x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

England ready to tear up the form book again

Who needs Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff? Considered the whipping boys of the group, England are now on the cusp of qualifying for the semi-finals with a game to spare.

Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya leaves the pitch as England players celebrate taking his wicket during their Champions Trophy Group B game, which England won by six wickets.
Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya leaves the pitch as England players celebrate taking his wicket during their Champions Trophy Group B game, which England won by six wickets.

Who needs Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff? Considered the whipping boys of the group, England are now on the cusp of qualifying for the semi-finals with a game to spare. A shock win over a much-fancied Sri Lanka on Friday night has galvanised Andrew Strauss's previously beleaguered side and thrown Pool B wide open. Victory for England today would send them through and leave South Africa, the favourites, facing potential elimination.

Strauss, the studious captain, will be acutely aware that England's miserable one-day form will not have been solved by one victory on a capricious pitch, but the signs were encouraging. James Anderson and Graham Onions look like a new-ball pairing capable of troubling any top order - they had Sri Lanka reeling at 17 for four - and in Eoin Morgan, the idiosyncratic left-hander, they may have found a player capable of filling the shoes of the retired Graham Thorpe who can finish the innings.

However, they still lack a player capable of hitting the ball over the top and setting the tone at the start of the innings, as Marcus Trescothick used to do with such aplomb. England know all about getting carried away - they nose-dived spectacularly following the open-top bus parade to celebrate the Ashes 2005 triumph - and Strauss is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "If we play like that we are a dangerous side," he said, following the hugely-impressive six-wicket win over Sri Lanka.

"We are not going to be touting ourselves as the winners of the competition at this stage, but if we keep getting better we will be hard to beat." It is difficult to see Strauss changing a winning team, although you can never take anything for granted given the revolving-door policy of the England management. For once, England did not require a sizeable contribution from Strauss at the top of the order as the previously brittle middle order came to the party. Paul Collingwood was unusually flamboyant, striking five fours and three sixes in his 51-ball 46 but it was the 76-run alliance of Middlesex men, Owais Shah (44) and Morgan (62 not out), that provided the backbone of their pursuit of 213 for victory.

"You take a lot of confidence from these sort of performances," said Strauss. "Guys standing up, playing to their potential and not playing with fear. "Colly took the game to them, Shah batted well and Morgan played excellently at the end. I think it was one of our better one-day performances for a while. "It sets up the group quite nicely ...[but] ... there's still hard work to do. We are not jumping up and down at this stage. It was just good to get a win," added Strauss.

The raw pace and swing of Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell, fresh from his five-wicket haul against New Zealand, are likely to pose England with a different threat in Pretoria today to the one presented by the spin twins of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis in their last game. The pressure, however, is firmly on South Africa. "They have got a very good side," warned Andy Flower, the England team director.

"They were No 1 in the world when the tournament began, we are down at No 6. We will have to play above ourselves to beat them." "Every victory like that helps, of course, it is only one game but it is confidence boosting." South Africa are sweating over the fitness of Herschelle Gibbs, the destructive right-hander, but the free-flowing Hashim Amla is a capable deputy alongside Graeme Smith at the top of the order.

kaffleck@thenational.ae ART Prime Sport, 4.30pm