Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne has declared England’s batsmen as the best players of spin bowling in the world.
Karunaratne’s assessment not only turns the traditional view on its head – for years Englishmen were seen as easy pickings for high-quality spin – it also puts to bed an early World Cup trend.
South African leg-break bowler Imran Tahir was the surprising choice to take the first over of the tournament and dismissed Jonny Bairstow for a golden duck, a trick Pakistan’s Shadab Khan followed by removing Jason Roy early in the next game.
There was a growing sense that the top order’s Achilles heel had been uncovered but with Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan successfully neutralised in Cardiff and Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan going wicketless for an eye-watering 110 last time out, it has been recast as a red herring.
“I think England is the best batting line-up against the spinners in the world,” said Karunaratne, who had a good view of Friday’s opponents during England’s successful winter tour of Sri Lanka.
“I think if you take the Asian countries, England are playing better than them, so that is why we need to think about that.
“Are we playing two spinners or are we going with the extra batsman or fast bowlers? Those are the things we are discussing now. The only thing we know is they are a good side against the spinners so far.”
Dhananjaya De Silva will carry the Sri Lankan slow bowling attack, but England may be more focused on the returning Lasith Malinga.
The veteran paceman showed hints of his old self with three wickets against Afghanistan but has only just returned following a sombre trip home.
“His mother-in-law’s passed so that is why he went, you know. He is here with the side now,” said Karunaratne.
“We have to accept those things but he was keen to come and play. If he wanted to stay another couple of days, he could, but he came early.”
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It could very well be another mismatch at the 2019 World Cup when hosts England take on Sri Lanka in Leeds on Friday.
Hosts England provided further proof of their title credentials by knocking the wind out of Afghanistan in their previous clash with captain Eoin Morgan hitting a world record 17 sixes in a 150-run demolition of the Afghans.
Morgan’s team will have another chance to flex their muscles when they play Sri Lanka, with the hosts holding the upper hand in all departments.
SRI LANKA MUST PLAY THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES
The form England are in at the moment, even the best of most teams seems to be falling well short. Sri Lanka know they will have to play their best cricket to stop this England outfit, be it the belligerent batting of Jonny Bairstow, Morgan, Jos Buttler and Co or the 93mph bowling of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
They will, however, take some comfort from their previous match against Australia where they seemed to be in with a serious chance in the first two hours of their chase of 335. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera added 115 inside 16 overs and it took all the might of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins to stop Sri Lanka. So it can be done.
BIG DAY FOR MOEEN
It will be a special day for all-rounder Moeen Ali as he gears up for his 100th ODI. Moeen made it back to the team following a stomach upset to pacer Liam Plunkett. But after his brilliant 9-ball 31 against Afghanistan and tidy bowling, should retain his spot.
“It obviously means a lot, to play 100 ODI games for England. I never, ever thought in my wildest dreams that I would get close to it,” he said.
“It’s an amazing feeling. To see the team we are now, looking back if I was to retire I’d always be able to say I was part of that change, the whole mindset changing and the great cricket we’ve played.”
Moeen said his team can’t afford to take Sri Lanka lightly.
“There’s still a lot of games to go but it looks like that could be the top four. But anything can happen, we know that, I’m sure teams like Bangladesh will have something to say about it. They’re playing really good cricket and are a very dangerous side. Sri Lanka are also a big threat tomorrow as you saw against Australia, they were playing very well and probably could have won.”
An unbeaten century from captain Kane Williamson led New Zealand to a tense four-wicket win over South Africa in the World Cup on Wednesday.
The result not only maintained New Zealand’s unbeaten record in this tournament but also pushed South Africa closer to the exit with their fourth defeat from six games.
Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis admitted qualification from this stage seems extremely unlikely and that the dressing room is low on confidence.
“Yeah, it’s tough now. I mean… you can feel (it in) the dressing room. The guys are… they’re hurting,” Du Plessis said.
“I’m feeling five years older, my body’s really sore after that. So, we left everything out there. And, that’s all I can ask for as a captain, that the guys fight. They showed that. Unfortunately we’ve just not been, as good as the opposition we’ve played against.”