Thursday, April 05, 2007

World Cup Woes

Surrender Anyone?

Cricket fans are a forgiving lot. Most are realists when it come to England's chances in the World Cup. Discounting the media-hype which surrounds almost all international sport now-a-days, knowledgeable fans will realise that the team is just not very good, or, perhaps just not good enough.

Nevertheless, it is important if any progress is to be made to understand why and where improvements need to be made. England have more professional cricketers than any other nation. This can be a blessing. It can also be a liability when selecting teams.

The fact is England seems to be the only country who picks a specialist one-day squad and ignores the Test team. Yesterday's defeat to Sri Lanka abjectly illustrates this policy.

All morning the news was afloat with rumours that Andrew Strauss would be recalled to the team as opener. Ed Joyce had failed and failed again. Strauss is a proven Test opener who “suffered” some very bad umpiring decisions and some “unlucky” dismissals in the one-day series against Australia. Joyce was his replacement and had only amassed a few decent scores. Pretty much a no-brainer there. Strauss to be recalled – Joyce to be dismissed. What happened? Nothing. Whoever was spreading the Strauss recall rumours ( maybe it was his Mum? ) shut up. Joyce played. Scored a few. Got out.

His opening partner, Michael Vaughan, faired little better. Cricketers and commentators all agree that when you are caught down the leg side you are a bit unlucky – particularly with the keeper standing up to a medium-pacer. Unlucky or not that's exactly what happened to Vaughan and his run of very low scores continued. Result? England on the back foot. Vaughan provides his own conundrum. Captaining the side expertly he engineered a gettable Sri Lankan total to chase. His own contribution to the cause was woeful. Unlucky or not.

Ian Bell flatters to deceive. The photo of him standing with his bat well-behind the popping crease and neatly poised a few centimetres above it should be pasted on every school notice board. Watching him bat is like watching a disaster unfolding. He may get a score – but it's not likely. When all that was need was for one top-order batsman to survive most of the innings and get 80 or 90 – he failed again.

Kevin Petersen is supposed to be the number one one-day batsman in the world. Crazy. He does score large hundreds, but mostly when they are not needed. Pressure? Don't think he handles it well. Murali slipped him the doosra, and Petersen lobbed it back to him. I don't like cricketers who behave like footballers. When they make a mistake or choose the wrong shot they should accept it. Petersen nearly cries. Or mutters an obscenity under his breath. Completely unacceptable. He's beginning to look like a prima dona – without the requisite talent and temperament.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Collingwood is a good county pro. He is neither a Test batsman nor a one-day specialist. If he's the best number five we have in England then it will be a long time before there is any improvement in results.

Flintoff hasn't recovered from the pedalo yips. I remember when he was a batting all-rounder who bowled a bit. Now he bowls but has forgotten the basics of one-day batting. He should be sentenced to watch his dismissal over and over and over. Attempting to slog a slower ball with two runs to your name and your team relying on you to salvage the match makes Freddie look just about as stupid as you can on a cricket pitch.

So it was left to Bopara and Nixon to get England close to the total. I was beginning to wonder what Bopara was doing in the side? I thought he would be bowling – but Collingwood does all that ( fairly ineffectually! ) and he never got a chance. At least he was up for the fight. If he is to make an impact next time around he needs to be bowling and batting. Time will tell if he's good enough.

Nixon will not be around long. He's too old and it that respect it is churlish to begrudge him a few days in the lime light. He did very well, but England should be playing a younger, more long-term keeper. If he was Duncan Fletcher's choice, then Dunc should follow him into honourable retirement.

It's possible that events may overtake my gloomy forecast. I hope so, but I doubt it. After the Aussies hammer us on Sunday, it should just be a matter of a few days before the lads come home.

Some joined-up thinking by the selectors and administrators in time for the next World Cup might not go amiss.

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