Thursday was the day for cricketing news. The biggest news of course was that Shane Warne is retiring from international cricket following this Ashes series. Only four more times will us England fans sit there staring despairingly at our television sets as the chief magician bamboozles our batting line up.
My initial reaction was one of relief, relief that this will no longer happen and also that he plans to play on for Hampshire for a further two years. However, then I began to wonder, is international cricket about to become a whole lot more boring and the answer is undoubtedly yes. Those nail biting moments emanating from the pressure cooker environment which Warne creates are not going to be replicated again during my generation I fear. He has been the best and likely will be forever.
Thursday also brought the announcement that Stephen Harmison was retiring from One Day Internationals, just three months before the 2007 World Cup starts in the Caribbean, a region in which Harmison enjoyed his best form. This is a bold and justifiable decision by Harmison who undoubtedly recognises that he needs to play more first class cricket for his county if he is to maintain his place in England’s test side.
The Durham pace man has left England in a spot of bother though with such a major tournament so near. It is unlikely that he would have been selected for the World Cup squad anyway based on current form, but had he bowed out a few months earlier England could have conducted a more thorough search for a replacement. Now though, time is of the essence, which may have counted against Stuart Broad and his lack of experience. Whether this is the correct decision remains to be seen.
The third piece of news that broke on Thursday was of course the announcement of England’s ODI squad for the forthcoming series against Australia and New Zealand. The absence of Broad is a disappointment. However, much to my pleasant surprise I actually quite like the look of the bowling, if England select the correct five. Andrew Flintoff is a given. Jamie Dalrymple and James Anderson have probably also done enough to be in the side.
Following the dismal performance at the Champions Trophy I argued that a new approach was needed, that England needed to play two spinners in the Caribbean and that they had to play Monty Panesar. Michael Yardy looked troubled with the bat and average with the ball in his handful of appearances in an England shirt. If England are to play two spinners, one must be a wicket taker and Monty is certainly that. Four parts of the jigsaw are now in place.
Finally, I also argued that Chris Tremlett should be in the side. Surprisingly he now gets his chance following a year of troublesome injuries. However, he must play. Tremlett spent a lot of time working on the mental side of his game with Warne over the past two years and he has emerged a more threatening bowler. He will not let England down and has good control unlike Sajid Mahmood. He can also bat to a reasonable standard. Perhaps Broad could have had more success than Anderson in the Caribbean and on the current Australian pitches, but bringing in three new bowlers would have been a big change with the World Cup so near.
Ultimately, Anderson is a seasoned campaigner and knows the one day game well. Jon Lewis performed fantastically in England, but it remains to be seen whether he is up to standard abroad. Mahmood still needs more county cricket to develop, whilst Plunkett has not played for nearly two thirds of a year. In summary then I am happy with the bowling, but would have campaigned for Broad’s inclusion in the squad, along with Simon Jones when fit, for Plunkett and Mahmood.
To the batting now and I am also reasonably satisfied. Michael Vaughan will hopefully open and bring a lot to the game with his captaincy, though England must be certain of his fitness. He should though retire from ODI’s after the World Cup to prolong his Test career. I suspect that had Trescothick been fit Vaughan may have done so already. With Vaughan back there is hopefully a shot maker in the top three, with Strauss and Bell looking to build their innings more.
England will though miss the power of Trescothick and may regret not looking at players such as Owais Shah and Mal Loye. Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Flintoff are givens now, along with Jamie Dalrymple in England’s middle order, but they must be played in that order. That means no more experimenting with Flintoff at three. He is needed for the last ten to fifteen overs. Collingwood and Pietersen are the best players of spin, hence their positioning in the middle order, whilst Bell and Strauss are the most likely innings builders at the top.
Vaughan must though play some shots to get England off to a quick start. That is likely to be the key position. Ed Joyce is a quality player but offers little different to Alastair Cook, who has performed well when involved. England are probably a bowler heavy and a batsman light, which indicates their doubts concerning the bowling attack at the moment. They may well rue the omission of an aggressive top order player though. However, all in all I am sounding reasonably happy so far.
Now we turn to the wicket keeping situation. This completely baffles me. Why England have turned back to a thirty-six year old really is beyond me. Paul Nixon is a good one day player and especially proficient at Twenty20 cricket. However, having named Chris Read as the number one wicket keeper I fail to see the point in calling up a short term player as reserve.
This was the perfect opportunity for the England management to take a look at the two academy keepers, Matthew Prior and Steven Davies. They have not done so and this is my main criticism, unless of course they plan to usurpe Read once more and play Nixon at the World Cup, which would still be a backward step. Batting at number eight though, England can afford to select the best glove man, whoever that may be.
In conclusion, England have made a better fist of selecting a competitive one day squad on this occasion. Gone are the likes of Vikram Solanki, Rikki Clarke and Michael Yardy. However, it remains to be seen whether or not they select the right eleven to take to the field and then play them in the best order. By selecting the best spinner though England have finally sent a message. They are going to look to be more positive in their one day cricket and about time too.
Andrew Strauss (vc)
Michael Vaughan (c) (Marcus Trescothick/ Mal Loye/ Owais Shah)
Chris Read/ Paul Nixon (wk) (Matthew Prior)
James Anderson (Stuart Broad)