Colombo: Pakistan, having left behind the venue Shahid Afridi called "Fortress Khettarama" after successive victories over the more fancied teams, Sri Lanka and Australia, in their World Cup Group A, England are now hoping, somehow, to plot a similar path.
Afridi called the venue Pakistan’s "talisman for our World Cup success" and the win over dismal West Indies proved the point. While Australia failed to make the most of wining the toss, how will it affect England’s chances? It is a genuine guessing game.
Pakistan won both their important group games in the Khettarama cauldron: first by batting first against Sri Lanka and out-manoeuvred them with their smart bowling strategy. Australia batted first and lost to a side that had learnt how to handle such conditions.
Now it is England's turn as they arrive for their quarterfinal against Sri Lanka, feeling so confident after one session and another under lights to skip a Thursday practice.
Considering how England's entry into the quarterfinals was one of scowls of concern over their batting and bowling efforts, their nonchalant approach to drop a practice session comes as a surprise. It is why the game against Sri Lank has been fraught with fitness problems and a list of chaotic results in Group B. Defeat by Ireland, victory over an introspective South Africa and the tie with India. That result exposed India’s flawed bowling and fielding for the first time and which was exploited by South Africa in a game that plunged millions into early mourning.
What should be recalled is how it was Sri Lanka's lively fielding in 1996, which supported a very average bowling attack in that World Cup campaign. Admissions by Hashan Tillakaratne and Dav Whatmore, the coach, how there were times the bowling was below World Cup standard. Yet they managed to pull off a few surprises.
Now there is a "bit of a scare" over Muttiah Muralitharan's fitness, which coach Trevor Bayliss suggests is nothing serious, and that he would be ready for the game against England after having bowled with typical efficiency against New Zealand.
This year's World Cup has been a mix of success and an acknowledgement of how failure against Pakistan would get them back in the groove. It has not though, quite been the planned easy ride. Sure, they beat an underpowered New Zealand side through their spin bowlers and the Kiwis failing to pull an innings together when it was needed.
With Daniel Vettori injured, it made it tough for Ross Taylor to lead from a position of strength and was similar to the Champions Trophy final in South Africa where they faced Australia with Vettori nursing an injury.
England's bowling and fielding performances have been problematical as well. Their bowlers injury list has resulted in a revolving door system while Sri Lanka have been fortunate to retain a side based on the seven batsmen and four bowlers format and only now is there a little concern.
Matt Prior tried to place a different perspective on England's preparations for the quarterfinal. If they lost at this stage of the tournament, it would a major disappointment.
"We are here to win the World Cup, not come second," he growled. "Of course we'd be bitterly disappointed if we lost on Saturday and why the squad is a good one in such conditions."
He did admit how when he was told he would open the innings after the departure of Kevin Pietersen, it was a matter of the management making final decisions. As there were still important games to play, it was a matter of seeing who fitted in where.
"I think that as a unit, one of our major strengths is how our batting has adapted so well to different teams, different conditions," he said. "I don't think any batsman in the top six or seven has a particular argument about where they'll bat. At the moment, I think that is our strength."
He did admit he liked opening the batting for England as it gave him a chance to bat through the 50 overs of the innings and build a big score in the process.
"I know that if I do open, a big score is around the corner for me," he said with some confidence. "I am hitting the ball well and if one or two things go my way, and I will get a big score. Over here (the subcontinent), one of my key strengths is moving the ball around in the field, especially when the spinners are on, and that's a part of my game that I back.
"Probably it has to be utilised as well. Whether that means I open or bat a little lower in the order, I don't really know. All I know is that wherever I am batting, there will be a reason for it. I have got to make sure that I prepare myself as best as possible for the conditions that I face.
"If that is opening, I'll be a doing a lot of work against the new ball. If I am batting down the order, I'll be doing a lot of work against spin and reverse-swing. All you can do is prepare as best as you can for the role you are given," he commented.
Prior felt the victory over the West Indies had given the side important self-belief at an important stage of the CWC11 campaign.
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