ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Sri Lanka v England, World Cup 2011, quarter-final, Colombo
Contrasting campaigners prepare to do or die
March 25, 2011
March 26, Colombo
Start time 2.30pm (0900 GMT)
The Big Picture
Fifteen years ago this month, England and Sri Lanka met at the same quarter-final stage of the 1996 World Cup, only for an epoch-changing contest to pan out in front of an astounded crowd in Faisalabad. With his remarkable 82 from 44 balls, Sanath Jayasuriya not only ignited Sri Lanka's charge towards their maiden global title, he signalled the end of England as a force in one-day cricket, as they failed to reach the last four of the World Cup for the first time in the tournament's history.
Since that match, the fortunes and expectations associated with the two teams have been flipped on their head. Sri Lanka went on to crush Australia in the 1996 final in Lahore, and have since contested a semi-final in 2003 and another final four years later in Barbados. England, on the other hand, have found a range of ignominious means to bomb out at the earliest opportunity - a trait they came perilously close to emulating this time around as well, following their embarrassments at the hands of Ireland and Bangladesh.
But regardless of their numerous scares along the way, England are back in the knockouts for the first time in four World Cups, and given the excitement they have served up in the past month, their Colombo encounter once again has the makings of a humdinger. It is doubtless being greedy to expect their seventh consecutive contest to go down to the wire, but the one and only constant in England's skittish campaign has been their ability to raise their game against more fancied opposition. And make no mistake, Sri Lanka on home soil present a formidable challenge - arguably the toughest assignment that any of the quarter-finalists could have landed.
Four years ago in the Caribbean, the Sri Lankans were by some distance the best of the rest - the only team worthy of facing Ricky Ponting's invincible Australians in the final. That they failed to bring home the spoils was no disgrace whatsoever, but while Ponting and his colleagues have since been vanquished at long last, Sri Lanka are arguably a stronger outfit than ever before. Eight of the 11 men who played in that final remain in their squad today, but crucially, sentiment has played next to no part in that fact. Two legends in Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas have been put out to pasture, leaving the stage clear for the likes of Ajantha Mendis and Angelo Mathews to bid for their own indelible mark on the tournament's history.
To judge by the narrative of their campaign to date, England will relish their underdog status - for it is a peculiar fact that of the eight quarter-finalists, they are the only side to boast an unbeaten record in matches against their fellow qualifiers. They salvaged a tie against India before out-muscling South Africa and West Indies in a pair of Chennai thrillers, and their never-say-die spirit will doubtless prove invaluable at some stage of a high-octane encounter.
But can sheer tenacity prevail against a team so brimful with talented campaigners? Sri Lanka's top-order triumvirate of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara is second only to India in terms of scorecard menace, while the breadth and variety of their attack is hard to rival - Lasith Malinga's slingers and Muttiah Muralitharan's enduring class epitomise the two extremes of a line-up that has men for all seasons and conditions. "It's going to be a significant challenge for us," remarked Andrew Strauss, never a man to cares to overstate the case.
At least England have had a chance to put down some roots in the course of an itinerant campaign. They've had nine days of down-time since their decisive victory in Chennai, and the past week has been spent in the pleasant environs of Colombo, where they will remain in the event of progressing to the semi-final. Nevertheless, the sad news of Michael Yardy's early departure to the UK once again speaks of a squad that is clinging on at the end of a draining winter, rather than clicking through its gears as the grandest prize draws closer. How many more "last big efforts" have they got in them?
Form guide(completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for...
It was on England's tour of Sri Lanka in 2007-08 that Graeme Swann first showcased the skills and mindset that have since propelled him to the upper echelons of the international game. It was his first England tour since his ill-fated debut in South Africa seven years earlier, and with seven wickets at 22.28 in his four games, his determination to grasp his second chance was tangible. That refusal to surrender has driven England's sketchy challenge throughout this World Cup, even in Chittagong when a dew-sodden ball drove him to distraction. He was immense in both Chennai victories, and his touch of class will be invaluable against such potent opposition.
After 492 international appearances, 1343 wickets and almost 63,000 deliveries in a 19-year career, Muttiah Muralitharan is now a maximum of three matches and 180 balls from bidding farewell to the global stage. And in the event of an England win on Saturday, it will all end precisely where it began against Australia in August 1992, at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Murali, however, will not care a jot for such elegant symmetry - even as he approaches his 40th year, he remains as fiercely competitive and enthusiastic as ever. And, as his four-wicket haul against New Zealand last week demonstrated, his wiles cannot be trifled with, least of all by an England team whose collective performance against spin has been leaden-footed in the tournament to date.
After a difficult tournament, Yardy was never likely to feature in this showdown, though his departure has been an understandable disruption to England's preparations, with Adil Rashid - his nominated replacement - still finding his way to Sri Lanka from the Caribbean. Tim Bresnan's troublesome calf has flared up once again, though he came through a fitness test without any visible concerns and has been passed fit for selection. Jade Dernbach, the surprise replacement for Ajmal Shahzad, has been preparing all week as if he is going to play, although James Anderson's big-match experience ought to earn him a recall following a fortnight out of the firing line. The identity of Strauss's opening partner has been confirmed within the squad, with Ian Bell believed to be the chosen man.
England (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Luke Wright, 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Tredwell, 11 James Anderson.
Fewer dilemmas for Sri Lanka to consider, especially now that Murali has been declared "100% fit" by his captain Kumar Sangakkara after struggling through the New Zealand victory with a hamstring strain. Sangakkara also acknowledged the potential weakness of Sri Lanka's untested middle order, but backed Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, angelo Mathews and Chamara Kapugedera as "the best players we have to do that job". One of the Chamaras - Silva and Kapu - seems set to miss out.
Sri Lanka (possible) 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Thilan Samaraweera, 7 Chamara Kapugedera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Ajantha Mendis.
Try picking the XIs for tomorrow's game by playing Team Selector.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is flat, as they generally tend to be at the Premadasa, although the threat of thunderstorms adds an extra factor to the team's preparations. Afternoon showers on the eve of the game caused the entire outfield to be covered in tarpaulins, which may just sweat a bit more moisture to the surface for the seamers.
Stats and trivia
- England and Sri Lanka have faced each other on eight previous occasions in World Cup history, and though England eased to victory in each of the first five of those encounters from 1979 to 1992, they have lost two of the last three - including a thrilling two-run margin in Antigua four years ago.
- The overall head-to-head for the two teams could scarcely be tighter. In 44 contests, England have won 23 and Sri Lanka 21. However, Sri Lanka have won eight of their last 12 encounters, dating back to 2006.
- England did, however, achieve a notable success on their last one-day tour of Sri Lanka in October 2007 - Swann's aforementioned comeback tour. Despite losing the first game of a five-match series, they bounced back to win each of the next three for a well-deserved 3-2 victory.
"It's not difficult for us to focus our minds on this game of cricket. It is a massive game. If we lose we're on the plane home; if we win we're in the semi-finals."
Andrew Strauss believes England's off-field distractions will be of no consequence.
"It's do-or-die for all the teams when you get to the quarter-finals. That incentive is going to be there, and both sides will feel that intensity and that pressure equally." Kumar Sangakkara prepares for his team's biggest match of the tournament to date.