Collingwood demands intensity as focus turns to the World Cup

England begin short-form section of Australian tour with all eyes on the subcontinent
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The Independent Online

Slap bang in the middle of Australia's capital city is a restaurant called the Holy Grail. England should feel at home there, already having one cricketing version of said commodity in their bag.

But a line has already been drawn in the Ashes sand. England are now in pursuit of another variety, one that they have never possessed. The one-day part of the winter starts here and if everything goes according to well-conceived plan it will culminate at the World Cup final in Mumbai in early April.

Following the solitary warm-up match in Canberra overnight against the Prime Minister's XI, England are playing nine limited-overs matches in Australia in the next four weeks. A week afterwards, they embark for the subcontinent. They had time for a few celebratory pints on Friday night after their grand victory in the fifth Test but almost none for drawing breath.

That is the nature of modern cricket and England, emotionally exhausted though they must be, might just make it all the way through. They have never held the World Cup and, although they have reached three finals, they have been all but useless in the last three competitions.

This time may be different because England are different. They have gained enormous confidence and respect from their unexpectedly glorious triumph in the World Twenty20 last year, which has never quite been given its due. But the rest of the cricket world knew what it meant: that England were no longer pushovers.

The short form part of the winter proper begins in Adelaide on Wednesday with the first of two Twenty20 matches, which will be followed by seven one-day internationals of 50 overs, beginning in Melbourne on Sunday. If the Twenty20 games lack context they will attract huge crowds and their place in the popular culture is presumably proven by the fact that the matches are being sponsored by one of the most recognisable food chains on the planet: KFC. When you have a game sponsored by a fast-moving consumer goods merchant you know you are in business.

The match in Adelaide has the opportunity to take a minor place in history because England will be shooting for their eighth straight victory, a sequence never before achieved in the annals of the game, which in the case of international T20, admittedly, are brief. Additionally, the fact that England are world champions and on the evidence of last spring easily the best side in the world, means that everybody wants to beat them. In the case of Australia that desire, especially given what has happened here in the past two months, can be multiplied tenfold.

It made something of a nonsense of the relative lack of interest in England's players for the teams in the Indian Premier League. The auction for recruits was held in Bangalore over the weekend and several England players were overlooked, including Graeme Swann, the world's No1 spin bowler, who was a key member of the championship side, and fast bowler Jimmy Anderson, by common consent among the top three fast bowlers around at present. It does not do to be little Englander about this, but it was cricket's version of the Eurovision Song Contest.

While there were places for Kevin Pietersen, Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan and the captain, Paul Collingwood, it still seemed an odd selection process, altogether a bizarre bazaar as each team made bids without knowing which players were coming up. So it was possible to buy your Rembrandt at a whopping figure only to find that a Van Gogh was coming up down the line at a knockdown price. It seemed a rum way to do business and the feeling grows that no matter the sums involved and some (not all) of the great names taking part, the IPL has become a tin-pot tournament.

Collingwood, who is staying on as England's T20 captain and as a player in the ODI side despite his retirement from Test cricket, rejected the notion that the selection of some players and the non-selection of others might cause envy and resentment considering the huge sums involved.

"A lot of the guys wanted to get involved but a lot comes down to availability. I don't think anybody begrudges others getting more money. Sometimes it is a bit of a lottery who gets picked up. You never know the reasoning behind decisions. Chris Gayle didn't go. I don't think anybody is having a go because of it."

It is to be hoped not, but the fact remains that as soon as the World Cup ends some of England's players will be staying behind for huge pay packets in the IPL, while others who put their names forward and have every right to think they should be playing will not. At the least, this presents another complication for the coach, Andy Flower, and the captain, Andrew Strauss (though they may be simply relieved that bowlers like Swann and Anderson can have some rest).

Winning the World Cup by playing in the truly alien conditions of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, will be fraught enough. The next four weeks will give the squad an opportunity to blend and find their rhythm again. The pitches and stadiums of Australia are a world away in every sense from those in Asia, but there will still be crucial skills to be learnt and developed.

Collingwood seems convinced that the World Cup will keep the side going, simply because they have never won it. He said: "We've got some new players in to give that extra bit of enthusiasm and spark that you need but it's up to every single player to get our feet back on the ground and keep up the intensity we've shown in practice and preparation and hope to translate that into performances on the pitch.

"We've got a very focused group of lads, we are very happy with what we've achieved so far on the trip but there's still a lot of things to do before the World Cup. We knew it was going to be a huge six months for us coming over here then India and we are not finished yet."

The Ashes are England's, long live one-dayers.

* England's women won the final match of their one-day series against Australia by seven wickets at the Waca. Australia made 212 from their 50 overs, Lisa Sthalekar top scoring with 60 from 75 balls. Lydia Greenway made 59 from 83 balls to give England a good start. Her dismissal left England 160 for 3, but captain Charlotte Edwards (48 not out) steered her side home. Australia won the series 2-1.


Twenty20 series

* Wednesday, 1st T20 Adelaide, 08.35.

* Friday, 2nd T20 Melbourne, 08.35.

One-day international series

* Sunday, 1st ODI Melbourne, 03.20.

* Fri 21 Jan, 2nd ODI Hobart, 03.25.

* Sun 23 Jan, 3rd ODI Sydney, 03.25.

* Wed 26 Jan, 4th ODI Adelaide, 03.25.

* Sun 30 Jan, 5th ODI Brisbane, 03.25.

* Wed 2 Feb, 6th ODI Sydney, 03.25.

* Sun 6 Feb, 7th ODI Perth, 03.25.