All hands on deck for foundering England

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The remarkable scenes witnessed at the Oval and Trafalgar Square following England's dramatic victory in the Ashes will ensure that 2005 is looked on as a successful year for Michael Vaughan and his team. But England's annus mirabilis is set to finish on a horribilis note if they continue to play as they have in the last two one-day matches against Pakistan.

There have been distractions - the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and the claustrophobic security in Karachi; there have been reasons - England are without Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones; and there has been some very disappointing cricket.

Yet England, amazingly, are only 2-1 down in the series and could still return home as winners in a week's time if they win the final two games of the tour. It is highly unlikely, judging by the gulf in class that exists between the two sides and the body language of the England squad as they travelled from Karachi to Islamabad, but it is possible.

If England are to pull off a major surprise, they will need to improve every facet of their cricket. Paul Collingwood attempted to put a positive spin on things yesterday when he suggested that the team needed to do a number of things "one per cent better than they were" but batting, bowling and fielding only adds up to three in my book and Pakistan appear to be about 50 per cent better than England at the moment.

Each member of the squad may have an eye on next Thursday's flight home but several members of the team have plenty to play for in the next five days. The players listed above will return to the one-day squad selected for India and an equivalent number here may find themselves running around a cold, empty county ground in April rather than a throbbing stadium in Goa.

The most competitive battle will be between Matthew Prior and Geraint Jones. Vaughan's knee injury gave Prior the chance to impress at the top of the order, where he has played three promising innings, but England will not play two wicket-keepers in the same team when the captain returns.

Jones has kept well here but he is yet to pass 20. England initially selected Jones ahead of Chris Read because of his ability with the bat and he could find himself being replaced by a potentially better batter.

Ian Blackwell is also in need of a decent score in the remaining two games. His left-arm spin has been respectable but the soft manner in which his two innings have ended highlights why has not established himself in the team.

It was hard not to feel sorry for James Anderson on Thursday. He bowled well for nine overs but the 10th was slogged for 23 by Inzamam-ul-Haq and Abdul Razzaq. Liam Plunkett is still at the "showing potential" stage of his career but the positive impression he has made on the tour has pushed him ahead of Anderson. Simon Jones and Chris Tremlett will be available for selection in India and Anderson needs to remind the selectors what he can do.

But it is not just the individuals who need to improve. England's planning is in need of reform. If England are to be realistic contenders for winning the 2007 World Cup, they need to be capable of chasing down totals of 300.

Pakistan made a decent effort at overhauling England's 327 in the first one-dayer, and at the 40-over stage they were on exactly the same score as the visitors. England were never likely to score the 354 they required two days ago, but they had little idea of how to set about the task. Duncan Fletcher and Matthew Maynard, England's coaches, have as much work to do as the players.

* India will leapfrog England in the ICC Test world rankings if they avoid defeat in their final Test with Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad, which starts tomorrow. The Indians will be confident after taking a 1-0 lead in the series with a 188-run victory in the last Test at New Delhi.