Monday, 30 October 2006

Pietersen’s brilliance provides some solace

England’s Champions Trophy campaign was eminently forgettable. They went into the tournament with low expectations; they endured two meek defeats before Kevin Pietersen’s typically destructive 90* brought them a win that was near-futile: England were already out and the fringe players fighting for World Cup berths did very little. Still, played three won one sounds less depressing than played three won none.

Talking of depressing, Steve Harmison’s performances in this tournament were just that. Australia must be hopeful of inflicting damage on him come the Ashes. His replacement against the West Indies, Jon Lewis, may not have pace but he is adroit at bowling with the new ball in one-day cricket. Although he should not be trusted later on in the innings, Lewis – as he showed yesterday – can bowl his 10 overs straight through.

James Anderson bowled egregiously against the West Indies, but his showings in the previous two games are testament to the fact he is a very good one-day bowler. Playing Harmison and Sajid Mahmood in the same side is surely too risky. Mahmood – who dismissed Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Brian Lara in the tournament – clearly has all the attributes required to be a fantastic fast bowler. But, even given the calm head Mahmood displayed in steering England home, I would prefer to see Stuart Broad play alongside Lewis, Anderson and Andrew Flintoff in a four-pronged seam attack.

Flintoff’s five overs were not particularly good, but at least he is back bowling with 25 overs until the Ashes begin. However, his performances with the bat in the Champions Trophy displayed a lack of common sense, a trait of so much of England’s batting in this form of the game.

The belligerence of Pietersen’s hitting is well known; he is certainly England’s most significant one-day player. So his match-winning innings – his first ODI fifty in nine games – hardly told England anything they didn’t already know.

Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell both played extremely well until both were dismissed for 50. Bell is developing into a fine player in both forms of the game, though he is probably best at number three rather than opening. With a fully fit and on form Marcus Trescothick, England’s top six - Trescothick, Strauss, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood and Flintoff – looks reassuring.

The problem, however, concerns the players who follow them. Against the West Indies, England’s batsmen at six, seven and eight – Michael Yardy, Jamie Dalrymple and Chris Read – all failed to do what they should be best at – finishing the innings.

Dalrymple, though he has scored just 35 runs in his last four one-day innings, has done well in his 14 games to date, and is probably a better option than Ashley Giles. His 10 overs yesterday encapsulated the subtlety and quick thinking that has characterised his ODI bowling at this level.

Yardy’s idiosyncratic technique does not look up to the demands of international cricket; the fact he was picked for England with a List A career batting average of just 20 rather epitomises the lack of coherence in England’s ODI selections. His bowling has proved generally economical so far, but the contempt showed towards it by Dwayne Bravo may well have ended his World Cup hopes.

Read, after doing so well against Pakistan in the two Tests he played last summer, has batted diabolically for the one-day international side. The slower ball that dismissed him yesterday may even have repercussions for England’s November 23rd encounter at Brisbane.

England currently have more pressing concerns than attempting to rectify the inherent problems in the one-day side. But Duncan Fletcher, as unconvincing as the one-day coach as he is dexterous doing the job in Tests, does appear to have got one thing right: England, when they have everyone fit and at their best, do stand a genuine chance of winning the World Cup. But, should they suffer a few injuries, their chances don’t even bear thinking about.

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