The five limited-over internationals, which begin in Barbados a week today, will not be seen as an unwelcome appendix but as a spectacle in their own right and a significant part of development towards the 1999 World Cup. As an example of the new serious approach to the hit and giggle game five new players are joining the squad.
It is clear that the selectors are aware not only of team balance but also that successful one-day sides must have more collective responsibility than the average Cabinet. "The value of a player scoring a quick 10, or even five in the middle-order late on can be enormous," said Dougie Brown, one of the beneficaries of the innovative selection policy. "Getting them quickly, upsetting the bowler and the fielder is the thing. And then saving runs is vital all the time. It might seem a long way to be running 50 yards to save one run but if you get five players doing that twice a game for you there's 10 runs, the difference between being in the match and out of it."
Brown, the Warwickshire all-rounder, flew out on Friday to join the party for the limited-over rubber - positive results, as usual, guaranteed. He had his first experience of the big, big time in Sharjah last December when England won the Champions' Trophy and he opened the bowling. For the first time in an age England looked not as though they had simply got the hang of this 50-over malarkey but as if they positively relished it. Over the quarter of a century since limited overs internationals were invented in Melbourne (and then only to compensate for a washed-out Test) England have enjoyed intermittent success, as testified by three (losing) appearances in World Cup finals.
But there have always been purists ready to denigrate them as not the real thing. Well, there might be too many of the little blighters but they are definitely the real thing. "I think we are among the leaders in terms of developing tactics and an approach to the one-day game," Brown said. "It's really changed out of recognition in a few years. Playing the percentages we call it.
"A lot of time is spent on working out where the fours can best be scored and where the singles can be taken, a lot of it pre-meditated. I remember three years back Warwickshire were sat on the Gloucestershire balcony identifying what shot would be played where before it was. The Gloucester coaches alongside couldn't believe it."
Warwickshire, of course, were one of the fore-runners in making the one- day game more sophisticated but Brown insisted they were not alone. It is, in every sense, a different game, but one whose techniques can be used in the longer game as well. Take returning the ball, for instance. Warwickshire timed getting the ball back via several fielders and the more conventional method of one throw and several bounces to the 'keeper. The relay system won, hands up as it were.
Brown is a rarity in the England team, not as an all-rounder for there are plenty of those in the one-day game, but as a Scot. It is said that Douglas Jardine was Scottish, but he was born in India and Brown believes that only Mike Denness and Peter Such have preceded him as cricketers born north of the border who have played for England. He came late to cricket. Born and brought up in Stirling, he was 14 before he played his first organised game ("I caught the bug immediately") but never appeared for the Scottish age-group sides. He made a reputation in club cricket, demonstrated his dedication by making a 10-hour journey from college in London to play for his club, was eventually picked by Scotland and wrote to Warwickshire for a trial.
"I had a bad ankle injury, which lasted 18 months and nearly put me out of the game. But it was eventually diagnosed properly and I made my Championship debut in 1994, Warwixckshire's golden summer. Nearly got a wicket first ball too. The ball kept low, Alec Stewart looked plumb from where I was but the umpire said no. I got a half century in the match and it would've been a nice double."
Brown, 28, had his best season last year, taking 81 first-class wickets at under 20 each but also keeping that rigid off-stump line in the one- day stuff. He will not have it that bowlers are mere cannon fodder. They have to adjust, use their mind. He was openly excited at the prospect of the West Indies, though nobody should doubt his competitiveness. Nobody, least of all purists, should doubt his priorities either.
"I want to play Test cricket, every player should. It's still the highest form of the game." Just in case there was any doubt.Reuse content