Sri Lanka raise England's spirits

<preform>Zimbabwe 191<br>Sri Lanka 195-6<br>Sri Lanka win by 4 wickets</preform>
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The Independent Online

In their opening match of the Champions' Trophy, Sri Lanka did little to suggest they have the wherewithal to knock England out of the tournament at the Rose Bowl on Friday.

In their opening match of the Champions' Trophy, Sri Lanka did little to suggest they have the wherewithal to knock England out of the tournament at the Rose Bowl on Friday. Marvan Atapattu's side were made to work hard for their four-wicket victory over Zimbabwe, and England, no doubt watching at their hotel in Portsmouth, can only have taken encouragement from the stuttering performance they witnessed.

For 30 overs of this Pool A match Sri Lanka looked like the second best one-day team in the world. The ground fielding was razor sharp, the bowling accurate and the catching breathtaking. But then, having reduced Zimbabwe to 85 for 6, they switched off. Against a team as weak and inexperienced as Zimbabwe an indiscretion like this is unlikely to be costly. But against England, in what is now a quarter-final in everything but name, further errors will lead to a quick return to Colombo.

Credit must be given to Zimbabwe, though, and in particular Elton Chigumbura, for providing another meagre crowd with the closest match of a tournament in which the games have so far been one-sided.

The 18-year-old from Kwekwe scored a confident half-century and took three wickets in a display which deservedly won him the man-of-the-match award.

The Oval had an end-of-season feel when play started. A howling gale blew across the half-built ground, and threatening clouds looked as though they would send the players scurrying to the dressing-room. But this only happened once, when Zimbabwe were on 63 for 4.

Nuwan Zoysa and Farveez Maharoof provided Zimbabwe's batsmen with the greater problems on a pitch that offered encouragement. Zoysa, a lanky left-arm seamer, claimed his 100th one-day wicket in a fine display of seam bowling, while Maharoof showed promise.

Twelve months ago, the 20-year-old seamer opened the bowling with myself on Stanmore Common. His pace and willingness to learn impressed. He now has the chance to show everyone at Stanmore Cricket Club just how far he has come.

Sri Lanka knew they had to pass Zimbabwe's total of 191 in 27.5 overs if they were to have a better run-rate than England. This would put them through to the semi-finals should Friday's match be washed out.

But after the loss of two early wickets this plan was shelved and victory became their sole objective. This was achieved with 37 balls to spare but Sri Lanka's batting looked vulnerable, even against a poor attack.

"We have to do better than this," Atapattu admitted. "It is application more than improvement that we are looking for. We have just played a lot of cricket on the Subcontinent and you need time to adjust. But in this tournament you don't get much time."

Stephen Harmison, Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff are sure to be a challenging proposition on a seaming pitch in Southampton, and the toss could be the most important moment of the game.

¿ Owais Shah, the England one-day batsman, has committed his future to Middlesex by signing a new four-year deal at the end of a season in which he was sacked as stand-in captain. The South African fast bowler Nantie Hayward also agreed another one-year contract for 2005.