Colombo, March 25 (IANS) Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. That’s how the 1996 champions Sri Lanka will feel going into their World Cup quarter-final against an unpredictable and dangerous England here at the Premadasa Stadium Saturday.
Going by the way Andrew Strauss and his boys have played their Group B games, Sri Lanka will not have it easy by any stretch of imagination, even though they are playing before of home crowd.
England have walked on fire and come out unscathed. The reigning World Twenty20 champions have lived dangerously, but they have not been at the mercy of fortune. They have underperformed against weaker opponents, but were brilliant against tougher teams.
England have been hard done by injuries to key players and they received another jolt ahead of the match here as left-arm spinner Michael Yardy left for home in depression.
The ups and downs they have gone through have made England steely and if the match goes down the wire, expect them to absorb the pressure better.
All England matches were absorbing and edge-of-the-seat thrillers. Whether it is the high-scoring tie against India, the low-scoring cliffhangers against South Africa and West Indies, the extraordinary turn of events against Ireland and Bangladesh, England have seen it all. No team in this World Cup has been part of such highly entertaining stuff game after game.
“They have been one of the best sides in the tournament. They have played most of their games under pressure and we expect nothing less from them,” said Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara on the match eve.
Sri Lanka finally will have the advantage of the playing at home, though they played their last group match against New Zealand in Mumbai.
Barring the reverse against Pakistan, Sri Lanka have shown enough resilience to promise big things. Kumar Sangakkara’s maiden World Cup century and Muttiah Muralitharan’s four for 25 against New Zealand came at the right time for the island nation.
Muralitharan, hoping to finish his glittering career holding the World Cup aloft with his teammates, will be looking to unleash himself against the brittle England batting on a known slow track. The bigger the occasion the better the champion bowler performs.
Muralitharan, who stretched his hamstring while batting against New Zealand last week, has been declared fit for the match. “He is fully fit and ready for the game,” Sangakkara said, scotching doubts about his fitness.
With mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis and left-armer Rangana Herath in the side, Sri Lanka have variety in their spin attack. Add the fiery Lasith Malinga and Sri Lanka have a balanced attack.
Sri Lanka’s middle order has been a bit wobbly, but Sangakkara has immense faith in Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva and Angelo Mathews. He said they all have it in them to rise to the occasion and deliver as they have done so often in the past.
Batting is a bigger worry for England as Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott have been the only consistent performers. Others like Ravi Bopara, one of the good players of spin in this English side as he showed against South Africa, need to pitch in.
Bopara could also open the batting with Strauss as England had to try out Matt Prior following Kevin Pietersen’s return home for hernia surgery. England’s bowling, too, has been dependent primarily on the guiles of Graeme Swann and the guts of medium-pacer Tim Bresnan. Another off-spinner, James Tredwell has done well against the West Indies.
Swann lived up to the pre-tournament billing of a game-changer and Sri Lanka would be wary of the shrewd off-spinner. Three-time finalists England would also hope for pacer James Anderson to come good.
Head to head, the two sides have met eight times in World Cup and England won on six occasions. Sri Lanka, however, beat them comfortably in the 1996 quarter-final, on their way to becoming the champions.
Weather is a major factor that has a bearing on cricket in this part of the world. Rain has already washed out the high-profile Australia-Sri Lanka group clash. It rained Thursday morning and Sri Lanka had to cancel their practice session.
The slow pitch has created problems for batsmen. Pakistan bowled Australia out for 176 and managed to overhaul it in their last group game here. Sangakkara, however, said the wicket looks flat and a good cricketing track.