After being surprised by events off the field, England must ensure that they are not taken aback by those taking place on it when they face one of the world’s most inventive and unpredictable fast bowlers today.
Alastair Cook and his team will arrive at The Oval still digesting what happened at the weekend. The Australia batsman David Warner was dropped from his team’s match with New Zealand yesterday for his attempt to punch England’s Joe Root in a Birmingham bar during the early hours of Sunday.
Today, however, Root will be required to dodge not the swinging fist of an Australian, but the swinging cricket ball propelled by a Sri Lankan. Lasith Malinga’s arsenal of slower balls, yorkers, bouncers and deliveries that move both ways makes him an exacting opponent, especially for a player like Root, who has never faced him in his short international career.
Victory for England will put them on the brink of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. Malinga’s latest trick, a slower-ball yorker that looks at first like a full toss, should be enough to make the hosts cautious. He took 4 for 34 last Sunday as Sri Lanka lost to New Zealand by one wicket in Cardiff, meaning they will realistically need to beat England to stay in the competition.
`Clearly, he is a danger man for Sri Lanka,’ said the England captain. `He is a mighty fine bowler and virtually a unique one, as he has a technique and an action that you don’t come across very often.
`Most of us have faced him before in international cricket,’ Cook added. `Out of the top six, I think Joe Root is the only one who hasn’t, and it does take a bit of time to get used to his action, so we’ve tried to pass on our experiences of facing him before.
`He is very tricky and has been a major part of Sri Lanka’s success in limited-overs cricket, so if we can play him well, we can put them under pressure. He has improved that slower ball and it looked very dangerous against New Zealand.
`We have footage of it and it’s something we need to be aware of. It’s easier when you get into the rhythm of facing him, but the first few balls can be tricky, so it is about getting through that period.’
Graeme Swann was expected to be available again for England after taking part in practice yesterday. The off-spinner missed the 48-run win over Australia at Edgbaston with a back problem but Cook is confident about his prospects for today’s game.
Swann is a dangerous proposition in all forms of cricket but Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, expects the quicker men to pose England’s principal threat.
`They’ve probably got one of the best seam attacks in the world at the moment,’ Mathews said. `Jimmy Anderson is one of the best and he has been performing well, so the batsmen have to rise to that challenge.’
Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen continued his rehabilitation from a knee injury with a net session and fitness drills on The Oval outfield yesterday after England finished their practice.