Yorkshire cricket ground in Headingley.
Champika Fernando in Headingley
After England amassed 397 runs against Afghanistan—the highest in the tournament so far —it is difficult to see how Sri Lanka’s ragged bowling attack might contain the hosts when they face each other at Yorkshire Cricket ground on Friday.
England’s avalanche of runs came on the back of a ruthless performance by skipper Eoin Morgan who hit a world record 17 sixes in his blistering 148 runs in 71 balls to lead them to a record 150-run World Cup victory at the Old Trafford.
A victory here for the hosts on Friday will cement their place in the semi-finals but will shatter any hopes of Sri Lanka reaching the top four.
Sri Lanka’s campaign is yet to get off the ground. While they managed to pass a stern test from the Afghanistan players—their only win in the tournament so far—their defeats to New Zealand and Australia hurt their chances badly. They were also hit by washed-out games earlier in the tournament and must win at least three of their next four games to have some hope of reaching the semi-final.
The Cricket World Cup heads north to Headingley for the first time now. The team’s bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake—who missed out on a hat-trick in a World Cup game against Pakistan in 1983 at the same grounds when young Arjuna Ranatunga put down a straight forward chance at slip off Imran Khan—says Sri Lanka is yet to play to their true potential.
“We want to win every match," Ratnayake said, after overseeing a few players training at the indoor nets. "We play to win every game. We discussed the importance of doing our best. We have only seen glimpses of our potential and, on the day that we materialize our potential fully, that is when we will sort of come through. We hope in every game it will come through."
Certainly, of the three games played so far, potential has not been realised. Against New Zealand, Sri Lankan batting went down like nine pins, handing an easy chase to the former finalists. Even though they beat Afghanistan, their batting was in total disarray as they were bowled out for 201 runs off 36.5 overs before the bowlers set up a scintillating victory. In their last game against Australia, a familiar middle order collapse squandered what otherwise would have been a brilliant chase, to lose by 87 runs.
“I don’t think we can give any excuses," Ratnayake said, referring to the batting collapse at The Oval. "It was certainly a miss. I would not give that as an excuse. Conditions were good. We saw from the start we had in the batting it was fantastic start. We couldn’t have asked for a better start at The Oval. It’s a matter of finishing it well."
“We are aware that we need to be more consistent and believe in ourselves" he continued. "We have the potential and batsmen are aware of that. Nobody wants to get out cheaply. That’s in our mind. Every match we go in, we hope it will work well."
Ratnayake said the team knows challenges posed by the marauding Englishmen on Friday. The hosts are hot favourites to win the title this year.
“We know that they have a strong batting line up and they keep attacking," he said. "Their game plan is like that of the West Indies of the past. It doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws. We have watched them and we know what their weak areas are and it is a matter of exploiting those areas of vulnerabilities. There aren’t much of that but whatever they have, we have to exploit that."
Apart from their strong batting line up, England has got probably the best bowling unit at present with Barbados-born seamer Jofra Archer sending shivers down the spines of batsmen with his express delivery of over 150 kmph.
“We have seen him and that’s lot of input isn’t it. He attacks the stumps and he is sensational isn’t it,” Ratnayake who himself was a fast bowler said. “They have variety on all aspects. They have got pace and they have got guys who can move the ball. Those are the challenges our batsmen face. We are prepared for that. We will try to stimulate as much as possible like bowling machine and granite. But it is not like the real game. The actual thing is the real game. The boys are ready and we did well against them in one game in Colombo.”
Meanwhile, Lasith Malinga who returned home following the Australia game on Saturday to attend the arms-giving of his mother-in-law, has rejoined the team but not trained yesterday.
“He was here and he was going to train today," Ratnayake said. "The weather wasn’t good for him to train. He flew in yesterday (Tuesday). He will bowl tomorrow and he has done well in the tournament. A few overs tomorrow will help him to get into his strides,” he added. As weather did not permit outdoor training, only a few players were seen in training at the indoor nets."