No calculators required: England left with clear T20 World Cup equation

The situation for England became clear at around 10.15pm on Friday night in Sydney, as 800 miles to the west in Adelaide Afghanistan scored their runs that guaranteed Australia’s net run rate could not become an extra hurdle. So England can throw away their calculators and focus on the clearest possible equation: beat Sri Lanka by any margin on Saturday and they will be in the semi-finals.

The players have all been issued with USB sticks which allow them to watch Sky’s coverage of the tournament in their hotel rooms, and many of them have been in frequent use. Chris Woakes said there were “plenty of fist pumps” during Lorcan Tucker’s brilliant innings for Ireland against the Australians in Brisbane on Halloween, and there would have been so many during Rashid Khan’s 23-ball 48 – a contribution that meant Australia’s winning margin in the end was only four – that he must have been in danger of sustaining another shoulder injury.

Five more runs and Afghanistan would not only have provided another stunning upset in a tournament that has been lavishly decorated with them, they would have opened the door for Sri Lanka to qualify for the semi-finals themselves. Instead the Lions now have nothing to play for on Saturday but pride. “We are [playing] to justify our presence over here in Australia,” Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who has batted at No 5 for Sri Lanka in this tournament, said. “We just want to play good cricket. At the end of the day the result doesn’t really matter, as long as we play some good cricket.”

So Jonathan Trott, former England batter and current Afghanistan coach, added his name to Tucker’s on the growing list of people who will be owed a thank you card if England manage to make the final four. Now Jos Buttler’s side must concentrate on overcoming another familiar figure in Chris Silverwood, their coach until February and now in charge of Sri Lanka, in order to make that happen. “Of course Chris has spoken to us,” Rajapaksa said. “We have plans for each individual.”

Earlier in the day Alex Hales had been so enthusiastic about the prospect of a hefty Australian victory forcing England to be ultra-ambitious that he alone might have wished Rashid had been a little less successful. “I think it all comes naturally for us,” Hales said. “It certainly plays to my strengths. I think it plays to almost every batter’s strength in the side, which is to go out and play their shots and be aggressive.”

It would not be a bad mindset for Hales to preserve, particularly against Sri Lanka’s seamers early in the innings. Despite extraordinarily bad luck with injuries – they have had to replace four members of their original squad, three of them seamers – Silverwood’s side will present plenty of dangers on a potentially tricky surface.

With the Sydney Cricket Ground preserving a pristine pitch for Wednesday’s semi-final, England will be playing on the same wicket used by New Zealand and Sri Lanka last Saturday, and by Pakistan and South Africa on Thursday. They will not mind this – after all the surface at the Gabba, where they beat New Zealand on Tuesday, was in a similar state – but neither will their opponents, particularly as it looks very dry and likely to offer plenty of encouragement to spinners.

Helped by the fact that they have not been involved in any matches that have been affected by rain, Sri Lanka have bowled 37.1 overs of spin in the Super 12s, considerably more than any other side – New Zealand are second on the list with 31.2 overs, England some way down the rankings with 19. Maheesh Theekshana and, most of all, Wanindu Hasaranga, in form and on a familiar surface, could make England’s evening extremely uncomfortable.

Batters meanwhile will be eyeing up the short boundary on one side of the wicket, towards the Clive Churchill Stand. This will have to be a key factor in every decision the captains make on the field, in the knowledge that instructing the wrong bowler to face the wrong batter at the wrong end could turn the match in an instant.

Most importantly, England must maintain the energy they brought to their victory over New Zealand. It may be that the pressure of absolutely having to perform, the complete lack of fall-backs and second chances, is what makes this excellent team great.

“It didn’t feel any more intense in the warm-ups or before the game, it was just purely in the game,” Wood said of that match. “It definitely did feel different. I think because we knew we had to win it just had a different buzz about it. I thought it was a very passionate performance and very desperate – not desperate like we were reckless, but desperate in terms of we were desperate to win.”

They will have to summon that same spirit again. Afghanistan’s performance on Friday means England’s situation is not desperate, but despite it their performance must be.