Colombo: England had a rollercoaster run-up to the knockout stage of the World Cup and skipper Andrew Strauss today said it was high-time his team pull up its socks and play their best brand of cricket when they take on co-hosts Sri lanka in quarter-final on Saturday.
"Now is the time to play good, smart, intelligent cricket and ask questions of the opposition," said Strauss.
In a see-saw group phase, England tied the match against India, chasing a record World Cup target of 339, finishing at 338 for 8. Against South Africa, they snatched a dramatic six-run win victory in a low-scoring thriller in Chennai. But lost to minnows Ireland and Bangladesh, while somehow managed to prevail over the Netherlands.
They also came back from the brink of defeat against the West Indies in a match they had to win to reach the quarters.
"We have shown a lot of resolve, we have shown that we are able to stick together in close encounters, but you never know what this game is going to throw at you. You have to be quick enough to adapt to whatever comes your way."
England have failed to reach previous four semifinals of the World Cup since they were beaten by Pakistan in the 1992 final at Melbourne. But Strauss feels that group matches have given them the confidence to do well in the knockout stage.
"We weren`t expecting to create high drama. We take a lot of confidence from the fact that we`ve beaten the major sides ... and that holds us in good stead for this game."
Strauss, however, admitted that his players will have to play out of their skins if they wanted to beat the Islanders.
"Sri Lanka are a good side with a lot of attacking options both with bat and ball and they are obviously on their home patch. It`s going to be a significant challenge for us. The key, like it always is, to get your nose in front of the game and the pressure is big, especially at this stage of the World Cup," said Strauss.
"We are very excited about the challenge. At this stage there is nothing to lose. You have got to go out there and win games of cricket. And that sort of mindset has served us well in the past," he added.
Predicting a close game tomorrow, Strauss said, "As we saw with the India-Australia game yesterday, it`s going to be a tight game, and it`s going to fluctuate on a couple of key performances. We have got to make sure that we are the guys who put up those performances."
Denying that Michael Yardy`s World Cup withdrawal would have any adverse effect on the team, Strauss said all the players are completely focused on the crucial game here at the R Premadasa stadium.
Injury-hit England received yet another blow yesterday when all-rounder Yardy left for home due to depression, leaving the team with more problems.
"It`s not difficult to focus our minds on this game. It`s a must-win game. It`s a one-off event. If we lose, we are on the plane home. If we win, we are in the World Cup semi-final," said Strauss.
England though have called up leg-spinner Adil Rashid from the England Lions` tour of the Caribbean but he would not be able to make it in time for tomorrow`s game.
Rashid is the fourth replacement in the England squad since Stuart Broad (side strain), Kevin Pietersen (hernia) and Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring) were forced out of the tournament.
"We have had to deal with that right from the end of the Ashes (in Australia). We have had a lot of injuries, a lot of people coming and going, and I think that tests out your resolve as a group," said Strauss.
Strauss, meanwhile, said the team could be boosted by the presence of pace bowler James Anderson, who can exploit the humid conditions here, which can encourage swing.
"We know what a quality bowler he is and to a certain extent it is more likely to swing here with the humidity than some of the other places in India," said Strauss.
Anderson, who could take only 4-282 in five World Cup qualifying match, was dropped from the team for the final group stage game against the West Indies as he looked tired after carrying the England pace attack through the Ashes and a One-day series in Australia.
"He has freshened up to a certain extent. Obviously he didn`t play in the last game. He has had nine or 10 days away from cricket, and he certainly bowled very well in the nets and, with his experience, he is an option," Strauss added.
He also expressed confidence that pacer Tim Bresnan, who had a scan this week on an injury to his right calf, would be able to make it to the eleven tomorrow.
"He will probably have a bowl and a fitness test today. At this stage we are quite confident he will be fit," said Strauss about the bowler who has chipped in with nine wickets in the tournament so far.