Australia's eight-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Sydney yesterday, which comprised most of their virtues and eventually came at a canter, hardly diminishes the contest. Another England win would give them three from three in the qualifying matches and an overwhelming advantage.
Within the space of a week England would have moved from the least fancied team in the triangular tournament to the favourites.
Not that the England captain, Alec Stewart, was going down that road yesterday. Quite the opposite, actually.
He was visibly and audibly perky, possibly because he had a day off and was going to watch Tim Henman play tennis across town, but he was still guarded in talking up his side's chances of qualifying for the final next month. "If we win six I would have thought we'd have a good chance of qualifying," he said.
England have obviously been doormats for too long. If they win six and fail to qualify they ought to call the newly armed International Cricket Council and have an inquiry established. With the teams playing each other five times there are 15 qualifying matches in all. Thus, anybody winning six is certain to go through.
Stewart, however, is understandably anxious not to make too much of England's splendid start to the competition. Two victories in close matches will obviously have lifted the esteem of a side which combines the experienced with the novice, but they are not going to persuade him to change his `we'll take every game as it comes' approach. In similar vein he also declined to offer any clues to England's side for the match.
The likelihood is that the XI which beat Sri Lanka in the second match at Brisbane will be retained though it will be worth considering a change to try to strengthen the batting order.
It is possible to get too pernickety about who should go in where, but in this company Adam Hollioake looks uncomfortably high at five. He could move to six, with Mark Alleyne standing down and Vince Wells coming into the team to bat at three.
But fielding may decide the issue on this occasion. Wells is by no means a slouch, but Alleyne is positively athletic. It is one of life's little quirks that he has already become a national figure on these shores because of the error he made in chasing a ball against Australia. His double tumble has been endlessly repeated on television.
If England decide against changes they could still alter the batting order if a wicket went down in the first 15 overs. In that case Mark Ealham could go in at three to pinch-hit, with Graeme Hick and Neil Fairbrother dropping down a place. What a science it has all become.
"The way we've won gives the guys a lot of confidence," said Stewart. "There's a game plan that we have and we know how we want to play and what we are all doing. Fielders just go to their places. They know where they should be 80 per cent of the time."
As this tournament continues, the World Cup in England in four months' time draws more and more attention, and Stewart knows his team are playing for their places. "We played very poorly in the last World Cup, as poor as we ever have. We are much better prepared."
England beat Australia three times at home in 1997 to lift the Texaco Trophy in style and extended the sequence last Sunday.
They are shrewd enough to take advantage again tomorrow. Steve Waugh is not certain to return to Australia's ranks, though Shane Warne has led them well.Reuse content