By Kieran Wellington
- England are looking to make it five wins out of six against a waning Sri Lanka
- James Vince expected to keep his place with Jason Roy still sidelined
- The match will be the first to take place at Headingley this World Cup
LEEDS, UK – The hosts will be confident of eclipsing the highest Headingley World Cup total of just 275 – if they haven’t already bowled out Sri Lanka for less
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Eoin Morgan will undoubtedly say all the right things at his press conference about not taking Sri Lanka for granted on Friday, but expect England’s sixth group game to be a procession.
At least if the hosts bat first there might be enough cricket to entertain the crowd, and the Leeds faithful will be hoping for something similar to the bonkers batting performance seen in the Red Rose county against Afghanistan on Tuesday.
After captain Morgan had won the toss and elected to bat, he strode out with England on a mildly underwhelming 164-2 with 20 overs left.
What transpired was a display unlike any other, Morgan playing through a back spasm to tonk a world record 17 sixes in his 148, propelling his side to 397/6 – an additional 233 runs in the remaining 121 deliveries.
If England can maintain that momentum with the willow, Sri Lanka will be powerless to resist with their tournament top score a measly 247 all out in their last game against Australia – a match they still lost by an emphatic 87 runs.
If one doesn’t get you…
If it’s not Jason Roy, it’s Jonny Bairstow. If it’s not the openers, it’s Joe Root. Root may still be nudging and nurdling his way to a substantial score when master blasters Morgan and Jos Buttler take guard.
It is a frightening prospect for any bowling team coming up against this England batting line-up. It will surprise nobody that England have four of the top 10 run-scorers in this tournament so far – and Buttler sits 12th.
Jofra Archer may well have the much-desired X-factor with the ball, but you need to score runs in any format of cricket to win matches – and this England team scores runs by the truckload.
The slight anomaly of Roy and Bairstow getting out early to spin in this tournament led sides to latch on to the false dawn that England’s batting lineup had a weakness.
Against Afghanistan, facing one of the highest-rated spinners in the world, Morgan and co dismantled Rashid Khan for a startling 110 runs in just nine overs.
This was the first time ever a spinner had conceded more than 100 runs from his allocation in an ODI, and 11 sixes off his leg-spin is also a record.
No matter who they are up against, this England batting line-up finds new records to rip up and beat.
Bairstow even joked that Morgan’s 17 maximums simply leaves the dressing room with a new target to chase down.
There is an unwavering confidence surging through this England squad, and they will be looking to make a further statement against a Sri Lanka side that have only beaten winless Afghanistan so far before Morgan’s side face the real challenge of the top four – first in three group stage games that will only serve to decide in which order England, India, New Zealand and Australia qualify in – and then in the knockouts which begin on July 9.
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Sri Lanka must rediscover the old spirit to challenge the hosts
As if Dimuth Karunaratne‘s side weren’t facing enough of an uphill task in Yorkshire, Headingley has become somewhat of a fortress for England. Under Morgan’s captaincy, England have won every single fixture played in Leeds, beating Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan twice since 2015.
There must be something in the Yorkshire air that favours England as only eight home defeats have ever been recorded there since 1973. In fact, the last ODI England lost at Headingley came all the way back in 2011, when a Mahela Jayawardene inspired Sri Lanka beat England by 69 runs, with the hosts being bowled out for 240.
Of course, Sri Lanka can no longer rely on the golden age when in Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara they had two genuinely world class, match-winning batsmen. The pair scored 213 runs between them eight years ago. It is quite a chasm to make up for the new guard.
Sri Lanka must now turn to their elder statesmen Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews – both of whom played that day – as well as captain Karunaratne, who has scored a team-high 179 runs so far, to reignite the quality and confidence that Sri Lanka side possessed.
Some things never change though, and fittingly Eoin Morgan, then a fresh-faced 24-year-old with Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell for company, hit the most sixes in the match and top scored for his country.
Back then, he played a lone hand, showing brief flashes of the ‘new England’ that his captaincy would help create.
Now, Sri Lanka will be aware that, just as their greats of the game in 2011 did, England make one-day batting look easy and risk-free whilst also possessing a brutality and a ruthlessness.
Sri Lanka’s best hope may just be to wish for a third wash-out of their campaign which would mean the rain would have won them more points than their own performances.
But sometimes, it doesn’t rain in the British summertime, even in Leeds.
England v Sri Lanka will start at Headingly, at 10:30am BST.
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