Sri Lanka begin preperations for England

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The Independent Online

Sri Lanka could not have asked for a more favorable draw for the World Cup quarterfinals, playing at home against an inconsistent England lineup that just scraped into the knockout stage.

The Sri Lankans won the last World Cup that was staged in Asia — in 1996 — and reached the final in the last edition before losing to Australia.

And the Sri Lankans are determined to send Muttiah Muralitharan, the all-time leading bowler in test and limited-overs cricket, into retirement with a second World Cup title.

Sri Lanka qualified comfortably, while England went through the most nerve-racking results in the tournament with shocking defeats against Ireland and Bangladesh.

Andrew Strauss' English squad held off the West Indies in a dramatic end to a must-win match last Thursday, then watched on TV in their New Delhi hotel as South Africa quashed the hopes of Bangladesh in the last Group B match, dragging England and India into the next stage with them.

A sensational high-scoring tie against India and victories over South Africa, Netherlands and the West Indies gave England seven points to make the knockout cut.

"It's been pretty incredible, tiring and a little bit frustrating that we haven't quite put it all together," batsman Ian Bell said.

Despite its bumpy run in the World Cup, Strauss and England No. 3 batsman Jonathan Trott are in good form.

Trott (336) has scored four half centuries and is second behind Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara (363) on the chart of leading runscorers in the tournament.

Strauss is not far behind with 329 runs, including 158 in the tied game against India.

While English's top order has handled the slow subcontinent wickets reasonably well, its fast bowlers — primarily Lancashire's James Anderson — has disappointed.

Anderson's poor form — a combined 4-282 in five matches — forced Strauss to drop the 28-year-old paceman from the last match against the West Indies.

As expected, offspinner Graeme Swann has been the main wicket-taker for England with 12, three ahead of seamer Tim Bresnan. James Tredwell's spin worked spectacularly well in his only match, returning 4-48 against West Indies.

Strauss had to make some tough decisions when he gave opportunities to allrounder Luke Wright in place of veteran allrounder Paul Collingwood in a close 18-run win over the West Indies last week.

Wright scored 44 while Tredwell did more than enough to justify his inclusion at Anderson's expense.

England had twice scored totals of more than 300 runs, but they might find it tough to score at R. Premadasa Stadium on Saturday.

Pakistan successfully defended 277-7 against Sri Lanka but in the other matches at the venue, teams batting first have failed to cross the 200-run mark. Sri Lanka looked set to post a decent total and were at 146-3 before rain abandoned its group match against Australia. The defending champion Australians were skittled for 176 in a four-wicket loss to Pakistan on the weekend, ending a 34-match unbeaten stretch at the World Cup.

With the likes of Muralitharan and paceman Lasith Malinga among Sri Lanka's ranks it will be an enormous test for the English batsmen.

Bell believed England has enough firepower left to go ahead in the tournament.

"Three games, and we can win a World Cup," he said. "It's very clear to us what we have to do, and I'm sure there are a lot of teams around that don't really want to play England because they don't quite know what they're going to get at the minute."

While England has numerous problems, Sri Lanka stuttered only once in the group stage in a narrow, 11-run loss to group winner Pakistan.

Sangakkara along with his deputy Mahela Jayawardene and opening pair of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga are in great batting form and all have scored centuries.

There's a a slight worry over Muralitharan's fitness ahead of Saturday's match after the offspinner pulled a hamstring while batting in the last group match against New Zealand at Mumbai.

Sangakkara said Muralitharan's recovery will be vital for his team and the offspinner was confident he would be fit.

"I have been carrying this hamstring injury for some time and it's not a problem," Muralitharan told the cricinfo website. "I am prepared to play the rest of the matches because I am retiring after the World Cup."

Muralitharan had to leave the field twice at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium last Friday before capturing 4-25 in Sri Lanka's huge 153-run win.

"Murali did a pretty OK job bowling off one leg and getting us all those wickets. He bowled beautifully," Sangakkara said. "Murali's done it before with an injury in Australia and he nearly won us a game there. Here it was something special, it shows how hungry he is to play and do well."