Colombo: England can expect to face four spinners when they meet Sri Lanka in their quarterfinal in the Khettarama cauldron of Premadasa Stadium on Saturday.
If Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara didn't quite spell it out, the subtle hint was there for the touring and local media when he mentioned that Muttiah Muralitharan is fit for the big showdown between the two sides. This might suggest balancing the lower order as a way to compensate the lower order with the extra spinner.
While Sri Lanka tried this tactic against Australia at Premadasa early in the tournament, rain wrecked that game and the four-pronged spin plan has not be put into use since then. Sri Lanka used a three/three seam and spin against New Zealand at Wankhede in Mumbai a week ago, and where the Kiwis battled against the spin.
Whether will England have the same problems depends largely on the conditions. Sangakkara referred to the surface as "flat" and "good for a good game, which is what we are hoping to provide."
As this is in a World Cup which will have a new title-holder on the base of the trophy on April 2 now that Australia have departed, the shake up in the event has added extra interest on the island as England look ahead to the what they are hoping will be a game that will see them enter the CWC semi-finals for the first time in a decade.
Muttiah Muralitharan's ability to tease and torment non-Asian batsmen is well known and this venue, as with Galle, is one where he can eave a little extra magic as his career is about to close with this event. Sri Lanka are hoping he will play one more home game – the semi-final. As she didn't get a chance to test the Australians, he can try his few tricks on England.
Australia's flawed bowling tactics did not escape the attention of either Sangakkara or England's captain Andrew Strauss. Both enjoyed the game, were the tongue-in-cheek comments, which suggests they are pleased they do not have to face the former title-holders, who have won three consecutive titles.
Noticeable was how too often the fast and medium paced seam bowlers often bowled too straight as it was here where the Indian batsmen ball was worked off the pads. Sangakkara used a similar batting tactic when facing the Australians in the rained off game and it worked well as he was scoring tidily before the rains arrived early evening. His hand and footwork were exemplary.
It is a pity the game was wrecked, as it would have probably exposed further the Australian tactics, which had generally failed to work in the subcontinent conditions and in this respect, the game against Pakistan had been one where they were left to ponder their strategy. Yet they continued in the must crucial game of their campaign.
In many ways, the struggle Australia have had this tournament is similar to that England have had, while the one blip in the system has been the defeat by Pakistan, now a semi-finalist and facing India in Mohali. That is such an interesting outing as the teams meet in India for the first time without politics and fundamentalists spoiling the show.
Sangakkara still supported the middle-order despite some of its areas of concern and an inability to build on a solid platform, throwing away wickets that left a scrappy image of failing to build on a total designed to shutout the opposition.
One of Sangakkara's comments that was of interest is how he saw England as having a well-balanced side and one of the best in the tournament. Yet they have struggled and this is not just a matter, or even a question of the Michael Yardy departure from a stress-related problems. Whether is because he felt he wasn’t performing, as he should be is another matter.
Not too surprising, the British media were more interested in the Yardy story than the game which looms and is a chance for England to pull together a repeat of their ICC World T20 success in the Caribbean a year ago.
While Sangakkara touched briefly on Yardy and his departure for England, it still comes across as a player suffering a World War 2 syndrome known as "shell shock." As this is also similar to the feeling Dennis Amiss had during the Ashes Tests of 1974/75 when the pace of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. The thought of going out to bat again after a lunch tea break, left him dry retching. It is a far from pleasant condition. In the case of Yardy, the stress concern is one the player has to handle at such pressure areas of the game. The World Cup is one of them.
Sangakkara's take on the issue is that of a captain who is thinking of how his own team handles such pressure as they reach the quarterfinal. They have been there before, now they know that they need to win or will be out of the tournament.
"I think it gets really tough, the older you get and the longer you play," he said. "Your life feels a bit uncomfortable when you are touring outside (your country). I know everyone feels for Yardy. It is why every team will pay more attention to the psychological mindset as well."
Strauss, as is the case before games as this, suggested how Sri Lanka were a good, competitive side with what he called "good attacking options," Which is one way to look at it.
"More important," he commented, "is how England need to get their nose in front. These things are not always that easy. It is a matter of being focussed and application."
Although England have been hit by injuries, they have managed to struggle through and could meet bete noir South Africa at the same venue on Tuesday. To do that they need to beat Sri Lanka before a home crowd that supports the side and makes a lot of noise.
Far from easy, yet as both captains displayed confidence the knowledge is how while winning the toss is an advantage, adapting to the conditions is far more important and could so easily decide the outcome of the game.
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