Andy Bull in Chennai for the Guardian, UK, Sunday 20 March 2011
Ian Bell is confident that England can succeed against Sri Lanka in their quarter-final match of the Cricket World Cup. After three days in Delhi spent waiting and watching England finally know their fate. They play Sri Lanka in Pic by Tom Shaw of Getty Images
Colombo this Saturday in what is arguably the toughest possible quarter-final fixture they could have drawn. The team do not see it that way. Ian Bell went so far as to call it “the one place we’d like to go”.
That may be true but Sri Lanka are certainly not the opposition they would choose to play. Typically Graeme Swann found a more convincing positive spin to put on the match-up. “Last time I was there the tuk tuk man let me drive and I defeated Harmy [Steve Harmison] in an epic wacky race,” he wrote on his Twitter page. “Start the tuk tuk …”
The alternative for England would have been a trip back to Bangladesh for a match against Pakistan in Dhaka. West Indies will now have to make that journey. South Africa play New Zealand at the same venue, the only fixture of the four for which a gambling man would feel confident in picking a winner.
However, the most enticing of the quarter-finals may just be India versus Australia, who meet in Ahmedabad on Thursday. That match pitches India’s ranks of batsmen against Australia’s battery of quick bowlers, a worrying prospect for the home fans, who fret that their team suffer from a chronic inability to play fast, short bowling.
The winner of that match will play Pakistan or West Indies in a semi‑final in Mohali and England or Sri Lanka will play South Africa or New Zealand in Colombo. As Bell says, “whoever we play at this stage, it is going to be a quality team,” but there is no doubt that England are in the tougher side of the draw.
England’s confidence, Bell said, was based on their 3-2 series victory in Sri Lanka back in late 2007. That was a conspicuous exception to their typically terrible record in the country. They have won two of the seven one-day international matches they have played in Colombo and four out of 13 in Sri Lanka overall. The team have, Bell reckons, “taken strides forward” since then but the performances in this World Cup have been more a case of two steps onward, one step back.
Sri Lanka has been getting stronger as the weeks have gone on. They were missing Lasith Malinga when they lost to Pakistan in their only defeat of the group stage. Since then they have thrashed Kenya, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. More ominously still, when England won in 2007 Sri Lanka did not have Muttiah Muralitharan or Ajantha Mendis in their side, who are such vital ingredients that they may as well have been trying to bake a cake without using eggs or flour. As Bell said, they “are as good as any team in the world at the moment”.