England have one eye on Sri Lanka, the other on semis

Both Jos Buttler and James Vince notched up half-centuries
England v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2019, Headingley June 20, 2019

Big picture

After the deluge of rain, the flood of sixes. This World Cup has had to battle the elements, as well as some lop-sided contests, but England fired things up in Manchester with their record-breaking performance. Eoin Morgan led the way by lashing 17 sixes against Afghanistan, despite the apparent danger of putting his back out again, and niggling injuries aside his team look in fine shape as the World Cup moves over the Pennines for its first match at Headingley.

With their bevy of spinners and pugnacious mentality, Afghanistan were billed as a team ready to cause an upset. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have just been upset generally - with the weather, with the pitches, with the facilities and hotels. They come into this match ensconced in mid-table, largely thanks to two points from no-results and a victory of their own over a hapless Afghanistan in Cardiff.

Although their destiny is still in their own hands - unlike, say, South Africa - with two of their last four games being against England and India, Dimuth Karunaratne's side face a steep climb if they are to find a route into the top four. Albeit not quite to the same blistering level as Morgan, Karunaratne has found some form - narrowly missing a maiden ODI ton against Australia last week - but the weaknesses in their middle order and an attack that still leans heavily on Lasith Malinga means they will have to produce something special to push England.

This ground does hold special memories for Sri Lanka, as the place where they sealed a surprise Test series victory in 2014. England have long left that low ebb behind, however, and beat Sri Lanka in all three formats on their tour last winter; defeat in this match would undoubtedly constitute the upset of the World Cup so far.

And an upset or two wouldn't go amiss, with the top four beginning to solidify - while the rest threaten to congeal below them. But England have made a misstep already, beaten by Pakistan in their second match, and are unlikely to be in the mood to loosen their grip after a ruthless dismantling of Afghanistan - achieved without the services of Jason Roy, who remains on the sidelines thanks to a hamstring injury.

They have posted the two highest totals of the tournament, have four of the ten centurions and two quicks worthy of the name in Jofra Archer and Mark Wood - adding a cutting edge to an attack that had some question marks over it going in. And while Headingley is a ground noted for its capricious nature, England have not lost an ODI here since 2011 (although that defeat did come against Sri Lanka). Two points more from this encounter would practically seal a knockout spot.

Form guide

England: WWWLW (Last five completed matches, most recent first)

Sri Lanka: LWLWL

in the spotlight

He may be the understudy, but James Vince has another opportunity to impose himself on the main stage. The beneficiary of Alex Hales' misdemeanours, Vince has continued to do very Vince things with his opportunities - look good for around about 30 balls, and then contrive to get out. He got a life against Afghanistan when Mohammad Nabi at deep midwicket misjudged a skier, though fell to another top-edged pull shortly after; that was also the shot that got him out for 33 off 32 here against Pakistan last month. One fifty in nine innings is a poor return for his talent.

After another collapse in the chase against Australia, losing 4 for 17 at a crucial stage, the heat has only increased on Sri Lanka's misfiring middle order. The men so far deployed between Nos. 4 and 7 have managed 58 runs between them in 12 innings, with Angelo Mathews' struggles perhaps the most acute - he has made scores of 1, 0, 0 and 9 since his ODI comeback against Scotland before the World Cup. With few other options to turn to in the 15-man squad, Sri Lanka need someone like Mathews or Kusal Mendis to finally come good.

Team news

Vince will continue as Jonny Bairstow's opening partner, with Roy sitting out the second of his confirmed absences following his hamstring tear - he was moving freely at training but did not bat and we await news of his availability for the Australia match at Lord's on Tuesday. Liam Plunkett has recovered from the stomach bug that caused him to be quarantined before the Afghanistan game and he could be brought back to give either Chris Woakes or Wood a rest - though signs are they may stick to the same XI.

England (possible) 1 Jonny Bairstow, 2 James Vince, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Liam Plunkett/Mark Wood

Sri Lanka seem to have settled on giving Milinda Siriwardana the allrounder role, while Dhananjaya de Silva has become the frontline spinner. Given fair weather and a flat surface, there could be a change to the batting, with Avishka Fernando's more dynamic hitting a possible replacement for Lahiru Thirimanne at No. 3. Malinga has managed to fit in another trip back home, for almsgiving after his mother-in-law's death, but is expected to play.

Sri Lanka: (possible) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 2 Kusal Perera (wk), 3 Lahiru Thirimanne/Avishka Fernando, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Dhananjaya de Silva, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Isuru Udana, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Nuwan Pradeep

Pitch and conditions

Headingley often provides a bit of juice for the seamers, with plenty of rain around recently and a hint of grass on surface. But it is also a ground where the runs can flow - as demonstrated by England's most-recent ODI here, when they made 351 for 9 (an ODI record at Headingley). The forecast is for a balmy day, which may encourage the carnage.

Strategy punt

  • Morgan is currently in the form of his life, averaging almost 50 at a strike rate of more than 100 since the start of 2017. As Rashid Khan discovered on Tuesday, he has developed a habit of ransacking spin - that average balloons to 103.1, while still scoring above a run a ball. However, he does have a weakness, and it is one Sri Lanka could look to exploit: against left-arm seamers over the last two-and-a-half years, his average and strike rate drop to 16.9 and 83.8; and all eight of his dismissals to that type of bowler have come within the first 20 balls of his innings. Calling on Isuru Udana when Morgan is just getting started could be Sri Lanka's best bet.

  • Sri Lanka could do themselves a favour by also deciding on a settled batting order. They started the tournament opening with Thirimanne, then moved up Kusal Perera to partner Karunaratne; meanwhile, in three games Dhananjaya has batted at Nos. 5, 6 and 8. Dhananjaya in particular seems to have been miscast - his strike rate at No. 4 or lower is a mere 68.5, suggesting he is not ideally suited to the role of finisher. Meanwhile, he averages 38.5 when batting in the top four, has scored three of his four ODI fifties there and performs well against both pace and spin.

Stats and trivia

  • England have won their last six ODIs at Headingley, three times batting first and three times chasing.

  • Sri Lanka have a good recent record against England in World Cups, however, winning four of their last five encounters - including knocking them out at the quarter-final stage in 2011.

  • Moeen Ali is set to win his 100th cap in ODIs; Jos Buttler needs one more dismissal for 200.


"You can lose to anyone in this tournament, Sri Lanka pose a big threat tomorrow. They played really well against Australia and probably could have won that game."
Moeen Ali says England won't be taking their opponent lightly

"If we don't have pace, we have to think out of the box. That's what we did the last few days, [work on] what we have to do with England's batsmen. We played a home series before against them, so we have a couple of ideas."

Dimuth Karunaratne hints at Sri Lanka attempting to mix things up with the ball

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