England are beginning to prepare for the future without their most capped player. That future, however, was delayed today with the announcement of the World Cup squad.
Paul Collingwood, who was dropped on Sunday for the first match of the Commonwealth Bank Series, is there as he has been in 189 one-day internationals before. He will go to the Indian subcontinent in four weeks for his third World Cup – his eighth major tournament including the World Twenty20 and the Champions Trophy – and can be expected to play as full a part as he has in the others.
The question of when to let international sportsmen walk into the sunset, or indeed inform them that the sunset has appeared and that they had better make haste for it, is like getting rid of a familiar old pair of slippers – with a human element. Knowing they might not be quite fit for purpose any longer is not the same as being able to do without them.
On Sunday night in Melbourne, the tourists omitted Collingwood because they felt his poor batting form, which has lasted almost the entire trip, left them no choice. But as the team's subsequent performance showed, it left them short of bowling resources. They had only five bowlers up to the job, when any self-respecting limited-overs side needs six or seven in case of conditions, injury, form on the day or myriad other factors.
With Australia's innings being expertly stewarded by Shane Watson, Collingwood became more indispensable as bowler and fielder. England tried Jonathan Trott for an over but could afford no more. It was a risk in team balance that they did not feel able to take again despite Collingwood's loss of form at precisely the point when he most needed to display it. His off-cutters may have a significant role in India and although he has never been in the front rank he has bowled five or more overs in 92 of his one-day appearances.
David Saker, the team's bowling coach, gave his thoughts ahead of the announcement yesterday: "The sixth bowler is extremely important. If Colly isn't doing the job then we have to up-skill Trotty as best we can. He's keen and he's worked hard in the nets to improve his bowling. He is a viable option, but Colly gives you someone really experienced. He has bowled a lot in those conditions and in those games so he understands it really well.
"Trotty has hardly ever done it so that will make it harder, but I'd like to see most of our batsmen roll some balls out and give the captain some extra options. Ian Bell can bowl, so I'd hate the batters to think they're not an option. KP is another option. In an ideal world your No 6 batter would bowl."
All of which made eminent sense. But the World Cup is almost upon England, they have a genuine chance of winning it for the first time and know it, yet equally they have no time to make bowlers of their other batsmen. And so it is Collingwood.
Spare bowlers will have exercised the selectors' minds more than other positions in concluding the composition of the 15. The selection had to be made now because of marketing and programme arrangements for the competition rather than any pressing other need of the International Cricket Council. Both England and Australia, for instance, have six matches to go in their present series and minds may easily have been changed by performances in them, especially with so few places realistically available.
England will be able to call upon three spin bowlers in India with James Tredwell included despite his modest total of only two ODIs. Taking this combination of spinners and seamers has given them the opportunity to take the all-rounder Luke Wright, who would have been unfortunate to be overlooked so late in the piece. Wright, for all his bursting enthusiasm, has not made telling contributions lately in either department of his game.
The selectors were so distrusting of Steve Davies' form as both batsman and wicketkeeper that Matt Prior's one-day career has again been resurrected.
Yesterday Saker said: "[Difficult decisions are] the selectors' problem. There will probably be four, maybe five fast bowlers: it just depends on, do we think we need an extra fast bowler or do we need a spinner or a batter? They could even take two wicketkeepers."
In Australia in the next three weeks, England will be trying to win the Commonwealth Bank Series while also simulating the different bowling style they will need in Asia. They will also bear in mind every step of the way that their two leading bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are at present, resting in one case, injured in the other. Both should be at the World Cup.
"Yes, it's a different game," said Saker. "We have things to put in place, how best to bowl to the opposition, at the end of the day the bowlers themselves have to execute the plans. I'm confident we will have a really good bowling group together.
"They will probably have to take the pace off the ball more. Slower balls didn't play much part in the Ashes, cross-seamers maybe, use our slower ball bouncers quite often. Broad obviously coming back will be a big boost with his ability to bowl fast and slow bouncers. The plans will be quite different because the ball probably won't be swinging around the way it did here and you need to keep the batters second guessing a bit more."
Making the cut: Unlikely trio who made the World Cup squad
Ajmal Shahzad (Yorks)
Bowling Right-arm fast
Debut v Bangladesh 2010
Econ rate 4.80
Top score 5
Despite being on the fringes – having only played five ODIs – his inclusion in the tour of Australia indicated he was being considered. England's stand-out seamer in Sunday's defeat by Australia in Melbourne on a similar wicket to those expected on the subcontinent, Shahzad finished with 1 for 51.
Matt Prior (Sussex)
Debut v Zimbabwe 2004
Top score 87
Question marks over Steve Davies' batting mean Prior's own indifferent form with the bat this winter have been ignored. Davies was selected for the first ODI at the MCG last Sunday, but despite scoring 42, the selectors appear not to have been adequately impressed and have thus turned to Prior again.
Luke Wright (Sussex)
Debut v India 2007
Top score 52
Bowling Ave 51.26
Since Andrew Flintoff's retirement, Wright has been touted as a candidate to fill the all-rounder vacancy. He would have been unlucky to be overlooked for the World Cup despite only producing in fits and starts. His enthusiasm and popularity in the squad may have swung it for him.Reuse content