England’s spin bowling coach, Mushtaq Ahmed, was in a jovial mood on Friday, imitating the bowling action of the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Bob Willis and Daniel Vettori at the nets.
Still, he couldn’t wish away the tension surrounding the England camp, especially with regards to the
opener’s slot, as the team prepared for Saturday’s quarterfinal against Sri Lanka.
From the day the tournament began, Andrew Strauss’ opening partner has been a big problem. Kevin Pietersen’s promotion to the top was an innovative move but yielded little results.
And, once the big-hitter returned home after four games due to injury, the problem became acute.
Though wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who has batted at the top for a better part of his ODI career, replaced Pietersen for the last two league games, he looked even more uncomfortable. With the quarterfinal tie against Sri Lanka less than 24 hours away, the question loomed whether England would continue with Prior, or ask Ravi Bopara or Ian Bell to do the needful.
Both Bopara and Bell have opened in ODIs earlier. During previous media interactions here, both the players have remained upbeat about opening the innings, “as it would give us the opportunity to bat out the 50 overs”.
Skipper Andrew Strauss, however, kept his cards close to his chest when asked whether his opening partner had been informed about his role.
“Yes, he does know now. And he has known it for a couple of days. We are not going to be talking about the specifics of our team selection,” Strauss said on Friday.
“It (the quarterfinal) is a big challenge for us. Sri Lanka are a good side with a lot of attacking options and they are obviously on their home pitch. The key, as always, will be to get your nose in front.”
But even Strauss would know that it would be difficult to nose ahead in the absence of a strong opening stand.