When it comes to cricketing cultures, England and Sri Lanka are two extreme examples. England’s focus has always been on producing technically refined players, while Sri Lankan cricketers have made a mark with their attractive and uncanny brand of play.
Ian Botham and Kevin Pietersen would be in the minority in an all-time England XI, but unorthodox and rare talents like Muttiah Muralitharan, Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis would be popular in any Sri Lankan side.
So, when Sri Lanka and England play their second Group D match of the ICC Under-19 World Cup at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday (February 16), it will be a coming together of two schools of thought.
Both the teams come into the match with victories in their previous matches. England steamrollered the United Arab Emirates by 213 runs, and Sri Lanka registered a comfortable 49-run win against New Zealand.
While on paper, very little differentiates the two, Sri Lanka must be fully aware of England’s historical issues in Asian conditions. On that note, Sri Lanka start a nudge above, what with Bangladesh already having made England look ordinary in one of the warm-up games.
Though it is still early days in the tournament, Sri Lanka have already given the impression of a well-balanced unit. Kusal Mendis, their captain, now has two hundreds and two fifties in his last five outings (excluding the warm-up fixtures).
A student of Prince of Wales College in Moratuwa, Mendis was earmarked for bigger things since he made his school debut. Someone who turned 19 two weeks back, he has done so far justice to his dual role of leading a side and batting at No.3.
Like Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama, the vice-captain and opener, too has give a good account of himself with his fluid batsmanship. His 82 formed the fulcrum of their victory against India in the practice match, and then he followed it up with 67 against New Zealand. Also, keep an eye on Priyamal Perera. Nicknamed Bullet, he has earned high praise from Upul Chandana, the team’s fielding coach, for his agility and anticipation.
Any team that has beaten India at this level has to be taken seriously, and England would know that. If England have to come good, then the batsmen have to put up a big score, and they will be looking up to Harry Finch, Ben Duckett and Ed Barnard to come good twice in two matches.
While Dominic Sibley did not play against the UAE, he has been the subject of deep interest ever since he became the youngest player to score a double-century in the English County Championship last year. In that game, he batted for nine and a half hours.
While Sri Lanka have played in the UAE in the past (U-19 Asia Cup), for most of the England players, this is their first trip to the country. Therefore, Kate Green, in charge of personal development, has been working hard to ensure that the boys get a wider exposure out of the trip.
There cannot be any bigger exposure for the English boys than victory against a strong Asian side in their backyard.
England: Will Rhodes (capt), Ed Barnard, Joe Clarke, Ben Duckett (wk), Harry Finch, Matthew Fisher, Miles Hammond, Ryan Higgins, Rob Jones, Rob Sayer, Josh Shaw, Dominic Sibley, Jonathan Tattersall, Jack Winslade, Luke Wood.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Mendis (capt, wk), Minod Bhanuka, Hashan Dumindu, Binura Fernando, Anuk Fernando, Kavindu Kulasekara, Lakshan Jayasinghe, Ramesh Mendis, Priyamal Perera, Harsha Rajapaksha, Hashen Ramanayake, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Thilaksha Sumanasiri, AK Tyronne, Hashan Vimarshana.
Other matches on Sunday
Canada U-19 vs South Africa U-19 in Abu Dhabi
West Indies U-19 vs Zimbabwe U-19 in Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates U-19 vs New Zealand U-19 in Sharjah