Emergence of Blackwell bodes well for England

Another one-day tournament, another defeat for England. It was as predictable as it was familiar. But as the dust began to settle yesterday on the stupefying manner of their exit from the Champions Trophy it was possible to discern through the haze a distinct glimmer.

Another one-day tournament, another defeat for England. It was as predictable as it was familiar. But as the dust began to settle yesterday on the stupefying manner of their exit from the Champions Trophy it was possible to discern through the haze a distinct glimmer.

This was a welcome, not to say essential, sight when the opposition have treated your bowlers with a disdain approaching contempt and scored 270 to win in under 40 overs. It came in the substantial shape of Ian Blackwell who played an innings to match that might change his life.

Blackwell scored, or rather bludgeoned, 82 from 68 balls. It was only his second international match. True, he was to be overshadowed by the deeds of Virender Sehwag, who amassed 126 from 104 balls, and Sourav Ganguly, 117 not out in 109, as India won by eight wickets. But the only real difference was that Blackwell finished on the losing side.

"Going into international level is always going to be a big step and I wasn't too sure how I'd make out," he said yesterday after a short night's sleep. "I didn't know if I was going to be nervous and overawed. It turned out to be weird, a sort of numbness. Then I hit a few in the middle of the bat, got away and I calmed down."

It was not simply that Blackwell scored his runs, it was that he engineered the rescue of England's innings and propelled them – nervelessly as it happened – to what seemed a competitive total.

Alec Stewart, his partner in a stand of 104 for the sixth wicket, confirmed that while Blackwell's face might have been red his head was cool.

Blackwell already has a cult following at Somerset where his clean, direct hitting must have affected the county's profits because he is the sort of player who empties bars. This is not to suggest that he is the finished article – he is several pounds overweight and probably not as fit as he could be (though it should also be reported that there was no sign of his wilting in the Colombo heat). But he has surely now propelled himself to a place in England's one-day squad for the tri-series in Australia announced this week, and the World Cup beyond that.

Blackwell's middle-order promise, however, could not deflect attention from England's bowling difficulties about which their captain, Nasser Hussain, was candid. He conceded that they had to do better when a side was coming at them with the bat.

It is a deeply disturbing trait with the World Cup so close. England, simply, can be torn to shreds. Andrew Caddick is a talented bowler but he can be at sixes and sevens when the batsmen are letting him know they are there. On Sunday night he was at eight and a halves as figures of 0-59 in seven overs demonstrate.

England may soon have to learn to do without Darren Gough but at present they can barely cope. Hussain said England needed character, variation and the ability to think on their feet. He could have had Gough in mind. But Gough is not certain to recover fully from knee surgery.

Before condemning the one-day side to a long winter of failure it should be remembered that they came here with a squad containing five replacements. It was bound to weaken their chances (though Blackwell was among the stand-ins). Michael Vaughan, Paul Collingwood and Michael Vaughan will all return.

Perhaps the state of the one-day bowling was mentioned when Tim Lamb, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, had talks here yesterday with Duncan Fletcher about a contract extension. The England coach's present agreement ends at the end of next season but there is a mutual desire for a new deal.

It will be signed before the team leave for Australia in mid-October, which lends a hint of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure. The possibility is that his tenure will be for a further two years and it is to be hoped after the Ashes and the World Cup that neither party regrets it.

As for Colombo, England leave tomorrow. The four sides left are Sri Lanka, Australia, India and South Africa. Any of them could win it but an India-Australia final is some prospect.

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