Sunday, 16 September 2007

Can England still progress?

It’s a new format, perhaps, but England’s performance at this World Cup is much the same as their efforts in the recent 50-over ones. Above all, they struggled – just as they did in the Caribbean – with maximising the fielding restrictions.

Their policy to use Twenty20 specialists has been much discussed. I was in favour of it, but expressed reservations about the selection of Luke Wright. Wright is a potentially exciting talent but lacks the technique and experience to open against international bowlers, and it was rather perverse to promote him after a pair of failures at number three. Mark Ramprakash, in stunning form, inventive and highly effective in Twenty20, and with technical prowess, should surely have gone; with hindsight so should Ian Bell, although, when the squad was selected, he in no way merited selection. Of course, the man who could have made a real difference, and is a true match for Hayden, Gayle and Gibbs, is Marcus Trescothick.

Either way, England are stuck with Wright, Matt Prior, Vikram Solanki and Darren Maddy. Prior, as he proved yet again today, is not an international opening batsmen; his trademark is run-a-ball 20s which, in Twenty20, is simply not fast enough. By process of elimination as much as anything else, I would advocate opening with Solanki and Maddy. They have enjoyed success in this form of the game over its five seasons, and also possess huge experience. Certainly, however, Kevin Pietersen should be at number three.

With the ball, England have been a little better. Had Paul Collingwood caught Albie Morkel, Chris Schofield would not have been clobbered for three sixes and would have returned excellent figures, so it would be unfair to criticise him. On the positive side, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff were very good against South Africa, only to be let down by some abysmal catching that cost England the game.

So England find themselves in a familiar position in World Cups: they are on the verge of an early exit unless they can get their act together and win consecutive games. Ultimately, England probably lack the big-hitting skills necessary to win the tournament, but they were not helped by the truly inexplicable decision to bat Snape ahead of Mascarenhas. As per usual in shorter cricket, England are tremendously reliant on Kevin Pietersen. But if they are to progress, their opening pair must contribute far more.

How can England progress to the semi-finals? Is this the best side: Maddy, Solanki, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Flintoff, Mascarenhas, Prior, Schofield, Broad, Anderson