England v Sri Lanka Preview, 14 May 1999by John Houlihan
Why you should watch: Hosts versus holders in a scintillating pipe-opener to the carnival of cricket. The only thing that could spoil it is the weather.
Itís difficult to imagine a more fitting opening to 1999ís carnival of cricket than hosts versus holders at the home of cricket, with both teams looking to secure an early victory and give their World Cup campaign some initial impetus.
Sri Lanka revolutionised the approach to the One-Day game in the last World Cup but havenít enjoyed such a successful time on the field recently and will be hoping to revive their fortunes and restore some credibility in this tournament. Their impressive batting line-up will be spearheaded by forceful openers Sanath Jayasuriya and keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana who will be looking to take a heavy toll in the first 15 overs, though whether their aggressive approach will pay dividends in early-season English conditions is a hotly debated issue. The elegant Roshan Mahanma is in good touch and should provide able support up the order, while in Aravinda de Silva, Sri Lanka possess one of the finest ODI batsman in the world. But in many ways the heart of their team is their hugely experienced and sometimes controversial skipper Arjuna Ranatunga whose deceptively laid back approach conceals a keen tactical mind and a gritty middle order bat. Sri Lankaís bowling is certainly weaker than their batting, but left-arm paceman Chaminda Vaas should hone their cutting edge and Muttiah Muralitharan is a world class off-spinner in both forms of the game and completely mesmerised England in the one-off Test at Lordís last year.
Englandís ODI performances have been a mixed bag over the past year: they often play themselves into match winning situations but then seem to lack the killer instinct necessary to deliver the coup de gras. Their potential top three of Nick Knight, Alec Stewart and Graham Hick are all short of time in the middle which is a major concern, but latecomer Nasser Hussain has been in prime form in the warm-up games and may well have played himself into contention. The resurgence of the impressive Graham Thorpe and some good performances from Neil Fairbrother and all-rounder Mark Ealham have also added some much needed stability to the middle order. However Englandís real strength lies in their seam attack and they will be relying on openers Darren Gough and Alan Mullally to make early breakthroughs and get amongst the Sri Lankan top order, while Angus Fraser will turn the screw and apply a different sort of pressure during the key middle period of the game, with Ian Austin keeping things tight at the death..
Local knowledge, superior fielding and the early season playing conditions may slightly favour England in this opening game, but as home supporters know, Lordís can be a graveyard and touring teams like nothing better than to give their hosts a good old fashioned drubbing at the home of cricket, where Sri Lanka triumphed in the final of the Emirates trophy last year on the back of a splendid 132* from Marvan Atapattu. The record between the two teams in the recent Australian Carlton and United series gives England a slight 3-2 form advantage, but the games between these two sides have always been extremely tight and this one could indeed be too close to call. The key to this intriguing contest undoubtedly lies in the battle between Englandís seam attack and the cream of the Sri Lankan batsmen.
England player to watch: Darren Gough
Sri Lankan player to watch: Aravinda De Silva
Listen on the stump mic for: A polite exchange of views between the captains
Neutrals may care to enjoy: Flintoffís power hitting, Atapattuís stylish strokeplay
Schadenfreude potential: Watching the World Champions falter, Englandís painful but inevitable batting collapse, commentators struggling to pronounce the Sri Lankan player names
Old lags: Alec Stewart (36) , Arjuna Ranatunga (35)
Young pups: Andrew Flintoff (21), Mahela Jayawardena (21)
Scariest world cup factoid: Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga averaged a massive 120 in the 1996 tournament, the second highest batting average ever in a World Cup competition
Last World Cup Meeting: