England notoriously fare far worse in one-day cricket than in the Test arena. So, after their ignominious whitewash, what can we expect in the VB Series? England play eight games, plus a Twenty20 encounter with Australia. Their most pressing task is to avoid becoming the first English touring side in history not to win a single game. While they should certainly win at least one of their four matches with New Zealand, there is a palpable chance that they will not win even once against Australian opposition.
Michael Vaughan has been reappointed the skipper. While some have criticised the decision for bearing resemblance to the loyalty so prevalent in England’s negative team selection for the Ashes, Vaughan is an excellent skipper who England will need in the VB Series and World Cup. His record in ODI cricket is admittedly mediocre, but, with Marcus Trescothick absent, England are in need of an experienced opener. As with Andrew Flintoff, we are far from certain about his fitness but, from afar, it is hard to argue with the reinstatement of Vaughan to the role of captaincy.
England’s top six will remain the same as in the Ashes, apart from Vaughan replacing Alastair Cook, but their bottom five will be very different. Jamie Dalrymple, a feisty cricketer who has done well to date in ODIs, should offer some lower-order stability at number seven.
Chris Read kept superbly in the last two Tests but, given that he has only once passed four in his last eight international innings, I would advocate the selection of 36-year-old Paul Nixon. Nixon is an idiosyncratic and highly effective lower order batsman in ODIs, particularly adept at playing the reverse sweep, and appears a good interim option.
The departures of Messrs Harmison and Hoggard mean England’s seam bowling will have a completely different look to it. They will surely not risk Sajid Mahmood, whose lack of control is even more significant in the shorter format, while Liam Plunkett, whose one-day economy rate is almost 6, is not yet good enough. The selectors must regret selecting both ahead of Stuart Broad.
James Anderson, who is a better bowler in ODIs, deserves to keep his place in the side as the opening bowler. Jon Lewis has hardly put a foot wrong in recent months and can now prove his effectiveness on foreign shores. The uncharacteristic slow tracks expected in the Caribbean should also suit him.
The final spot, then, looks to be between Monty Panesar and Chris Tremlett. Panesar could be very effective in the West Indies, while Tremlett is an exciting prospect who generates copious amounts of bounce with his height and pace.
The expectations of England’s performances have seldom been lower. If Vaughan is indeed fully fit, they may just cause the odd surprise, though reaching the VB Series final is probably beyond them, unless Pietersen and Flintoff hit top form simultaneously.