Cricket: England spoiled by too much choice

Stephen Brenkley says that a settled one-day team remains a dream
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The Independent Online
ENGLAND are taking no chances in trying to discover their best one-day side in time for the World Cup. Time, of course, is what the selectors are now running out of quickly but this has not diverted them from their admirably inclusive policy.

This involves casting their net as wide as possible, picking more new players for every limited-overs tournament which comes along, offering them a brief opportunity of glory and then seeking other recruits. It is a strategy at odds with that of continuity adopted for the Test sides (which itself is not conspicuously successful, given recent results).

The latest beneficiaries of the panel's determination not to make a decision and stick to it are Mark Alleyne, of Gloucestershire, and Vince Wells, of Leicestershire, who have been named in the squad of 16 players for the triangular one-day tournament in Australia next month. Both are worthy, talented cricketers, bits-and-pieces players who may have what it takes, but both have been steadfastly ignored until now.

In the past year, beginning with the Champions' Trophy in Sharjah, England have played 16 one-dayers and used 27 players. The addition of Alleyne, Wells and, oddly, John Crawley for the Australian competition will bring the number to 30, though the addition of a minimum of 10 more matches will at least reduce the ratio.

The World Cup, which England have never won in six attempts, begins in May, so the selectors can hardly be accused of laying their plans too prematurely. Not only is their squad far from being fixed but so, too, is their approach. Do they employ pinch-hitters? Are bits-and-pieces all- rounders necessary? What about the crucial role of athletic fielding and will that be helped by having in the squad six players above 30? What should be the balance between specialists and others?

England, it seems, have so far signally failed to come up with many answers. They know they are in desperate need of Graham Thorpe in the middle order to keep the scoreboard constantly on the move because the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, said as much the other day. They know they will have Nick Knight opening the innings, improvising and heaving the ball effectively over long leg and midwicket. But not much else.

The starting line-up in the World Cup may include at least six not in the squad for the Australian matches. The door has been left open for so many players - Michael Atherton and Angus Fraser, both omitted for Australia, being the latest examples - that the horse may already have bolted.

During the last World Cup in 1996, England exhibited an entire range of one-day talents all the way from A to B, which means they were abject, abysmal and absolutely bloody awful. That, of course, was when Sri Lanka gave the world pinch-hitting and galloped captivatingly away with the trophy. On Sri Lanka's tour to England last summer, their captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, said they were working on an exciting innovation for 1999 and you believed him.

England may be working on a ploy of their own, based not especially on revolutionary tactics but on the notion that if they give trials to enough players the opposition may be baffled. Anybody who has any information on what the selectors might be up to could make a fortune from an Indian bookmaker.