Australia hope to reinforce one-day dominance
The phoney war, otherwise known as the NatWest Series, begins today. It promises to be huge fun and like all phoney wars – particularly those between England and Australia before an Ashes series – it will mean everything and nothing.
In truth, the influence of this contest, involving five one-day matches, on this winter's Tests is likely to be somewhere between minimal and non-existent. But it may well have some pertinence to the World Cup to be played in the subcontinent nine months from now.
For the past year, Australia have been the world's best side in the 50-over format of the game, even when it has seemed they have been forced to make it up as they go along. Win, as they are expected to do in the next 12 days, and they will be on course to defend their title but if they were either to lose or be run close, then England can validly start to dream their own dreams.
The other point is that victory in this series has its own virtue. England have not beaten Australia in a one-day series at home since 1997 and the time before that was 1980. Questions can be legitimately asked about the relevance of this series coming so soon after Australia were in this country last year (winning, lest it be forgotten, the one-dayers by a thumping 6-1).
However, all five matches are all but sold out and perhaps the series is invested with a greater consequence – you can almost feel it preening itself – for not being encumbered by Tests before or after. Perhaps. There remains the concern that it is all too much. But England will claim with some vindication that they need all the one-day cricket they can get and this is not just another ECB scheme to milk the cash cow dry.
England will be at next to full strength, Australia are not. Only Ryan Sidebottom is out of England's original squad and Graham Onions, who has a long term injury, might well not have been selected for this form of the game. The tourists, on the other hand, will field a seam bowling attack which contains precisely none of the quintet which helped them win so decisively here late last summer: Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus are all absent through injury. But in Doug Bollinger, unrecognisable from the figure who for Worcestershire three years ago turned in performances that were not so much champagne as watery cider, Ryan Harris, who so nearly threw in his lot with England two years ago, and Clint McKay, they still reckon to pack a punch. In reserve they have the 19-year-old country boy, Josh Hazlewood, who is bound to appear at some point in the next few days.
England will probably field the team which beat Scotland unless Tim Bresnan is fit in which case he should come in. Bresnan, once an afterthought in most observers' minds, is now one of the first names on the team sheet, testament to hard work and self-belief – symbolic also of the team in general.
England Lions named their squad yesterday for the triangular one-day series also involving West Indies A and India A, which begins next Monday and ends in a final on 8 July. That means that on the latter date there will be seven international teams performing in England on a single day – England in an ODI against Bangladesh, the Australians at Derby, the Pakistanis at Leicester as well as the triangular finalists. There is no place in the Lions squad for Matt Prior, with the wicketkeeping spot awarded to Steven Davies of Surrey. Alastair Cook will be the captain.
England: AJ Strauss (capt), C Kieswetter, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, EJG Morgan, LJ Wright, MJ Yardy, TT Bresnan, GP Swann, SCJ Broad, JM Anderson.
Australia: RT Ponting (capt), SR Watson, TD Paine, MJ Clarke, CL White, MEK Hussey, JR Hopes, NM Hauritz, RJ Harris, CJ McKay, DE Bollinger.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan), IJ Gould (England).
Pitch: There has been the odd dodgy surface at the Rose Bowl this season and the lights may play a few tricks. But the chances are it will be full of runs if the sun shines early in the day.
Other fixtures: 24 June, Cardiff; 27 June, Old Trafford; 30 June, The Oval; 3 July, Lord's.
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