“As a coach, it’s exciting to watch the way they play, and not only on the field… everywhere, even at training, even at the hotel and when you’re travelling,” he said. “That shows the qualities of discipline, and also that teamwork matters. The girls had this hunger to win. I think this is a good start for them.”
Warnapura played down the suggestion, however, that England had shown Sri Lanka a degree of disrespect with their youthful selection for this series.
“You can’t control that about the England side,” he said. “They can pick and they can rest, but when we came here, we knew that they are one of the strongest teams in the world. So we prepared ourselves well, back home, in training and in the warm-up games, and when you look at that fieldling and bowling, it’s really good to see.”
Looking ahead to the series decider in Derby on Wednesday, Warnapura acknowledged that the sunny weather in Chelmsford had been like “home conditions” compared to a damp 7pm start in Hove, but said that he expected England to fight back hard, whatever the weather.
“It’s a great confidence, but when you play against England, you can’t just say that you won today and you’re going to win tomorrow,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, but the way we are performing, we are playing as a unit and as a team, and that’s something that we are looking forward for.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket