Coming off a 1-6 thrashing at home against Australia, things can only get better for England. Or, at least, that will be the hope as a team without Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff looks to get out of its struggling ways and searches for a formula that will bring them victory in 50-over cricket.
The beginning won’t be the easiest, though, for England take on Sri Lanka at the Wanderers on Friday and the Lankans looked strong in their first game of the tournament, where they beat South Africa completely. The only problem skipper Kumar Sangakkara has is one of plenty.
The temptation to continue to play two spinners, especially since they have quality operators in Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan will only be dampened by the pitch at the Wanderers, which had little in it for the slow men.
Should Sri Lanka choose a combination that leaves room only for one spinner, the decision Sangakkara has to take will be an impossibly difficult one. England have never played Mendis, and that gives the mystery spinner a huge edge, especially given his confidence-boosting show in the last game. Conversely, England have played Murali countless times, and almost always struggled against him.
England’s traditional problems against quality spin might just prompt Sangakkara to sidestep the tricky question and persist with playing his two slow men.
England come here with matches under the belt, but no real success to speak off, and it is this that will be Andrew Strauss’ biggest challenge.
The format of this tournament is not kind to slow starters, and a loss will put a serious dent in England’s chances of advancing further from a group that also includes hosts South Africa and New Zealand.
Strauss admitted that the biggest challenge will be countering Sri Lanka’s varied attack. “They ask different questions of you. It’s only by facing them you can be sure of your gameplan. We have played a fair bit against Murali and Malinga now but Mendis is new,” said Strauss.
“The way he bowls makes life difficult for batsmen, but to an extent the pace he bowls at provides opportunities once you get used to his variations. We’re going to have to hit the ground running against him.”
In Champions Trophy
England beat Sri Lanka by 49 runs (D/L Method) at Southampton in 2004
Overall performance of both teams in Champions Trophy
Team P Won Lost Win%
Eng 12 6 6 50.00
SL 18 11 5 61.11
Head to head
P Eng SL Tied NR
43 22 21 0 0
Results in the last 10 matches
Sri Lanka lead 7-3
K Sangakkara, T Dilshan, S Jayasuriya, M Jayawardene, T Kandamby, C Kapugedera, N Kulasekara, L Malinga, A Mathews, A Mendis, M Muralitharan, D Prasad, T Samaraweera, U Tharanga, T Thushara.
A Strauss, J Anderson, R Bopara, T Bresnan, S Broad, P Collingwood, J Denly, E Morgan, G Onions, M Prior, A Rashid, O Shah, R Sidebottom, G Swann, L Wright