Sri Lanka banking on Murali’s spin


COLOMBO – Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara hopes fit-again spinner Muttiah Muralitharan rises to the challenge of a World Cup quarter-final against England on Saturday. Sangakkara said the 38-year-old off-spinner, who will retire from international cricket after the tournament, was fully fit for the R. Premadasa stadium clash.
Muralitharan, who has a world record of 530 one-day wickets, injured his hamstring during Sri Lanka’s impressive 112-run win over New Zealand last week, but has since recovered. The wily off-spinner is the only survivor of Sri Lanka’s historic five-wicket win over England in the 1996 quarter-final — one of Sri Lanka’s two wins over their opponents in eight World Cup matches.
Muralitharan took two wickets in that match in Faisalabad before Sri Lanka went on to capture their only World Cup title. “Muralitharan is a hundred percent fit. He is a guy who rises to the occasion and we are confident about what he can do for us in this crucial match,” said Sangakkara on Friday. Sangakkara refused to believe that the pressure will only be on Sri Lanka, playing before a packed 35,000 crowd.
“I don’t think the pressure will only be on us. All sides feel the intensity and pressure of a big match with the incentive of a semi-final place involved,” said Sangakkara, whose team finished runners-up to Australia in 2007 World Cup held in the Caribbean. Sangakkara said England have proven their worth in the group stages. “England are one of the best sides and they have proven it in the tournament so expect nothing less than their best,” said Sangakkara, praising England’s batting and bowling.
In Jonathan Trott (336 runs) and captain Andrew Strauss (329), England have two quality batsmen but their bowling has been a weak link. The Ashes winners, who have yet to win the World Cup, opened the tournament with a tied match against India, lost to both Ireland and Bangladesh but still beat South Africa to qualify for the last eight. With Graeme Swann (12 wickets) and James Tredwell, who took a match-winning four wickets in the decisive Group B win over the West Indies, England have two quality spinners.
“If we do progress in this tournament, we’ve got to be a lot better than we have been. We’re not going to hide from that,” said Strauss. England have suffered a stream of injuries in the tournament having seen ace batsman Kevin Pietersen (hernia), pacemen Stuart Broad (side strain) and Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring) forced out.
All-rounder Michael Yardy then pulled out due to depression, forcing England to bring in leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who won’t make it from the Caribbean, where he has been touring with the England second-string, in time for the match. England will also hope Tim Bresnen recovers fully from a calf niggle. If not, medium pacer Jade Dernbach, flown in as replacement earlier this week, could get a chance.
The winner of Sri Lanka-England quarter-final will meet the winner of the South Africa-New Zealand clash in the first semi-final in Colombo on March 29. India and Pakistan meet in the second semi-final in Mohali on March 30.
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Mahela Jayawardene, Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath.
Coach: Trevor Bayliss (AUS)
England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Eoin Morgan, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Jade Dernbach, James Tredwell, Luke Wright, Chris Tremlett.
Coach: Andy Flower (ZIM)
Pitch conditions: The R. Premadasa stadium pitch has grass which may be mown after two days. It has bounce and will offer help to spinners in the later stages of the match.