Saturday, 20 January 2007

Turning the tide?

There has been nothing but doom and gloom surrounding the England team and their woeful tour of Australia, until now. Following what from a distance appears another abject and downright pathetic performance against the hosts, England can actually take heart from two major positives, their best opening wicket stand on tour so far, between the dominant Mal Loye and out of form Andrew Strauss and the re-emergence of James Anderson as a dangerous One Day International bowler.

It may just be that England emerge from this tour in a better position to challenge for the World Cup. Even suggesting that their could be a challenge may sound laughable at present, but slowly England are realising what makes a successful One Day International side. Perhaps they are learning from the masters, Australia.

Prior to Michael Vaughan’s latest injury David Graveney stated that he was happy with a top three of Strauss, Vaughan and Bell. Distressed does not come close to describing how this made me feel. Fortunately though, Vaughan’s misfortune has been England’s fortune. Forced to give Mal Loye a shot in at least three games now, England’s selectors have found an answer to part of the puzzle. Marcus Trescothick has been England’s dominant one day top order batsman since the retirement of Nick Knight. Rather than replacing Trescothick with a belligerent like for like though, the selectors chose to open with Ian Bell and promoted Andrew Flintoff to three, which encouraged slow starts and prevented Freddie from doing what he does best, finish games.

Having realised that they were wasting Flintoff at three, England then failed to answer the problem by opening with Michael Vaughan, who one suspects would not even be in the side if it were not for the absence of Trescothick, the recent demoralising sequence of defeats and the current lack of inspired and intelligent leadership. Now, we must not get carried away. Loye scored just 36. But it was a speedy and aggressive 36, scored at a run a ball rate.

When Pietersen is restored to the side for the World Cup, with Flintoff lurking below, England will have three attacking players spread throughout their order, who sides around the world will fear.

Currently lacking Pietersen though, England are still desperately short of fire power. Ed Joyce is a classy player, full of talent, but his mental state on this tour appears frail and if one is brutally honest he is not the type of player England currently need to replace a power player like Pietersen. Joyce is a nudger and nurdler, not a player who will take a game by the scruff of its neck. Joyce’s Middlesex colleague Owais Shah would have been the closest England have to a replacement for Pietersen, but he is seemingly out of Fletcher’s good books. Joyce is more in the mould of a Strauss, a Bell, a Collingwood. England already have too many of those unfortunately.

Ravi Bopara will now surely get a chance in the rest of this series to stake his claim for a middle order slot in England’s one day team. However, ultimately there will not be room for more than three of Vaughan, Strauss, Bell, Joyce, Bopara and Collingwood in England’s one day side. Long term, the likely occupants are Strauss, Bell and Bopara. For now though, few will place Bopara above Collingwood, who has though shown a worrying deterioration in form at precisely the wrong time. It is also likely that Michael Vaughan’s leadership skills will get him the nod at the World Cup if fit, although as I have stated before I believe he should be concentrating on Test cricket afterwards, in order to prolong his career.

This could leave Strauss and Bell fighting it out for the number three/four position in England’s middle order. Strauss has occupied the role before, whilst Bell has shown that he can be a success in that middle order position, especially against spin.

Long term, many believe that Strauss should be the captain and no disagreements will be found here. He has shown time and again that he raises his game when captain and England have made a mistake in returning to Andrew Flintoff, rather than turning to his namesake, Strauss. Flintoff, in contrast to Strauss seems to wilt somewhat under the burden of captaincy and freed of responsibility he gave his best performance by far on tour so far against New Zealand.

In the wicket keeping department it appears as though the management are going to stick with Paul Nixon through until the summer, when one hopes that one of Matt Prior, Steven Davies or James Foster will get the gloves. Nixon, reminiscent of Geraint Jones with his constant verbals and tendency to average fifteen, is not the gloveman that Chris Read undoubtedly is, but his experience makes him a better option with the bat and England are now in need of quick fixes. Many though would still prefer to give one of the above trio the gloves.

One further point which is worthy of consideration is where Kevin Pietersen bats. When you look around the greatest sides in the world the best player often bats at three, just ask Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting. Pietersen, undoubtedly England’s best batsman, needs to bat at three in most situations. Flexibility is though a key string to a sides bow in one day cricket and Pietersen and the number four should of course be interchangeable in certain situations. With Pietersen batting at three though, England will look a far more threatening side during the power plays and it also gives him the chance to bat for the optimum amount of time. With Flintoff lurking down the order at five/six (interchangeable of course!) England would still have a power player to attack the final ten to fifteen overs. Surely it makes sense!

Earlier it was stated that England could learn from Australia and they can and should. For if England were to line up as so, their side would bear striking similarities to that of Australia and surely that is no bad thing:

Trescothick/Loye - Gilchrist (wk)
Strauss/Vaughan (c) - Hayden/Katich
Pietersen - Ponting (c)
Bell/Strauss - Clarke
Flintoff - Symonds
Collingwood/Bopara - Hussey
Dalrymple - White
Prior/Davies (wk) - Watson/Hogg/Johnson/Clark
Tremlett - Lee
Panesar/Broad - Bracken
Anderson - McGrath

Chris Pallett


Mark said...

Whisper it quietly (especially when there are Australians in earshot) but, you're right, it does seem that many of the World Cup pieces are starting to fall into place.

Realistically though, all we've done so far is to go from 'potential humiliation' to 'generally competitive'.

There are still a few more steps to take before we reach the giddy, nosebleed inducing, heights of 'contenders'...

Milky said...

England were probably a wicket away from driving the Aussie's to defeat, but the loss won't be of any importance as long as England qualify for the final. By that time, hopefully matters will be in better order and at least the team can offer a complete performance and truly give Australia a run for their money. It would be so nice to beat them just once!

Tim Wigmore said...

Great piece Chris, and I agree England seem to be improvng: in each of their three ODI games, they have excelled with one of bat or ball.

Interesting stuff about Pietersen, though I am not unduly concerned about whether he bats at three or four.

I'm another big fan of Mal Loye and, if he plays, that means someone else has to go. You're right about Collingwood, though, who seems slightly worn down after being so worked over by the Aussies since his 200. If he continues to fail, we could open with Loye and Strauss, have Vaughan and KP at three and four and Bell at five (a similar role to the one who played in the Pakistan Tests, marshalling the tail).

Nick Gammons said...

Excellent analysis. I'm not much of a fan of ODIs, but keep an eye on the international scene. England are showing signs of improvement and having Loye, Pietersen and Flintoff in the same line-up is an exciting prospect. However, I favour a flexible line-up dependending on the circumstances in the game and the pitch.

Having said that I would roughly go along with Loye, Strauss, Pietersen, Bell, Flintoff, Collingwood (Bopara if he comes good), Dalrymple, a wicket-keeper, Tremlett/Broad, Panesar, Anderson.

Vaughan should leave the one-dayers alone and captain Test matches only, with Strauss being the one-day captain, leaving Freddie to do his stuff.

I would put Flintoff in a five unless there has been a collapse, as he is a more capable one-day batsman than most of those around him.

Chrispy said...

I just give up. What more can one write?!