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Plunkett aiming to show he still has a lot to offer


Standing tall: Liam Plunkett celebrates dismissing Virat Kohli in England’s triumph against India
Standing tall: Liam Plunkett celebrates dismissing Virat Kohli in England’s triumph against India
Avishka Fernando

By Rory Dollard

Liam Plunkett has learned to take 12th man duty on the chin but, with a World Cup semi-final up for grabs against New Zealand, England might think twice before leaving out their lucky charm again.

Of the 13 players who have featured in the tournament to date, only Plunkett stands undefeated having been overlooked for the losses to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia.

The 34-year-old seamer was recalled in place of Moeen Ali for Sunday's do-or-die game against India and took three wickets in the 31-run win, including the World No.1 batsman Virat Kohli.

He is not the first key man Plunkett has bested in the competition, having already seen off South Africa's Hashim Amla in the opener and West Indies star Chris Gayle in Southampton, an eye-catching record for a player who has been in and out of the side.

Victory over the Black Caps at Chester-le-Street tomorrow would guarantee England's place in the knockout phase but Plunkett is not taking selection for granted despite his winning streak.

"You can feel p***** off, you can feel a bit frustrated, but it's sport - you'd rather someone be like that on the sidelines, feeling that on the inside, than someone happy to be not playing," he said.

"It's nice to have that (unbeaten streak), but I think it's just the way it has worked. If I do play hopefully I can make a difference.

"People know if you're not playing you're obviously frustrated, it's about not showing it. How can you get back in the team? By bowling well in practice.

"Even though I'm 34 I can work on something else tomorrow that could help down the line."

There is a healthy pragmatism about Plunkett's outlook that makes it easy to see why he is such a favourite of captain Eoin Morgan. Once a genuinely rapid fast bowler, among the quickest on the county circuit, he now relies on different skills.

He cannot challenge either Jofra Archer and Mark Wood on the speed gun, does not covet the new ball and tends not to reappear at the death, when wickets often tumble most frequently.

Instead he takes the less glamorous overs through the middle, using natural variations in pace and studied variations in delivery to draw mistakes. Without his box of tricks, England have struggled in these periods.

"I haven't got the ability to just come in and bowl rockets all the time like Jofra or Woody. Some days I feel good with the pace and others less so, but I'm still skilful enough to pick up wickets," he said.

"I know that I'm not going to consistently bowl 90 miles per hour, on my good days I will bowl the odd ball up there, but I feel I control my lines and lengths and assess batsmen a bit differently.

"I feel like I can perform on any pitch. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, I'm not trying to get five for spit. I know my job is to smash out my length, mix my pace up and hopefully pick up crucial wickets."

Finishing the group stage in Durham is a welcome trip north for Plunkett, who joined the county at 14 before stints at Yorkshire and now Surrey.

He recognises it is serious business now, though, with the win over India on Sunday representing the start of the run-in.

"Durham is where I first started and I owe a lot to that club. I bought my first house there," he recalled.

"It's an amazing journey I've been on and to think that if you win three games of cricket then you win the World Cup. This team is capable of doing just that.

"But nobody is celebrating like crazy, we know we need to go and win the next game and get the momentum going. It is good we've had our kick up the backside."

Meanwhile, Avishka Fernando's 104 trumped Nicholas Pooran's 118 as Sri Lanka held on for a tense 23-run victory over the West Indies in front of watching pop star Rihanna at Chester-le-Street.

Barbadian songstress Rihanna was a surprise spectator in the north east and her presence brought out the best of Pooran, who nearly doubled his previous highest ODI score of 63.

His dismissal with 31 still required ended the Windies' hopes of a World Cup record chase, while Fernando's maiden ODI century underpinned Sri Lanka's 338 for six in what was the tournament's first dead rubber.

England's victory over India on Sunday had the knock-on effect of ending Sri Lanka's semi-final hopes though there was no palpable disappointment.

Fernando, in particular, rose to the occasion in what could be a breakthrough innings in his ninth ODI, becoming Sri Lanka's youngest World Cup centurion following a fantastic 104 from 103 deliveries.

When the Windies slipped to 84 for four in reply, there seemed to be no way back, but Pooran's pyrotechnics kept the game in the balance.

He was ruthless with anything leg-side and had a capable foil in Fabian Allen as the pair put on 83 for the seventh wicket.

Allen sacrificed himself after a quick-fire 51 from 32 balls when Pooran was on 99, the third run out of the Windies' innings.

Pooran reached three figures for the first time in an international shirt off 92 balls but was given a life on 108 when Thisara Perera misjudged a catch.

However, Angelo Mathews ended Pooran's stay, the batsman getting a thin edge to the wicketkeeper, after which the Windies charge fizzled out.

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