AHMEDABAD, India, (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 today.
“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 today.
“I think he did a bit of running and soft bowing and he bowled yesterday as well,” Mahela Jayawardene told reporters on Thursday. “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.