Sunday, March 1, 2015
Start time 1100 local (2200 GMT, previous day)
If social media is to be believed, England's players have been enjoying themselves in Wellington. Several have been spotted in bars and restaurants. Others have been snapped on the waterfront. Perhaps they're hoping to feel comfortable in the city in which they suffered the massacre at New Zealand's hands, eight days ago. Maybe they're hoping to keep minds fresh and loose, still hoping to mount a World Cup surge.
They had been dominant against Scotland, as Moeen Ali and Ian Bell galloped to a graceful 172-run opening stand, and Eoin Morgan rediscovered a little of his confidence. There was energy in the pace attack too. Though England had been beaten 5-2 by Sri Lanka late last year, that team had been without James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who are sure to make good use of more helpful conditions than the England seamers encountered in Sri Lanka.
Their opposition is just beginning to show signs they are warming to the tournament. Sri Lanka's top order sputtered against Afghanistan, but they then hit 332 for 1 against Bangladesh, and now each of the three senior batsmen has triple figures from the last two matches. The bowling is slowly beginning to fall into place as well. Rangana Herath is steady as ever, but Suranga Lakmal has also delivered three decent performances, and Thisara Perera appears in better rhythm than he did for much of his time in New Zealand.
Sri Lanka's fielding still gives cause for concern; three clear chances were spilt against Bangladesh. But they appear now to have at least increased the intensity of their outings. Given they have chosen to rest instead of train because of the close proximity of matches, they should be fresh enough to raise their energy a further level on Sunday.
They will be buoyed too by the memory of their most recent trip to this venue, which yielded victory.
England:WLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Before the World Cup, James Anderson was bowling with such skill that England had hopes his new ball spells may dictate games. But here we are, three games into the tournament and he has taken two wickets - both against Scotland - at an average of 67 apiece and is conceding his runs at a rate of 6.38 per over. England need more from their senior players. Anderson also has a modest record in previous World Cups: in 2011 his wickets cost 70.50 runs each and he was the 11th most economical England bowler (conceding his runs at 6.55 per over); in 2007 he claimed his wickets at a cost of 41.12 apiece and was England's fifth most economical bowler and in 2003, his best tournament to date, he claimed his wickets at a cost of 22.50 but was England's eighth most economical bowler (with a run-rate of 4.78 per over). If England are to progress to the business end of this tournament, Anderson will need to improve that record.
Ahead of the World Cup, ESPNcricinfo asked a random selection of players to name the best death bowler they had ever seen. One name cropped up time after time: Lasith Malinga. But, now aged 31 and on the way back following ankle surgery, he is struggling to recapture his former rhythm and pace. While his really fast days may be behind him, he was also uncharacteristically loose in the defeat to New Zealand. He claimed six wickets in the following two games against somewhat weaker opposition, but more may be required of him against England. The will remains strong - he has trained unusually hard in the past week - but there are doubts whether the body can still obey.
Sri Lanka's batting conundrum is now this: Upul Tharanga is with the squad - some believe he should have been there from the start - but Lahiru Thirimanne is already settled, and scoring runs, as an opener. Thirimanne, however, is the more versatile of the two batsmen, and is a better bet at No. 4 or 5, where Sri Lanka are in search of reinforcement. There is also a case to be made for strengthening the bowling, via quick Dushmantha Chameera, who made a laudable debut at this stadium last month.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Upul Tharanga/Dimuth Karunaratne, 5 Mahela Jayawardene, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt) , 7 Dinesh Chandimal, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lasith Malinga
It seems England will resist the urge to make changes. While Gary Ballance - called into the first game of the tournament having not played a List A match since September - has looked understandably rusty, the men who might replace him are equally short of cricket. Alex Hales continues to push for inclusion, though, and could yet force his way into the top three. Ravi Bopara, after a couple of training sessions where his disappointment was visible, is also pushing hard. Having stuck with Steven Finn for the Scotland game and seen him repay that faith with a performance where he bowled in excess of 140kph, it also seems they will stick with the same attack.
England (possible): 1 Ian Bell, 2 Moeen Ali, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 James Taylor, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Steven Finn, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson.
Pitch and conditions
The same pitch will be used in this game as the one on which New Zealand thrashed England. To that end, England have been preparing with an expectation that the ball may again swing throughout the innings. At least one side has been bowled out in each of the last three ODIs on the ground and only five times has a team exceeded 300 here; once since the end of 2005. In several recent games the ball has appeared to hold up just a little and provide some assistance to spinners. The weather is expected to remain warm, clear and windy, with the straight boundaries longer than the square.
Stats and trivia
- England have won only five games against one of the top eight Test nations at World Cups since they lost the 1992 final in Melbourne.
- Sri Lanka have won both ODI series against England in the last year; home and away
- Upul Tharanga's average in World Cups rises to 38.50, from a career average of 33.57
- James Anderson has 24 World Cup wickets at 40.41 overall
"Our performance is going to have to be better than anything we have produced at this World Cup so far."
"The schedule certainly is inconvenient. It's tiring for the boys too. It would have been nice to have finished our New Zealand matches before coming to Australia."
Sri Lanka team manager Michael de Zoysa on his team's hectic schedule this week. They've played three matches in eight days.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando. George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo