Dominic Cork: Murali no longer mystery for England's believers
Outside Off Stump
Wednesday 23 March 2011
The biggest question for England supporters this week is which one of their three teams – the good, the bad or the keep us guessing until the last ball – will turn up in Colombo on Saturday. It wasn't a problem that faced our fans when we last met Sri Lanka in a World Cup quarter-final.
Fifteen years have flown by since we were walloped by the eventual tournament winners in 1996 but the memories are still strong. I had the added disappointment of missing the Sri Lanka match with a knee injury but it is fair to say that the result in Faisalabad – a five-wicket loss – surprised no one at the time because we had struggled to make an impression while our opponents were blazing a path to glory.
Like this year's England, we went into the World Cup almost immediately after a long winter tour of Tests and one-day internationals (South Africa, in our case). And, similarly again, we had some good individual players with the likes of Neil Fairbrother and Robin Smith on board. But, unlike this lot, I don't think we believed in ourselves as a team – and that is perhaps the greatest strength of Andrew Strauss's squad.
While the 2011 England have ridden a real rollercoaster through the group stage, we made it to the last eight by virtue of beating the Netherlands and United Arab Emirates and despite losing to New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan.
We did not make too many people sit up, even against Sri Lanka when we tried opening the bowling with left-arm spinner Richard Illingworth and asked seamer Phillip DeFreitas to send down some off breaks. All that happened was Sanath Jayasuriya hit 80 off about 40 balls and the quarter-final was done and dusted with 10 overs to spare.
After scrambling through their group, I reckon England have as good a chance as any side in the last eight. What really encourages me is they clearly have the feeling they're going to win it, with people like Graeme Swann happy to talk optimistically on the subject. That belief obviously stems from the fact that they have come through some desperately tight situations and the more you believe in yourselves the more likely you are to emerge triumphant.
Sri Lanka will be tough opponents: a good side, playing in their own conditions and with a full house behind them. But, unlike 15 years ago when their attacking style of play stunned many people, there will not be any surprises for Strauss's men.
For example, in 1996 Muttiah Muralitharan was still very much a mystery bowler. He is still going strong, which is a fantastic effort, and can be a match-winner. But just think what a threat he was 15 years ago when we did not have all the video technology, or the analysts, to help batsmen work out how bowlers bowled different deliveries.
Whether England decide to open the batting with Ian Bell and regardless of who takes the new ball, I want to see them try to dominate this quarter-final.
Throughout Murali's career people have questioned his action. But I'm much more interested in what the little man has brought to cricket and I believe he has been an absolute credit to his sport. I count myself very lucky to have played both against him, when England were up against Sri Lanka, and with him when we were at Lancashire.
I hope England spoil Murali's day on Saturday. But if not I would love to see him man of the match in the final.
Be wary of Ponting with point to prove
Never underestimate Ricky Ponting. Australia's captain has not been in great form of late and there is talk that he could be in his last few days as skipper. But writing off a player like Ponting before he is ready to go seems to me a bit like putting a match to a firework.
Ponting will not need telling when it is time to call it quits. But you can see he still has plenty of passion for international cricket and I would not discount the possibility of him leading Australia to another World Cup triumph.
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