England has the ability to buck the odds; Pietersen should be back
Gros Islet (St. Lucia): Sri Lanka holds an edge over England on the sluggish surface at the Beausejour Stadium in the first semifinal. But then, Paul Collingwood and his men have consistently bucked the odds in the ongoing edition of the ICC World Twenty20.
England will be conscious of the fact that this Sri Lankan side is without off-spinning wizard Muttiah Muralitharan. However, Ajantha Mendis should be back in the side for Thursday's last four duel. He could be a factor on a sluggish pitch where the ball is gripping for the spinners. Off-spinner Suraj Randiv has been impressive too.
This said, England's crafty off-spinner Graeme Swann — he has the temperament to match his skills — and left-arm spinner Michael Yardy can inflict damage as well on this surface. With his quicker variety, Yardy has been a revelation in the tournament as a Twenty20 specialist.
You would expect the Sri Lankan batsmen, light on their feet and possessing dexterous wrists, to counter the English spinners well. The pressures of a big game, though, can impact batsmanship.
Match-winner Kevin Pietersen should be back in the English line-up for the massive game. His footwork, balance and strokes on both sides of the wicket should add considerably to the England line-up.
On a big ground and a slow outfield, running between the wickets assumes great importance. Pietersen will be the driving force for England.
Mahela Jayawardene may be much smaller built than Pietersen and does not quite strike the ball with the same power, but has slick hands and delicate touch. He finds the gaps with a surgeon's precision.
Both Pietersen and Jayawardene are in roaring form. Their batsmanship should elevate the duel.
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara — a smart captain — may be looking at a pace-spin combination to disrupt the English rhythm.
Slinger Lasith Malinga could test the English batsmen with swinging yorkers delivered with deadly accuracy. While there has been much focus on his toe-crushers, Malinga can also make the batsmen smell leather with the short-pitched stuff. His duel against Pietersen should make compelling viewing.
Finalist in the last edition of the competition in England, Sri Lanka has capable pace bowling all-rounders in Angelo Mathews and Thissara Perera to back Malinga. And paceman Thilan Thushara has been impressive with the left-armer's angle.
The Sri Lankan pacemen are adept at taking the pace off the ball or bowling accurate yorkers just outside the off-stump. The batsman struggles to get under the ball to thwack it for the big hits.
England, finally, appears to have found the right balance for this form of the game. In Michael Lumb and wicketkeeper-batsman Craig Kieswetter the side has two aggressive openers who can power the ball through the gaps or strike over the infield in the Power Play overs.
Pietersen can be destructive while skipper Paul Collingwood is capable of, both, rotating the strike or upping the tempo with weighty blows. And the left-handed Eoin Morgan, a fine striker of the ball, is a dangerous adversary in the end overs.
The England pace attack has come together well in the tournament. The burly Tim Bresnan has generated pace and mixed his length well. Stuart Broad, who continues to improve, can strike with lift and movement. And Ryan Sidebottom has made the batsmen sweat from a left-armer's angle. He has been impressive at the death.
Apart from the class of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, Sri Lanka has some more quality and depth in batting. The intrepid Tillekeratne Dilshan is finally beginning to find some form. And men like Mathews and Chamara Kapugedera can strike the ball long and hard down the order. Will old soldier Sanath Jayasuriya, out of his depth so far, fire on a big occasion?
Batting first would be the better option. Mounting a chase amid the pressures of a big knock-out game can be daunting.
The teams (from):
Sri Lanka: K. Sangakkara (captain), M. Jayawardene, S. Jayasuriya, T. Dilshan, A. Mathews, C. Kapugedera, C. Jayasinghe, T. Perera, T. Tushara, A. Mendis, L. Malinga, S. Randiv, N. Kulasekara, C. Welegedara, D. Chandimal.
England: P. Collingwood (captain), M. Lumb, C. Kieswetter, K. Pietersen, E. Morgan, L. Wright, T. Bresnan, G. Swann, M. Yardy, S. Broad, R. Sidebottom, J. Anderson, R. Bopara, A. Shahzad, J. Tredwell.
Match starts at 9 p.m. IST.