England could have found easier opponents to launch their new one-day strategy against than India at Trent Bridge today. The visitors may be without Sachin Tendulkar, and ranked only fifth in the official rankings - three places ahead of Michael Vaughan's side - but they remain the most dangerous team in the world.
Fifth is a false position for India. On their day, even the mighty Australians would struggle to becalm a batting line-up containing Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and the captain, Sourav Ganguly. The loss of Tendulkar - who has made 37 one-day centuries - with tennis elbow, is a blow, but these five alone can boast 45 one-day hundreds, a figure which compares pretty favourably to England's 12.
The bowling is not bad either. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, two of the game's leading spinners, have together taken 977 international wickets and in Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji, they have two exciting young fast bowlers.
Vaughan remained tight-lipped yesterday when he was asked about the new game-plan his side will employ in today's first NatWest Challenge match. The England captain, his coach, Duncan Fletcher, who missed practice yesterday due to a minor operation on his shoulder, and the selectors have apparently put a lot of effort into working out a successful strategy and it will be interesting to see if there are any notable differences to that which failed against New Zealand and West Indies during the summer.
It is difficult to believe there will be many changes in the way England play their cricket - the starting XI will contain at least nine of the personnel outplayed in July. Vikram Solanki is sure to be recalled and Alex Wharf could make his international debut at the expense of Darren Gough.
The biggest bonus for England is Andrew Flintoff's return to full fitness. An ankle injury prevented the Lancashire all-rounder from bowling during the NatWest series and he gives England far more options than they previously had. But this is hardly the overhaul that Vaughan seemed to be talking about. Indeed, the best strategy England could come up with should be a simple one - play better cricket.
"I have been involved in our new strategy but Duncan has put a helluva lot of hard work into it," Vaughan said. "It is something people may have to be a little bit patient with, but it is one we aim to employ up until the 2007 World Cup. We did not play well in the NatWest series and there have been a few changes since then. We feel this squad has a better balance. There should be more athleticism in the field, a bit more depth to the batting and quite a few options in the bowling. We feel more at ease with this squad of players.
"In the summer we did not play well as a team. We didn't get off to great starts and put far too much pressure on the middle order and this is something we need to put right."
If this is to happen, a great deal will be expected from Solanki, who has been given his third, and possibly final chance to establish himself in the side. The 28-year-old will open and Vaughan has been forced to once again change his position in the batting order. This is a noble gesture by England's selfless captain, but it is about time he decided on where he will bat and stick with it.
Vaughan's demotion is the 18th occasion in 50 one-day internationals that his place in the batting order has changed, and this may indicateEngland's new strategy will not last as long as suggested. "I don't feel that me batting at three is a major issue," Vaughan said. "I do not want to be constantly chopping and changing around but this is where I bat for Yorkshire."
Wharf's remarkable figures of 6 for 5 in a Totesport National League game for Glamorgan on Sunday did his chances of playing no harm at all. The 29- year-old is an aggressive fast-medium bowler that gives the ball a good whack when batting. Wharf is not an all-rounder and it is Gough, rather than James Anderson, who should make way if England's selectors decide this is the course they want to take.
Gough is vulnerable. During the recent NatWest series he took one wicket in five new-ball spells, and because of this, Anderson should be given the chance to show what he can do with a shiny white pill.
It will not be easy. Controlling the naturally attacking instincts of Sehwag and Ganguly is a major challenge for any bowler and the prospect of the new ball flying around is likely to encourage the selectors to persevere with the experienced Gough.
The lack of an all-rounder means that Rahul Dravid will continue to keep wicket for India and their only major decision appears to surround whether to play one or two spinners.
England (from): M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, A Flintoff, P D Collingwood, G O Jones (wkt), A G Wharf, A F Giles, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, D Gough, A McGrath, G J Batty.
India (from): S C Ganguly (captain), V Sehwag, V V S Laxman, R Dravid (wkt), Y Singh, M Kaif, R Gavaskar, A B Agarkar, I K Pathan, A Kumble, L Balaji, A Nehra, H Singh.
Umpires: D R Shepherd (Eng) and D B Hair (Aus).Reuse content