Champions Trophy: Alastair Cook warns players to switch on to perils of shorter format
England captain says one day warm-ups for Champions Trophy will provide a mental test
The Champions Trophy starts here. Although the England captain, Alastair Cook, was at pains to point out that it did not, that there is actually a one-day series against New Zealand to deal with first, that is being slightly fanciful.
Whatever it says on the tin – officially, it is a NatWest Series of three matches – it is in effect a warm-up exercise for the main limited overs competition of the year, the unfairly maligned, so-called mini-World Cup which begins next week.
All the other six nations involved in the tournament are playing official warm-ups in the next few days while England and New Zealand, for reasons of delivering on the broadcasting contract and the Future Tours Programme, are engaged in something which purports to be a little more formal.
Cook said: "Clearly we are building up to that, it's the same squad, but it's very important that we are looking at this series in isolation to try and win it. There will be times this week when we will be planning for the Champions Trophy as well, but it doesn't feel to me it is that at all."
So, they are planning for it and they are not planning for it at the same time. Cook, of course, is between two stools. He is right in saying that official one-day internationals are there to be won (rankings points and all that) and if he were to be a little casual in his attitude he would have sponsors and spectators on his back.
There will be the usual sell-out crowd at Lord's today for the opening match paying the usual top dollar prices – from £35 for a restricted view to £95 for the best in the house. Tickets for the six warm-up matches for the Champions Trophy will cost £20.
England, now under the watch of limited overs coach Ashley Giles do not need to experiment much. They know their preferred team balance and the men who should fill it. That will entail five batsmen, a wicketkeeper and five bowlers, a composition which has begun to work for them. Since 2009 when they were suffering from post-Ashes euphoria and allowed Australia to beat them 6-1, England have won 22 of their 34 home one-dayers and 39 of 70 in all, which has included the usual cock-ups on the sub-continent. Ideally, England would prefer that all 15 members of their squad had a full game behind them and although it would be no surprise if that happened, it is also not official.
Cook, diplomatic as could be, said: "You can't treat these matches as warm-ups at all. As an England side you try and win as many games as you can. I can't guarantee every member of that 15-man squad will get a game. We are slightly different from every other country.
"There might be time in this three-match series where we might change a combination to have a look. But if we change a combination it's not as a warm-up, we're still going to try and win that game but there may be times where we change things." His dilemma shone through his words.
Even in the perpetual wandering circus that is modern international cricket, this series represents a rapid change of format. Three days ago in Leeds the teams finished their Test rubber, now here they are playing the shorter form barely with pause for breath or, in England's case, a visit home.
"I reckon this is the quickest turnaround I can remember in my career," Cook said. "I think it's a skill we've learned from county cricket, we've been brought up with a four-day game followed by a one-day game straight away so it's not unusual for us at that level.
"It's slightly unusual to have such a quick turnaround in international cricket but it's more a case of making sure you're switched on mentally, making sure you've got your game plan in order for the change of format, rather than technique wise."
England have niggles in their squad though Cook, staying faithful to the pledge of omerta that governs England players before matches, declined to say who was affected. Trent Boult, who suffered a side strain in the Leeds Test, has been replaced in New Zealand's squad by Ian Butler.
Champions Trophy: Key issues
England have settled on a policy of five specialist bowlers, which gives their lower order a rather long look. The hope is that the likes of Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad will hit a long ball if necessary. But with reduced batting options it also means nobody can have an off day.
The new wicketkeeper-batsman
Jos Buttler finally replaced the struggling Craig Kieswetter only during the series in India in January. Buttler is exciting but his dashingly innovative skills have been shown to better effect in T20 so far. Number six is a key position and there must have been a temptation to return to Matt Prior.
The opening batsmen
Almost by accident, England have found an opening pair that could take them places. Alastair Cook got the job only when Andrew Strauss retired, Ian Bell only because Kevin Pietersen was injured. They have clicked and themselves been re-energised. If it continues to work there might be a case for extending their partnership to Tests.
Lord's details: First ODI teams
England (probable): A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, J E Root, E J G Morgan, J C Buttler (wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson
New Zealand (probable): B B McCullum (capt), M J Guptill, L Ronchi (wkt), K S Williamson, R P L Taylor, D L Vettori, D A J Bracewell, T G Southee, N L McCullum, M J McClenaghan, J E C Franklin
Umpires A Dar (Pak) and R Illingworth
TV 10.30am-7pm, Sky Sports 1
Weather Mild and overcast, chance of rain in afternoon. Max temp: 20C.
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