World Twenty20: Ominous for England but Eoin Morgan holds key
On balance the omens are poor for England tonight. The last time they played Sri Lanka in a do-or-die match in a major limited-overs tournament it ended in abject defeat by 10 wickets and the resignation of their captain.
Whatever happens in their final Super Eight match of the World Twenty20 tonight, which is effectively a quarter-final, Stuart Broad's position is safe. Andrew Strauss merely decided it was time to go. But unless lessons from various quarters have been digested the rest of the outcome will be similar. First there is that quarter-final in the 2011 World Cup, when Sri Lanka prevailed by 10 wickets with both their opening batsman scoring centuries and England looked not only tired but out of their class.
And then there are matches earlier in this tournament, particularly when England performed so lamentably against the spin of India. It can be supposed that Sri Lanka will mount a similar attack of the slow men tonight.
England must address that little difficulty (which some might say would banish at least 50 years of history) while also rectifying the poor construction of their innings so far. The victory by six wickets against New Zealand on Saturday with seven balls left has clearly bucked them up.
Eoin Morgan, the team's most important batsman, agreed that spin and the approach to it could be the decisive factors. Play it well and England will have a sniff against a host team which is beginning to look the most assured here. "It is going to be crucial," said Morgan. "You play in a different way than you normally would do. To have guys who have had success here is crucial."
What has played with England's mind more than anything else as this competition has progressed in the last fortnight is the fact that the tactic that made them champions two years ago has not been effective this time.
In 2010 they came out blazing from the start and were rewarded. But this is different. They had a new opening partnership last time who knew no fear and Craig Kieswetter, the survivor so far from it, has struggled to adjust his game to different pitches. He may pay the price for this as Jonny Bairstow practised with the wicket-keeping gloves for 20 minutes at England's training session yesterday.
If Kieswetter is dropped Michael Lumb, who played in the 2010 but had seemed surplus to requirements now, would seem the likely replacement. The lack at Kevin Pietersen at No 3 despite, Luke Wright's manful successes, has been a clear short coming. Pietersen is one of the best Twenty20 players in the world, opponents know it and respond accordingly.
The inability against spin has been matched by a failure to deduce how the first six overs, which constitute the powerplay, should be played.
Morgan, who shows signs of coming into his most impressive limited-overs form, said: "When we've won games in the past and played well we've played really positive cricket and got along with things very well. Over here it's difficult.
"You have to get yourself in and maybe catch up with things from three overs to six. It's a bit of a conundrum but it's different from what we're used to. We haven't come to terms with it so far but we're working on it and trying to find a difference between firing and having a good solid start."
They had better find it tonight or the defence of their title will be over.
England (probable): MJ Lumb, AD Hales, LJ Wright, EJG Morgan, JM Bairstow (wkt), JC Buttler, TT Bresnan, SCJ Broad (capt) GP Swann, DR Briggs, ST Finn,
Sri Lanka (probable): M Jayawardene (capt), T Dilshan, K Sangakkara (wkt), A Mathews, J Mendis, L Thirimanne, T Perera, N Kulasekera, L Malinga, R Herath, A Mendis
Weather: Chance of very light rain early on, 31 degrees with 21 per cent cloud cover. 15mph wind and 48 per cent humidity.
TV Times: Sky Sports 1 HD, 14.30-18.30, highlights at 01.00 Wednesday morning.
Odds: Sri Lanka 4/6, England 6/5
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