(Reuters) - Sri Lanka will bank on their home advantage against an English side grappling with inconsistency and injuries in today’s World Cup quarter-final in Colombo.
Consistency has been a real problem for England who narrowly escaped an upset against the Netherlands, tied with India, went down to Ireland before losing to Bangladesh in the group stages of the showpiece event.
Injuries have not helped England’s cause either.
As if losing Kevin Pietersen (hernia), Stuart Broad (side strain) and Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring) to injuries was not bad enough, all-rounder Michael Yardy was the latest to fly back home suffering from depression.
The problems mean the reigning Twenty20 champions have never looked like a settled team in the competition they are aiming to win for the first time.
Broad’s absence weakened the England bowling attack and despite off-spinner Graeme Swann’s form, it has not been enough to instil fear into the minds of their opponents.
The batting, barring Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott, has had its issues with most of the problems starting at the top of the order. England have struggled with their opening pair after the departure of Pietersen and Matt Prior has failed to shine in the role so far.
They might have to look for a different opening partner for captain Strauss on Saturday.
“When I was told I would be opening when KP went down, it wasn’t a done decision for the whole tournament,” Prior said. “There wasn’t a decision made that I would be opening for the rest of the competition.”
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have no such problems and are brimming with confidence.
Barring the blip against Pakistan, the co-hosts have lived up to their billing as one of the favourites with their batting complementing their strong bowling line-up.
Captain Kumar Sangakkara has led the side from the front, evident from his position at the top of the scorers’ list at the end of the group stages.
In Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis the 1996 champions have a potent attack which can prove a handful for any batting line-up and more so in their home conditions.
If England were hoping for a respite from Muralitharan, who suffered a hamstring injury while batting against New Zealand last week, they will be disappointed.
The game’s most successful bowler is expected to be fit and is raring to go come Saturday.
“I think he did a bit of running and soft bowing and he bowled yesterday as well,” Mahela Jayawardene told reporters.
“He is fine and I think he will have his sessions tomorrow and its up to him to how he wants to prepare for the game... We won’t question him.”
Jayawardene also warned his team against complacency.
“I think all their games were very close. But if you analyse, the few games they lost were pretty close and they beat some of the top teams (South Africa and West Indies)... and we cannot be complacent about what they have done in the group stage,” the former captain said.
“They are a quality side... They got good players and they can turn things around.”
But England’s Prior probably summed it up best.
“We haven’t played our best and we go into the quarter-finals as underdogs against the very strong Sri Lanka team,” he said, not mincing a single word.
Sangakkara says Murali fit for quarterfinal
Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara says his ace offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan is fit for Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal against England.
Muralitharan, the leading wicket-taker in both Test matches and ODIs, pulled his hamstring during the last group match against New Zealand last week.
Sangakkara says “Murali is fine to play, he is 100 per cent OK which is great for us.”
Muralitharan has already announced his retirement from international cricket after the World Cup. He has so far taken 11 wickets in six 2011 World Cup matches at an average of 14.18.
Sangakkara says Muralitharan “does really well in big games” and his side is confident the champion offspinner can produce the goods for Sri Lanka.
Strauss says troubled England all set for Sri Lanka
England captain Andrew Strauss shrugged off Michael Yardy’s World Cup withdrawal on Friday, saying his players were all focused on Saturday’s quarter-final against Sri Lanka.
All-rounder Yardy left for home Thursday after suffering depression, leaving injury-hit England with more problems ahead of their knock-out game at R. Premadasa stadium.
“It’s not difficult to focus our minds on this game of cricket,” said Strauss.
“It’s a must-win game. It’s a one-off event. If we lose, we are on the plane home. If we win, we are in the World Cup semi-final.”
England, who have not qualified for the semi-finals since their runners-up finish to Pakistan in 1992, have called up leg-break bowler Adil Rashid from the England Lions’ tour of the Caribbean.
But he will not be able to make it in time for Saturday’s match.
Rashid is the fourth replacement in the England squad since Stuart Broad (side strain), Kevin Pietersen (hernia) and Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring) were forced out.
Strauss said facing Sri Lanka will be a big challenge.
“Sri Lanka are a good side with a lot of attacking options both with bat and ball and they are obviously on their home patch,” he said.
“It’s going to be a significant challenge for us. The key, like it always is, to get your nose in front of the game and the pressure is big, especially at this stage of the World Cup.”
“We are very excited about the challenge. At this stage there is nothing to lose. You have got to go out there and win games of cricket. And that sort of mindset has served us well in the past.”
Strauss said England have battled through the group stages, beating South Africa but losing to Ireland and Bangladesh after their tied match against title favourites India.
“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. You have to be quick enough to adapt to whatever comes your way.”
Strauss said dealing with injuries has tested his side.
“We have had to deal with that right from the end of the Ashes (in Australia). We have had a lot of injuries, a lot of people coming and going, and I think that tests out your resolve as a group.”
Strauss said struggling paceman James Anderson, who has taken only four wickets in five matches, could be an option against Sri Lanka.
“He has freshened up to a certain extent. Obviously he didn’t play in the last game. He has had nine or 10 days away from cricket, and he certainly bowled very well in the nets and, with his experience, he is an option.”
Strauss added that medium-pacer Tim Bresnan should be fit for Saturday after suffering a calf injury.