Monday, 23 October 2006

Time for a re-think

After yet another abject performance from the England One Day International team it is time for the England management to totally rethink their one day line-up and game plan before the 2007 World Cup.

England have looked absolutely clueless in eighty percent of their one day games over the last few years, clueless about their starting eleven, their batting order and the way in which to go about batting fifty overs and scoring a competitive total. They have then consistently failed to defend totals or confine the opposition to a gettable total when fielding.

First things first, the choice of Andrew Flintoff as captain over Andrew Strauss was the wrong one. Flintoff, having just returned from injury, should be searching for form and fitness and then focusing on batting, bowling and slip-catching. He should not also be thinking about captaining his side. Strauss meanwhile proved himself to be a very able captain during the summer, who was growing into the job and seamed to have more ideas than Flintoff.

As captain Flintoff creditably hauled his side to a draw in India, but his England side were also held at home by Sri Lanka, whilst Strauss managed a 3-0 quashing of Pakistan at home. In the one day arena Strauss got off to an uncomfortable start against a top one day outfit in Sri Lanka but then masterminded a resurgence against Pakistan without a number of key players including the talismanic Flintoff.

Strauss rose to the captaincy with his performances on the pitch and he has looked the most dependable in India so far, while Flintoff has failed to live up to his hefty reputation, which has perhaps become over-inflated since the latest Ashes series. In the last 21 ODIs, going back to the start of the NatWest Series against Bangladesh and Australia last year, Flintoff has averaged just 27.41 with the bat, scoring only two fifties in those 17 innings.

This is not the average of a number three batsman and certainly does not warrant his current reputation as a destructive one-day player in the vein of Mahendra Dhoni, Adam Gilchrist, or Kevin Pietersen. With his bowling, he is still of course a world class all rounder, but he should not be batting higher than five, whilst also doing three jobs, let alone four.

Andrew Strauss should be the captain in Michael Vaughan’s absence as he leads from the front with his performances and history shows that he raises his game when captain of both England and Middlesex.

Now to the composition of the team. Ian Bell has had a good year in the side and deserves to open alongside the destructive Marcus Trescothick who is England’s only destructive opener outside of Matt Prior and Mal Loye, one of whom should perhaps have been in India in Tresco’s absence. This opening partnership would provide England with a balanced left-hand, right-hand combination capable of taking on the world’s best bowling attacks.

At three would come Andrew Strauss, the captain, anchoring the team, looking to consolidate any early loss, or in the case of a good start to work the bowlers around outside the power plays. At four would come Kevin Pietersen, to work the spinners around and maybe hit some lusty blows in the middle overs.

Strauss and Pietersen would though be interchangeable so that if the run rate needed to be lifted Pietersen could be promoted. Fluid line-ups are a key component in one day cricket as India have notably shown with the successful fluid movement of their entire batting order over the last year.

At number five would come the second half man Paul Collingwood to ensure that England bat out their overs and also to manoeuvre the field to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Good middle over players who can rotate the strike are key in one day games and Strauss and Collingwood with the power of Pietersen are surely the men for the job, all good manoeuvres of the ball and players of spin.

At number six would come Andrew Flintoff, who again could be interchangeable with Collingwood if the situation demanded. With this ordering of the front six, the power players, Trescothick, Pietersen and Flintoff, would be dispersed throughout the order so that the touch players, Bell, Strauss and Collingwood, could build innings and tick over the middle overs ensuring that England are not bowled out cheaply by going too hard too early.

With this order Flintoff would hopefully be at the crease for the final fifteen overs which is where he is needed to attack. In the Australia match in the Champion’s Trophy the perils of bringing in all the power players too early and going too hard too early were plain for all to see.

Following Flintoff would come Jamie Dalrymple who has demonstrated that he is capable of unleashing in the latter stages. Proceeding Dalrymple would be the wicket keeper, a subject of keen scrutiny for all. The contenders for this position are Geraint Jones, Chris Read, Matt Prior and the long-term option, Steven Davies.

My personal choice would be Matt Prior who can be a destructive force in one day cricket. His wicket keeping is acceptable and he is still young; his averages are higher than those of his rivals. He has also not really had that much of a chance in an England shirt, having only played ODIs for England in Pakistan and India, where few England players performed.

This batting line-up and order would give England a solid platform with the ability to both consolidate and attack as required. Furthermore, Flintoff, Dalrymple and Prior could prove to be an effective lower order striking trio if used in the correct positions and game situations.

Next we have the remaining bowlers, none of whom you would want to see batting before the final five overs at worst. In the majority of cases where bowlers come in much earlier than the forty-fifth over in one day cricket the game is already lost. Therefore I do not subscribe to the theory of picking Michael Yardy over Monty Panesar.

Panesar has proven himself to be the best spinner in the country, capable of match-winning spells of spin bowling. Whilst Yardy was economical against Australia what was needed was an attacking spin bowler to compliment Dalrymple and take wickets. Monty is this man and would be my number eleven and I feel that he has probably lost out to Yardy on this occasion because of Flintoff’s current inability to bowl.

James Anderson has proven himself to be a very effective one day bowler throughout his career and covers most bases with his ability to swing the ball at the start of the innings negating the need to play Jon Lewis simply for his new-ball skills.

Andrew Flintoff is possibly the best fast bowler in the world and comfortably covers the hit the deck fast bowler base. That leaves Stephen Harmison, Simon Jones, Sajid Mahmood, Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett, Chris Tremlett and Jon Lewis fighting for the final seam bowling spot, if fit.

My long-term pick would be Stuart Broad for his line and length bowling and ability to bat. At present though he is not ready and Chris Tremlett would be my man for the hard bouncy West Indian wickets. Mahmood unfortunately proves to be expensive far too often, although he is showing glimpses of potential once again.

Stephen Harmison is a real worry and has never taken to the white cricket ball, whilst he has also suffered a worrying loss of form in the longer format of the game as well. Meanwhile it is doubtful as to whether or not Jones and Plunkett will be fit for the World Cup.

In the event of a seamers’ wicket being served up Dalrymple could be sacrificed for either Jones or Mahmood. My ideal one day attack would therefore be Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar and Jamie Dalrymple / Simon Jones.

I have overlooked Ashley Giles as I believe that he should focus on being the second spinner in the test arena in order to prolong his career and also because at one day level Dalrymple can effectively do the same job as Gilo, in terms of being economical and scoring more runs. Dalrymple also offers a contrasting bowling style to Monty.

It is of course also doubtful as to whether Michael Vaughan should continue his uninspiring one day career to the detriment of his wonderful test career and hence he has also been overlooked.

Therefore when all are fit and available I would like to see England line up for the 2007 World Cup as so:

Marcus Trescothick
Ian Bell
Andrew Strauss (c)
Kevin Pietersen
Paul Collingwood
Andrew Flintoff
Jamie Dalrymple
Matthew Prior (wk)
Chris Tremlett
Monty Panesar
James Anderson

12th Man: Simon Jones

In the wings: Sajid Mahmood, Stuart Broad, Ed Joyce, Steven Davies.

Chris Pallett

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