There is a one-day series to play. There is always a one-day series to play. This one may struggle for immediate attention more than most.
The paint is hardly dry on the Ashes urn marking Australia’s name as the 5-0 winners in the latest encounter (this is a metaphorical inscription since the receptacle in question is only four inches tall and is housed permanently in a glass cabinet at Lord’s) yet now 14 of the players who took part must dust themselves down and start all over again in the coloured garb.
Australia have a squad that firmly indicates they will play these five matches and doubtless the three Twenty20s which follow as they played the Tests. They will come out blazing. Their probable batting order oozes big hitting, which England must not only contain but repel as soon as the series begins here in Melbourne tomorrow.
The tourists are in considerably better heart than they might have been. This is probably down to the addition of six players who were not involved in the Ashes but Alastair Cook, the captain, has also resolved that a new chapter is starting. He looked determined and chipper at the MCG nets yesterday.
Everyone in town has pointed out that England lost the Ashes 5-0 seven years ago and went on to win the one-day series. That was a near thing in a triangular tourney in which they looked to be going down the pan until a spectacular late burst led by Paul Collingwood.
They cannot afford a sluggish opening this time and were they to lose the first two games in this five-match contest, tomorrow in Melbourne and next Friday in Brisbane, it could all go one way. Two 5-0 reversals are impossible to contemplate but after what has just happened it is natural to fear the worst.
The change in mood has also probably been helped by a change in management. It is no criticism of Andy Flower to suggest that the advent of Ashley Giles as one-day coach may revitalise the team by changing its mood. It was Flower who first recognised the need to amend the role of team director by stepping back towards the end of 2012, to ease both his burden and perhaps that of the players having to listen to the same voice day in, day out, format after format.
If the cricket is exciting and close, this 50-over series will soon come out of the Ashes shadows – though never, of course, shake it off completely – and the imminence of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand a year hence lends an extra edge. But for now a player who has departed for home continues to dominate proceedings.
The future of Kevin Pietersen remained the subject of all the gossip here yesterday, not least following the surprising announcement by his Indian Premier League team, Delhi Daredevils, that they will not be retaining any of their players – including Pietersen and Australia’s David Warner.
Eoin Morgan, who has joined the party via the Dhaka Premier League in Bangladesh and the Big Bash League in Australia, where he was playing for Gazi Tank Cricketers and Sydney Thunder respectively, was in no doubt. That is the way with Pietersen: generally you are either for him or against him.
Morgan said: “I am a mate of Kevin. He is a player that every side in the world would want in their team. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t want him at the T20 World Cup. He played in the last one-day series and I captained the side and he was really good in the dressing room. He makes a positive contribution.”
Yet all the innuendo is that Pietersen was less than helpful around the dressing room and the team as the Test series wore on. Paul Downton, the new managing director of England cricket, was at the team’s net session yesterday. He will have doubtless chatted to Giles as well as the players and eventually may have some tough calls to make.
If Pietersen continues for England, as well he may despite doubts expressed this week, one batsman in this series may only be keeping his spot warm. With Cook and Ian Bell settled in as the opening pair, Joe Root will presumably bat at No 3 with Morgan probably at four and Ravi Bopara at five.
When and if Pietersen returns, the No 3 spot may be earmarked for him. For now, the team will have to operate without him. It has usually managed as he has come and gone from one-day cricket these past few years. While playing 134 matches he has missed 72, the win percentages being 44.03 when he is in the side and 52.78 if not.
Meanwhile Steve Finn, the out-of-sorts fast bowler, again struggled for rhythm in the nets yesterday and it would be a pity if he were not given the opportunity to overcome his Ashes travails. He was the only one of 19 players in the party not to play in a Test. The ball was still not coming out as well as it might have done yesterday.
Players like Morgan, Bopara and Jos Buttler may well bring a fresh vitality to the squad. As Morgan said: “It will help us that players like myself have been playing in the Big Bash here in Australia, and also in cricket in Bangladesh.
“In past times we’d have players coming to a series like this who hadn’t played cricket for a few months. It’s great to succeed in competitions like the Big Bash, and come the World Cup it’s going to hold us in good stead, I hope.” For now a win, any kind of win, here would do nicely.
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