England returns to a city from which it departed with heads held high in April. Back then, Andrew Strauss’s men had to win the second Test here at the P. Sara Oval to draw the series 1-1 and hold on to their No.1 ranking in the game’s longest version.
The goal was secured but if the Sri Lankan capital’s positive vibe still doesn’t rub off on the visitor, the current squad led by Stuart Broad, can also bank on history to bolster its spirits, stepping in as it does with the tag of being defending champion in the ICC World Twenty20.
However, gearing up ahead of its opening match — a Group A fixture against Afghanistan at the R. Premadasa Stadium — here on Friday, Broad’s men will be aware that an estranged team-mate, holding a microphone in a television studio, will cast a huge shadow.
The KP factor
Kevin Pietersen will be missed and despite the adage ‘sticks and stones hurt but words don’t’, he stumped himself by sending inappropriate texts that amused the South Africans and angered the British.
The ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ can be debated but England will miss its key batsman, who is also a link between the winning exploits in the tournament’s previous edition in the Caribbean during 2010 and the joy at the P. Sara Oval, a few months back. Pietersen was the ‘Player of the tournament’ in the West Indies and his scores of 151 and an unbeaten 42 secured victory over Sri Lanka here.
In the pre-match press conference, Broad, dealing with the inevitable query on Pietersen, said: “KP has been around for a long time. He has done fantastically well for us. It matters with ECB at the moment that he’s not here. We have to put up with that and get on with it. The 15 guys who are in the squad are up for the challenge and hopefully we will have a really good three weeks.”
Broad’s men now have the unenviable chance of proving that England can move on without its biggest force-multiplier and players like Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan have a massive platform to emphasise their credentials.
In its recent Twenty20 jousts against South Africa back home, England levelled the series at 1-1 and men like Craig Kieswetter and Jos Butler had their moments.
That positive air continued in the warm-up ties here thanks to victories over Australia and Pakistan.
Alex Hales and left-arm spinner Danny Briggs did well and with Afghanistan lined up against it in the campaign opener, England can hope for a relatively easy start though Nawroz Mangal’s men stretched India here on Wednesday.
Wary of the Afghans
The tipping point will be the manner in which England shape up against India on Sunday before the tournament heats up for the Super Eights. Broad though would rather get Afghanistan out of the way.
“They look a talented side. Anyone who would have watched last night’s game (against India) will know the dangers they bring,” the England captain said.
At the other extreme, Mangal’s men are upbeat after their feisty display against India.
“England is a totally different team compared to India. They bowl very well in England but they struggle outside and they have obviously struggled in Asia and we are going to exploit that,” Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan said besides pointing out that his spinners can also strike against England.
The teams (from):
England: S. Broad (captain), J. Bairstow, R. Bopara, T. Bresnan, D. Briggs, J. Butler, J. Dernbach, S. Finn, A. Hales, C. Kieswetter, M. Lumb, E. Morgan, S. Patel, G. Swann and L. Wright.
Afghanistan: N. Mangal (captain), A. Stanikzai, D. Zadran, G. Naib, H. Hassan, I. Dawlatzai, J. Ahmadi, K. Sadiq, M. Nabi, M. Shahzad, N. Zadran, M. Nasim Baras, S. Shenwari, Shafiqullah and S. Zadran.
Umpires: Simon Taufel and Kumar Dharmasena; Third umpire: Asad Rauf.