England have patently struggled so far at this World Cup and generally in One Day cricket since the end of 2005 at least. We now examine some of the key problems for England and what can be done to resolve them by the summer's end.
Marcus Trescothick has the ability to take the game to opposition sides at the top of the order in both forms of the game, but it is his ability to plunder the powerplay overs that England have especially missed to date. With no Tresco, there have been no blistering and imposing starts, no centuries from the top, no senior player to turn to and a missing pair of ever-reliable slip catching hands. Once Trescothick is under way he is incredibly hard to stop (just ask Devon!) and his ability against spin makes him a fantastic all round player, capable of pulverising opposition attacks ala Jayasuriya. In his void there has been no reliable replacement. Mal Loye was tried, but in relative terms failed and following that there was no time to find another chosen one. Andrew Strauss, Michael Vaughan and Ed Joyce, for all their qualities, fall into another bracket entirely. Will Jefferson and Michael Carberry are two openers who will look to press their claims further this summer.
Australia have Brett Lee and now Shaun Tait, New Zealand have Shane Bond, Sri Lanka Lasith Malinga. Without Simon Jones England are missing that go to strike bowler, the magical one who is capable of getting a wicket at any stage of the innings, especially during the middle overs, when the ball is starting to show signs of reverse swing. In 2005 Jones was being groomed as the replacement for Darren Gough and how badly they have missed a man who can fill those boots. Without that special strike bowler England have struggled to turn games around, or finish the job. For all the qualities England’s other bowlers have, without Jones and the retired Stephen Harmison, England are, as Michael Vaughan himself stated, a “squeezing attack.”
The Pietersen, Flintoff quandary:
Pietersen bats too low, Freddie too high. It is as simple as that. As the best player in the side KP should be batting at number three, where he can make full use of the fielding restrictions and bat for the nigh on maximum amount of time. We don’t see Ricky Ponting or Jaques Kallis batting at four. It is a point I continue to dwell on though! Flintoff meanwhile has averaged a woeful 22 since the start of the India series one year ago and on that basis would be better suited to playing at seven. The Freddie to open debate is a dangerous one, lest we all forget his failings at number three at the ICC Champions Trophy, just six months ago, against a new ball. His skills are best suited to the last ten overs and that is when he should make his thunderous entrance, not whilst the spinners are on, with quick singles and nurdling required. Flexiblity in the batting order is not though something which England seem to understand however.
Issue for the future:
The wicket keeping situation is still one that will rouse curious debate throughout the nation and indeed world. Whilst Paul Nixon has impressed many with his commitment and desire, at 36 he can not be considered the future, nor groomed for the next Ashes series, ICC Champions Trophy, or World Cup. It is also questionable as to whether he has the technique to survive at Test level. With Chris Read and Geraint Jones seemingly failed men of yesterday now, there are two main contenders for the role and those two players resided within the academy squad over the winter. They are of course Matt Prior and Steven Davies, the young wicket keepers currently playing in the county season curtain raiser at Lords.
Simplistically stated, Prior is seen as the better and more explosive batsman of the two, whilst Davies is seen to have more potential with the gloves and a Gilchristean resemblance (he is left handed!). Prior has already tasted international cricket, albeit on the subcontinent and in positions varying from opener, to number three, to number five. He plays his best cricket for Sussex at six though and should be looked at as a serious contender for the lower order of the one day side at least, given Davies’ younger years. Davies is probably the long-term heir apparent, but may be too fresh to throw in immediately. James Foster is of course another option, but his exclusion from the academy squad would seem to signal that he is further down the pecking order in the race to become England’s first undisputed wicket keeper since Alec Stewart retired.
With Tresothick and Pietersen in the top three, England would be a powerful side to be feared once again. Both are capable of huge innings at fast rates, whilst Ian Bell is a player who would look to accumulate and bat more cautiously, allowing others to bat around him. With a lower order of Flintoff and the aggressive wicket keeper, England would be well placed to also attack those final overs. That leaves us the middle order trio whose jobs would be to milk the middle overs and wristly flick the ball in to gaps, turning ones in to twos and running the opposition ragged. Paul Collingwood is brilliant at this and is also one of the best finishers in the game, but is slightly suspect against serious pace around offstump early on in his innings. Ravinder Bopara meanwhile has shown us that he too could be a brilliant finisher and innovative gap finder, but he is still young. Both are probably suited to coming in against spin, so numbers five and six seem appropriate.
A number four is thus required, someone capable of playing against both pace and spin. Andrew Strauss may seem an obvious choice and he could yet prove to be the answer, he did after all start his promising international career there. However, Owais Shah showed in India, during a crucial innings of 88, that he is a fantastic player of spin, capable of wristy stroke play that many fine players would drool over. As a regular first class number three and one day opener he also has the technique against pace. He has long been a fine domestic one day and Twenty20 player and has really kicked on in the longer form of the game over the past two seasons as well. Given just a paltry three matches at number three in India during yet another woeful one day series for England, he has since dropped back into the abyss, though he lined up for the MCC vs Sussex at Lords on Friday. Rumours abound that Fletcher does not like him much, John Emburey claims his face does not fit. Only such reasoning can explain his exclusion to date. Maybe if Fletcher departs this summer, Shah may finally make the step up.
England’s best one day line-up undoubtedly looks a lot like this, can England get them fit and gel them together by the end of the summer though, in time for the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa?:
Paul Collingwood (c)
Matt Prior/ Steven Davies/ Paul Nixon (wk)
12th Man: Ashley Giles/ Liam Plunkett