Yesterday's loss to Australia highlighted once again the deep flaws in England's one-day team. The much discussed problems with the top order and lack of wicket-takers were evident, as usual, but there was also a naivity in their play, as if they simply had no idea what they should do. Even the normally calm and decisive Vaughan was at a loss, perhaps his woeful batting form has overshadowed all other aspects of his game.
Inexplicably, Vaughan chose not to bowl himself or Bopara when it was clear the Australians, even Ponting, were struggling against the slower ball. Instead he turned to his fastest bowlers, Mahmood and Flintoff. One could argue that they are his likeliest wicket-takers, but it was obvious that the pitch was hard to bat on with the ball not coming onto the bat. In such circumstances faster bowlers can only help the batsmen.
The lack of momentum in the England innings after Bell was out revealed the limitations of England's one-day batting. No-one was able to give the in-form Pietersen the strike and the innings dragged on, with everyone waiting for an England batsman to launch an assault. When Bopara, Pietersen and Nixon finally tried to up the scoring rate the Australian bowlers were back in control and all three got themselves out. It was as naive a display as I have seen in recent times from England.
When it was followed by another toothless England bowling display I began to doubt England's already slim chances of taking the fourth semi-final spot. Yet, there is room for hope, as England do possess some excellent individuals. The problem is that they all need to play well in the same match to make up for their mediocre colleagues.
Flintoff's bowling has been great, his batting appalling. Some pundits have called for him to open as he and the England top order are so out of form. There is merit in sending him in to smack it about while the field restrictions are on, though he is likely to succumb to quality opening bowlers who can move the ball and there are plenty of them about. In truth Flintoff has only batted consistently well in ODIs when Pietersen has not been in the team. It seems almost as if Flintoff just leaves it to Pietersen. The two of them have rarely ignited together, as Richards and Botham rarely did in their days at Somerset.
Vaughan may only be one innings away from his best form, but he seems unsure what his role is opening in ODIs. Perhaps he should go down the order and give Flintoff a go at opening. Neither can do worse than they are at the moment. What is certain is that Pietersen and Collingwood, England's best batsmen by far, should be at three and four, respectively. The in-form Bopara should move up to five with Vaughan at six, if Flintoff is opening. Nixon is in good enough form to bat at seven, allowing England to bring back Plunkett.
Plunkett's return is necessary as England are not taking enough wickets. It may make the side top-heavy with bowlers, but England need wickets. At least if Anderson, Mahmood, Plunkett, Flintoff and Panesar are all in the team there is the chance of three or four of them firing in the same match. The pressure would then be off the back-up bowlers. It is a gamble, but one that needs to be taken.
Finally, Panesar must be instructed to bowl as he does in Test matches, with some close catchers. It is frustrating to see such a talented bowler firing the ball in and being milked for singles or hit by batsmen under little pressure. Panesar's ability to take wickets is being wasted at the moment at a time when England are crying out for one-day wicket-takers.
Surely, it is well overdue for England to take some risks in selection and tactics? If they are to stay in the tournament they will simply have to. Better to go down fighting than with a whimper as they did yesterday.