Delivery day for Blackwell

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The Independent Online

England's overwhelming aspiration remains much what it has been for the past decade in one-day cricket. That is simply to have a decent team - one day.

The five internationals beginning on Saturday in Lahore will supply more evidence of their prospects in the next World Cup, which is now only 16 months away. The portents are hardly auspicious.

A team who have been beaten in the Test series are being supplemented by three players fresh from home, Vikram Solanki, Kabir Ali and Ian Blackwell, as well as two who have hardly played this past six weeks, James Anderson and Matthew Prior. In theory they should provide a fillip, in practice the bulk of any match-winning performances will have to come from the footsore men who have already been performing.

The likelihood is that the team will be led by Marcus Trescothick, since Michael Vaughan is going home for the birth of his second child. He will also have a specialist examination of the right knee which is still clearly causing discomfort.

He may not return from South Yorkshire this trip. Vaughan's position as captain appears unassailable but he has never become a top one-day batsman, with only 15 fifties from 71 innings and an average of 28. It is not complete fantasy that England may begin to think that they can do without him in the shorter game.

England have had their moments between recent World Cups - in which they have invariably been disappointing - but almost all of them have been at home. In 30 limited-overs competitions abroad since they beat New Zealand early in 1992 they have won only five.

As three of those were against Zimbabwe, one was against Bangladesh, and the other was in Sharjah in 1998 (when it has been suggested that some of the opposition may not have been playing at full tilt because the fix was in), the record is appalling. Part of the trouble is that one-day series tagged on to the end of Test series are still viewed as matches that must be played rather than matches that anybody wants to play.

Still, England are hardly out of it. They have three extremely precious limited-overs commodities in Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen. One who retains the potential to join them is the strapping Somerset all-rounder Blackwell, who was called up last week when Ashley Giles departed for hip surgery.

Blackwell is an enormously likeable biffer who bowls mean left-arm spin when he wants. But he has run into trouble in the past for his perceived (and probably real) lack of fitness and attention to his weight. Two previous flirtations with England have ended in disappointment.

Since then Blackwell has been made Somerset captain, and he promised on Friday to do what is necessary to take this last, unexpected, chance. Perhaps it is to be hoped that his new leaf is not wholly pristine. The game needs characters. And England still need one-day cricketers.

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