English resolve vs Lankan guile

English resolve vs Lankan guile

PONDERING THEIR CHANCES: England skipper Andrew Strauss (right) and Ian Bell during a net session ahead of their World Cup quarterfinal match against  Sri Lanka in Colombo on Friday. DH Photo/ P SAMSON VICTOR

The temperature was hovering at an unforgiving 38 degrees celsius and many players were jostling for a piece of shade that the sightscreen near the practice nets offered. But Andrew Strauss was unmindful of the bustle around him, going through his paces steadily.

It was not Strauss’ willingness to work that caught the imagination — it was the Middlesex man’s ability to forget the harsh weather in his eagerness to tide over his limitations as a one-day opener that was more fascinating. In that sense, Strauss presented the story of England in the 2011 World Cup.

If survival is an art, England have perfected it in this World Cup, just like Strauss showed on a sizzling Friday. They’ve showed a great endurance to go through innumerable hazards in the league phase of the tournament to enter the quarterfinal stage.

Now the drama kings will have their moment of truth on Saturday when they face Sri Lanka in the quarterfinals at the R Premadasa stadium. It will also offer answer to a few questions that the followers of England have been asking.

How much energy has left in their body and mind to pull off another miracle? Have they got enough resolve to tame a rival who has made this part of the world their impregnable bastion? There might be many doubters, but Strauss was confident about his team’s ability.

“We have shown a lot of resolve, we have shown that we are able to stick together in close encounters, but you never know what this game is going to throw at you, and you have to be quick enough to adapt to whatever comes your way. Obviously, the wicket here has been relaid, so we are not entirely sure how it’s going to play. We have just got to play good smart cricket. Now, is the time to play good, smart, intelligent cricket and ask questions of the opposition,” Strauss said.

But that’s a task not beyond England. In a must-win match against the West Indies in Chennai, England had showed that they could withstand immense pressure created by the opposition and fans back home and travelling with them. However, Sri Lanka are a vastly different opponent.

They have more accomplished players in their ranks than the West Indies, and the Lankans are a feared force in their own backyard, almost unbeatable. The presence of players like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muraliatharan and Lasith Malinga add to their aura.

But England will once again have to face the situation unfazed as they have done so far in this edition. They will have to keep pegging at the weaknesses in the Lankan armour, like their over-reliance on Sangakkara and Jayawardene, and hope the hosts will falter. A tall order indeed, but not impossible!

England have to believe that feisty characters like Graeme Swann, Strauss, Eoin Morgan and Jonathan Trott can once again stand up to the pressure like they have been doing at various stages of this tournament. That  ability to play the roles of enforcer and defender is England’s real strength, carrying them thus far without being an intimidating force.

Sangakkara was well aware of the threat England poses on the morrow. “They have covered their bases well. They already have got two good spinners in Swann and Tredwell. Now, they have flown in a third spinner (Adil Rashid in place of Michael Yardy), so we have to be careful. But I am sure they will feel the pressure, and the crowd on their back,” Sangakkara said.

But hasn’t England already shown the ability to tame adversities? Prepare then for a close encounter!

Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Mahela Jayawardene (vice-capt), Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Thisara Perera, Dilhara Fernando, Rangana Herath.

England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Matt Prior, Eoin Morgan, James Anderson, Adil Rashid, Graeme Swann, James Treadwell, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Paul Collingwood, Jade Dernbach, Chris Tremlett, Luke Wright.

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