Angus Fraser: Careers on the line as England face elimination

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The Independent Online

England's cricketers have plenty to play for when they take on the West Indies in today's NatWest Series match at Headingley. Defeat to Brian Lara's side would almost certainly rule the hosts out of the tournament final on 10 July. It could also bring an end to the one-day careers of several of Michael Vaughan's squad.

England's cricketers have plenty to play for when they take on the West Indies in today's NatWest Series match at Headingley. Defeat to Brian Lara's side would almost certainly rule the hosts out of the tournament final on 10 July. It could also bring an end to the one-day careers of several of Michael Vaughan's squad.

When England selected their 14-man party for this competition they did so under the proviso that they could change it after four games. The day-night encounter today is England's fourth match and should they lose, there would appear to be little point in selecting players who are not up to it.

But before England's selectors consider taking this drastic decision, there are financial and contractual considerations. All the squad will have been offered a contract for this tournament which paid them for being involved in each of the six group games and dropping four players could cost the England and Wales Cricket Board £20,000.

"Michael [Vaughan] and I will be speaking to the selectors about possible changes," said Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. "We will be chatting about it over the next couple of days. I would like to see the side stay the same - it is why the Test side have done so well. They know their roles and this is why they function so well."

But something needs to be done following England's woeful batting displays at Trent Bridge and Chester-le-Street. Any team can be bowled out cheaply but Tuesday's match in Durham was the third time in seven games that England have capitulated in this fashion.

The players do not appear to be learning and this, as the selection of Ashley Giles ahead of Rikki Clarke in Leeds highlighted, has left England confused. Working out the logic behind the decision to play a left-arm spinner ahead of a seaming all-rounder on an overcast day in the north of England is a difficult task but it has been brought on by the lack of quality in England's middle order.

Marcus Trescothick, Geraint Jones, Andrew Strauss and Vaughan may not be batting in the right order but each deserves to play. They should occupy four of the top-order places in a line-up that would ideally contain eight batsmen. Finding the personnel to fill the remaining four places is, however, slightly more challenging.

A substantial innings is overdue from the captain and, but for his Test record and his position in the side, there would be a question mark over his selection.

England will want to give Jones another chance at three but it would make more sense to bat Robert Key in this position and slip England's wicket-keeper down to five or six. Playing a third opener would give England's batting order a more solid look and increase their chances of posting a competitive total.

Anthony McGrath would be the man to make way but he is not the only one under pressure. Paul Collingwood, Ian Blackwell and Clarke need to show they have the tools to get England out of tricky situations quickly.

Michael Powell was drafted into the squad as cover for Trescothick and the Glamorgan batsman may find himself driving from Cardiff to Bristol at the weekend. He could be joined by Ian Bell if the selectors choose to drop two or three of the squad.

There have been calls for England to play their Test side in today's game but this is a nonsense. Of course it is important for England to win but this would be short-sighted and these same people would then complain that those selected for the 2007 World Cup were short of experience.

Bringing Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe into the one-day side would probably have a damaging effect on the Test side. The Surrey pair are content with their lot. Both are in their thirties and realise that the frantic nature of one-day cricket would increase their chances of injury.

Thorpe recently missed a game for Surrey with a back spasm and it would be ridiculous to risk his fitness for the Test series against the West Indies. It would also be unwise to ask Thorpe to spend even greater periods of time away from home. His private life is still delicate and it could increase the chances of him saying "I have had enough", as he did two years ago.

Butcher is 32 in August and though he is available for selection, it would be a desperate measure if England were to pick someone of this age for his one-day debut. England's number three has proved in Test cricket that he is a good player of good bowling but in one-day cricket for Surrey he has either opened or batted down at number eight.

While the majority of supporters are crying out for England to strengthen the batting, Fletcher is desperately searching for someone to fill the hole created by Andrew Flintoff's injury. Craig White is an option but there must be doubts about whether his body can handle the bowling.

"We need to find all-rounders," he pleaded. "People talk about our team containing bits-and-pieces players but all the all-rounders in the New Zealand and Australian sides started as bits-and-pieces players. They are now quality all-rounders. It is rare that you find a genuine all-rounder. Rikki Clarke is our only bits-and-pieces player. The others [McGrath and Blackwell] have been picked as batsmen."

The West Indies will be enjoying England's predicament after the beating they received in the Test series in the Caribbean earlier in the year. The tourists are at full strength and will probably field the same side that humbled England on Sunday. Lara will be desperate to give England another kick while they are down because it can only help his chances of winning the Test series here later in the summer.

ENGLAND (from): M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), G O Jones (Kent, wkt), A J Strauss (Middlesex), P D Collingwood (Durham), A McGrath (Yorkshire), R W T Key (Kent), I D Blackwell (Somerset), A F Giles (Warwickshire), D Gough (Essex), S J Harmison (Durham), J M Anderson (Lancashire), R Clarke (Surrey), S I Mahmood (Lancashire).

WEST INDIES (from): B C Lara (capt), C H Gayle, S Chanderpaul, D R Smith, R R Sarwan, R L Powell, D J J Bravo, R D Jacobs (wkt), R Rampaul, I D R Bradshaw, J J C Lawson, T L Best.

Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and M R Benson (Eng).

THE PLAYERS UNDER PRESSURE

PAUL COLLINGWOOD

Matches: 49. Runs: 1,101, average 32.38. Wickets: 16, ave 42.62.

The success of Andrew Strauss in the Test side and his subsequent move to number four in England's one-day side has marginalised Collingwood. This policy pushed the Durham batsman down to five and put him under greater pressure. The 28-year-old is the least likely of the four to go but he desperately needs a big score to justify his central contract and the faith the selectors have shown in him. Robert Key and Ian Bell will soon be pushing for his place.

IAN BLACKWELL

Matches: 23. Runs: 150, ave 16.16. Wickets: 15, ave 32.33.

The Somerset bruiser is a source of enormous frustration because he is a talented cricketer. The 26-year-old can belt the ball like Andrew Flintoff and bowl tidy left-arm spin. This power has only been seen on one occasion, when he scored a swashbuckling 82 in his second one-day international. The fact that he has done little about his weight and fitness in the 18 months he has been playing for England suggests he does not work hard enough at his game.

ANTHONY McGRATH

Matches: 12. Runs: 164, ave 18.22. Wickets: 3, ave 42.62.

McGrath owed his England selection to Duncan Fletcher. The coach, as with Trescothick and Vaughan, felt he saw something in the 28-year-old that separated him from the crowd. Unlike Fletcher's other two hunches, McGrath has yet to do anything to back this up. The former Yorkshire captain is a decent pro but he does not look capable of changing the course of any match. In this series he has had two chances of doing this and failed on each occasion.

RIKKI CLARKE

Matches: 17. Runs: 99, ave 9.9. Wickets: 10, ave 35.10.

The Surrey all-rounder is the youngest and most talented member of this quartet. For a player with his potential his figures are very disappointing. The 22-year-old needs to learn more about his game but this will only come through playing. At Surrey he has not been given the opportunities to do this and therefore his confidence and his game have not come on as quickly as expected. Clarke has a future at this level but he may find himself on the sidelines.

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