Sri Lanka hope for spin threat
Sri Lanka left it late to secure a place in the World Twenty20 semi-finals but now they are in the knockout stage their varied bowling attack could hold the key to success. Although without the services of Muttiah Muralitharan they can still throw the ball to Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis, who was left out of the final Super Eight match, and youngster Suraj Randiv.
Mendis has a strong chance of returning to face England who have seen little of his variations. The one occasion he has played against them was in the Champions Trophy last year when England thwarted him effectively at the Wanderers during a successful run chase as he went wicketless in nine overs. However, facing Mendis on a spring day in Johannesburg is a very different proposition to facing him on a low, slow surface that has aided spin in St Lucia.
Kumar Sangakkara was keeping his cards close to his chest, but it will be hugely tempting to use Mendis against a team that, even taking into account their impressive form, have a poor history against mystery spin.
"We'll have to have a think about that, how that works with our combinations and batting. We would love him to play," Sangakkara said. "I think he's a top quality spinner and England's probably played him once. It's a realistic possibility but we've got other spinners, even part-timers who are pretty good."
But he isn't the only threat. Malinga, like a few of the big-name Sri Lankan players, hasn't quite been at his best in this tournament but with the sudden death stages now here he can be the ultimate matchwinner. He was impressive against India where his 2 for 25 played a key role in restricted a late-order charge and Paul Collingwood is certainly on his guard despite the strong form of England's top order.
"A few of us have played against them. But it is obviously a little slight concern," he said. "Quite a lot of the guys haven't played against the angle of Malinga, his skiddiness, his change-ups - and not many of us have played much against Mendis.
"When guys are bowling 24 balls at you, you can't give yourself six or seven to get yourself in against them. That's one of the things we need to make sure we overcome; we need to watch as much footage as possible and talk about it between ourselves. That's another great thing, that we are communicating really well. Players who have played against them are passing tips on to the other guys, and I think that's helping a lot."
England haven't seen anything of 25-year-old Randiv but despite playing just three Twenty20 internationals he is highly regarded by the Sri Lanka hierarchy. He started life as a pace bowler before finding offspin was his vocation and despite not possessing the variety of Muralitharan and Mendis he can still be a handful as he showed against Australia.
"The one thing Sri Lanka have got is that they are quite unorthodox in terms of a lot of the bowlers. That is something the batters will have to come up against," Collingwood said. "But we have a lot of strength in our side now so as much as we will prepare for Sri Lanka and the kind of unorthodox styles that they do have we also have to remember our strengths as well and I think there are plenty of them in our side as well."
Sangakkara, while acknowledging how well England have played over the last week, remained confident that conditions would suit his attack. "We would like to think so, we've got a lot of variation in our bowling attack. We will try to exploit that in these conditions but we've got to think of all the angles.
"We are trying to concentrate a lot on what we do best and how we can get England reacting to us with our bowling, our field-placings and our batting," he added. "It's going to be about how we exploit the conditions to our strengths."
Semi-finals of major tournaments can be won with a little bit of magic and Sri Lanka have players who can produce such moments.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo