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England still leave plenty to think about

By Mark Nicholas

21 August 1998

PRIOR to the last World Cup in the subcontinent England, ostensibly a very good one-day team, got themselves into such a frightful tangle that they became a very bad one-day team.

Six out of seven games were lost during a painful fortnight in South Africa where it was apparent that no one really agreed who the best group of players were. This should not happen again, particularly as conditions for next year's World Cup will be user-friendly for England, but elements of uncertainty in both selection and tactics are evident and must be addressed.

Probably the 11 who played yesterday at Lord's are leading the race for the final 15 next May and presumably the three in the dressing-room are not far behind them. Two certainties, Graeme Thorpe and Mark Ealham, are injured, Dean Headley, Ben Hollioake and Dominic Cork are on ice and Matthew Fleming and Dougie Brown, heroes of Sharjah, seem pretty much forgotten. That is a list of 21 names and does not include six others who have played since April in the Caribbean. So you see, there is plenty to think about.

What is clear now, after this triangular series, is that England are not so good as we thought, not even at home. Perhaps we have been misled by the Texaco Series which are played against tourists who are wrapped in thermals and on pitches which allow our well practised seamers lavish sideways movement. Perhaps Sharjah was an admirable fluke. Certainly when all other recent England teams have played abroad they have been thoroughly beaten by all the big guns, and by Zimbabwe too.

Certainly England have the spirit and the desire to impress in one-day cricket and they have three further competitive opportunities to get the formula right for the World Cup. All three, though, are fraught with danger. The first one is in Bangladesh at the end of October, a one-off knockout tournament which is being played to raise money for the development game world- wide.

Oddly the tournament clashes with England's arrival in Australia and specifically with their opening first-class match against Western Australia in Perth. This is England's one game on the bouncy WACA pitch, an utterly different surface from the one in Dhaka, before they return there to play in the second Test. Clearly England's captain and all the best players should be in Perth at this time, not in Bangladesh. But they won't be, not unless the selectors use Bangladesh as a chance to sort the wheat from the chaff and send the main men on to Australia.

The second opportunity is in the World Series in Australia where huge playing fields test fitness and fielding and where a hugely talented home team will test an aching touring party, which it surely will be by mid- January. When England last played one-day cricket in Australia they were humiliated - this is worth remembering and a good show will do wonders for self esteem.

The final chance is in Sharjah at the end of March, by when England must have decided on both policy and players. The problem here is that the Sharjah pitch does not remotely resemble any in England in May so the selectors must decide whether to try to win with specific Sharjah-suited players or whether to go in order to give a run out to their chosen men for the World Cup.

Are England to pinch hit properly with Nick Knight, Brown and Ben Hollioake in the first three or are they to accumulate with Michael Atherton? Are they to play all-rounders rather than specialist bowlers in the lowermiddle order? Should they focus more keenly on mobility and quality in the field?

If all the issues are acted upon, and the solutions are stuck to, whatever the flak, England still have it in them to win the World Cup.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 21 Aug1998 - 10:33