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Eratic England prepare for Sri Lanka Published: 25 March 2011

England will need to find the best of their erratic World Cup form as they face co-hosts Sri Lanka with a place in the semi-finals at stake.

Sri Lanka will have the advantage of home conditions and support in Colombo’s R Premadasa Stadium.

Kumar Sangakkara’s team start as hot favourites, with Muttiah Muralithuran - who retires from internationals at the end of the tournament - declared fit after a hamstring injury.

England have made two changes to their squad since completing the group stage, with Jade Dernbach and Adil Rashid replacing Ajmal Shahzad and Mike Yardy.

Dernbach could start as England look to freshen things up but Rashid - who is flying in from England Lions duty in the Caribbean - does not arrive until the day of the match so is highly unlikely to play.

Entertainers

Andrew Strauss’ men have blown hot and cold throughout the tournament. They looked set for an early exit in their final group match against the West Indies.

However, a spectacular Windies collapse - losing four wickets for three runs - gave England a lifeline, one they will be desperate to make the most of.

Their form throughout their six matches so far has lurched from the fantastic to farcical.

Defeats to Ireland and Bangladesh were mixed in with thrilling wins over South Africa and West Indies and an epic tie against India.

England know one more limp performance would end a monumental winter's work but, if they can finally put in an all-round performance they could upset co-hosts Sri Lanka.

Quite what formula England will opt for may be the most intriguing part of the pre-match build-up.

As ever, the management have kept their cards close to their chest but speculation suggests Matt Prior will be replaced at the top of the order by Ian Bell or Ravi Bopara.

Luke Wright and James Tredwell, impressive in their first appearances of the competition against West Indies, may keep their places with James Anderson out of favour.

Dernbach is uncapped at international level has already developed a reputation as a quality death bowler with a superbly disguised slower ball.

The 24-year-old has been in brilliant form for England Lions in the Caribbean and could well be drafted straight into the side to inject fresh legs into a fatigued bowling attack.

Home advantage

Sangakkara’s side had a fairly easy ride in the group stage with a defeat to Pakistan the only blemish on their copybook.

Their top-order, featuring the brilliant Mahela Jayawardene, is overflowing with style and experience.

With the ball, Murali - possibly playing his last international match - leads a balanced attack featuring Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis and the impressive Nuwan Kulasekara.

England will look to target the fifth bowler though, with the job likely to be shared between medium pacer Angelo Mathews the part-time spin of Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Their other area of potential weakness is their middle order.

Mathews, Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva have failed to add any significant scores to the Sri Lankan cause with just one half century between them. The co-hosts also have one of the longer tails in the tournament.

A prolific top four has so far disguised the vulnerability of their lower order and England will be desperate to find a way though when they bowl.

Key battle - Graeme Swann v Kumar Sangakkara

Swann is Strauss’ key weapon on the sub-continent and is his side’s top wicket taker in this World Cup with 12. He also loves bowling to left-handers like the Sri Lanka skipper.

Sangakkara has been in pristine form and is the tournament's second highest run scorer with 363 at an average of 121. His wicket will prove crucial.

Verdict

Sri Lanka are the deserved favourites but their serene progress from the group stage could come back to haunt them.

England have been the tournament’s wildcard. They have the talent and bloody-mindedness to prolong their stay in the sub-continent.

Whatever the result, get prepared for another classic encounter.


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