Unpredictable England have nothing to fear
Posted in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011
Batting coach Graham Gooch claims England "do not fear" Sri Lanka ahead of their World Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday. This, I can believe. After what has been an eventful World Cup for England, why should they fear Sri Lanka?
Just look at the results in England’s campaign so far. There was the hard-fought victory over the Netherlands, credible wins against South Africa and West Indies, an enthralling tie with India and then two defeats. Who have they slipped up against? Bangladesh and Ireland. I repeat: Bangladesh and Ireland.
These shock outcomes may have assisted the World Cup as a spectacle, but Andrew Strauss and co won’t take that as any consolation. The fact is, England shouldn’t have been relying on other results come the final group game; it should have been job done.
What is done is done, though, and England are through to the last eight of the World Cup. At the end of the day, that is all that counts at this stage.
Some comfort can be taken from the teams that join them in the quarter-finals. This is because none of the minnows made it. Ireland, Bangladesh and the Netherlands saved their best performances for England before crashing out, while Kenya and Canada only managed one win between them.
Referring back to Gooch’s comments, it could be said that they would be more apprehensive facing one of the smaller sides. Had Kenya or even Zimbabwe made it through, the pressure would have been on England, with many talking about Strauss’ men suffering an unexpected defeat once again.
Now, they face co-hosts Sri Lanka in a game that many are predicting they will suffer defeat in. With Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Mahela Jayawardene and, of course, Muttiah Muralitharan in their ranks, the 2007 finalists are a formidable force.
Throw in the fact that England are without Kevin Pietersen, Stuart Broad and Ajmal Shahzad, and you could say that it is backs-against-the-wall time for them.
If recent matches are anything to go by, this is just fine. This is a team that matched India’s formidable total of 338, managed to dismiss South Africa for 165 after they were coasting towards their target and produced last-ditch bowling heroics to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat against West Indies.
This is a talented England team that seem to perform at their best against stronger sides when people are writing them off. Therefore, a quarter-final clash against Sri Lanka and a last eight containing no minnows could suit them down to the ground.
I’m not sure whether my own emotional feelings towards a game are mirrored by those of the England players, but my nerves would be up a notch if it was Canada that England were facing. Seems ridiculous, I know, but I am much more comfortable with a contest against Sri Lanka and am convinced the players will be too.
They can concentrate on their own games more and, safe in the knowledge that they can beat any team on their day, avoid worrying about losing out to a minnow of world cricket.
I believe that the negative headlines may have been going through the team’s mind when Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien was launching the England attack to all parts. It might be an explanation for the dropped catches in that match if nothing else.
This won’t be the case against Sri Lanka, though. Having matched India and shown excellent spirit to defeat South Africa and West Indies, this England team have a chance to prove their critics wrong. It is two very capable sides coming up against each other in what should be a tightly fought match - a recipe for success so far in this World Cup for Andy Flower and his unpredictable team.
Don’t get me wrong - it will be a very tough test on Saturday and England need the likes of Strauss, Matt Prior and James Anderson to show some Ashes-winning form, but they will hopefully thrive in an environment that will be similar to that of their game with India, this time sneaking over the line.
The defeats to Ireland and Bangladesh will then be a distant memory and, with many more twists and turns to come, England could yet have the last laugh.