By Amlan Chakraborty
SHARJAH (Reuters) -Twenty20 World Cup favourites England effectively sealed a place in the semi-finals after Jos Buttler's incendiary century fashioned a 26-run victory against a spirited Sri Lanka in their Group I match on Monday.
Put in to bat, England's batting looked under pressure for the first time in the tournament but Buttler's unbeaten 101 off 67 balls fired them to a strong 163-4 at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Sri Lanka threatened to pull off an upset at one stage before being bowled out for 137 all out in 19 overs to go down despite Wanindu Hasaranga's all-round brilliance.
England, looking to become the first team to hold the ODI and T20 World Cups at the same time, consolidated their position as group leaders with their fourth victory in as many matches.
Buttler, the obvious choice for the man-of-the-match award, also effected two run-outs and led the team as they walked off the field.
"I thought Jos Buttler played one of his best ever innings in an England shirt," England captain Eoin Morgan said.
"We're just delighted with the win. Sri Lanka have pushed us further than we've been pushed so far in this tournament."
Chasing teams had won 13 of the previous 16 matches in the Super 12 stage and Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka's decision to field after winning the toss was hardly a surprise.
Shanaka deployed four different bowlers to bowl the first four overs and their spinners dictated terms early in the match to restrict England to 36-3 after the powerplay overs.
Leg-spinner Hasaranga, fresh from his hat-trick against South Africa, deceived Jason Roy with a googly to knock back his off-stump.
Kusal Perera spilled an edge from Dawid Malan but it did not matter in the end as Dushmantha Chameera crashed the next ball onto the stumps.
Hasaranga (3-21) returned to trap the scoreless Jonny Bairstow lbw and England laboured to 47-3 at the midway stage of their innings.
Buttler and Morgan (40) decided to go after the pacers instead and hit Lahiru Kumara for three sixes in the 15th over.
With Buttler going berserk with the bat, England plundered 116 runs in the final 10 overs.
The stumper-batsman brought up his maiden century in T20 Internationals with his sixth six off the final ball of the innings.
Sri Lanka endured a top order wobble of their own when they began their chase.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid dismissed Charith Asalanka and Perera in successive overs to wreck Sri Lanka but the 2014 champions refused to throw in the towel.
Hasaranga shone with the bat too, top-scoring for his side with a quickfire 34 to boost Sri Lanka's hopes of pulling off an upset.
Liam Livingstone cut short his stay and Buttler threw down the wicket to run out Shanaka (26) to effectively seal the match in England's favour.
"In the whole tournament, the bowlers have been outstanding in the first 10 overs," Shanaka said after Sri Lanka slumped to their third loss in four matches.
"In the second half, we knew the dew factor will be a big factor but losing wickets at regular intervals really cost the match for us."
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Sharjah; editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)