It’s like the remarkable final fortnight in Australia never happened. England’s defeat to New Zealand was comprehensive and leaves them with much to do to reach the semi-finals. To compound their troubles, four players have been disciplined after returning after curfew on the night of the defeat.
England play Canada tomorrow and Kenya six days later, and face a number of fundamental questions regarding the make-up of their side.
Joyce or Strauss?
Ed Joyce looked to have solved England’s top-order worries in making his superb century against Australia in the CB Series but, in six appearances for England since, has not passed 25, appearing tentative and inhibited when the memory of that innings should still be fresh in his mind.
His Middlesex team-mate Andrew Strauss endured an awful winter, failing to pass 55 in 20 international innings. He has only averaged 26 in his last 23 games, but does offer class and experience at the top of the order. The decision is certainly a tough one but, given that Strauss averaged 43 in the last ODI series England played in the Caribbean, my gut instinct would be to return to him.
Whoever plays, however, the problem of England’s inability to exploit the Powerplay overs remains, along with the nagging feeling they will regret the non-selection of the idiosyncratic and explosive Mal Loye.
Jamie Dalrymple: good enough?
Jamie Dalrymple had a fine summer for England, but his performances in the CB Series were mediocre: he is the sole bits-and-pieces player in their one-day side. Against New Zealand, he failed with both bat (making 3) and ball (bowling four overs for 29), highlighting the lunacy of Duncan Fletcher calling him the first choice one-day spinner.
England surely look a better side replacing him with an extra batsman – especially given Flintoff’s dire one-day batting in the last 18 months - but, if they want a player similar in style, the vivacious Ravi Bopara would surely be a better option than Dalrymple.
Plunkett, Lewis or Mahmood?
England also face a huge dilemma over who opens the bowling with James Anderson; do they go for one of the mercurial young quicks, or the less glamarous qualities of Jon Lewis?
Liam Plunkett bowled devastatingly, if too expensively, in the CB Series. He also batted enterprisingly in the final overs. Though he scored a fine 29* against New Zealand, his bowling was wayward and seemed somewhat nullified by the St Lucia track.
Sajid Mahmood got five wickets in England’s three consecutive wins against Australia and has a fine slower ball, but his inconsistency always makes him liable to be smashed.
Doubts remain over Jon Lewis’ ability to bowl away from home, but he bowled well in Australia and in the Champions Trophy, and dserves a chance in the World Cup. Unlike Mahmood and Plunkett, he can always be relied upon to bowl accurately; though he lacks pace, this could make him hugely difficult to get away on slow wickets. Lewis’ new-ball pedigree is outstanding: since being recalled to the side against Pakistan last summer he has taken 11 wickets at 18 in the first opening overs. And his economy rate during that time is almost the antithesis to Messrs Mahmood and Plunkett – 2.95.