England embark on crash course

After 11 successive one-day defeats and with just 35 games to come, the road to the World Cup will be short and steep
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The Independent Online

The crisis meeting about the state of England's one-day cricket turned out to be nothing more than a management review. Over a cosy chat at Lord's yesterday morning, while two of the best three sides in the world were performing before a capacity crowd only yards away, the host nation's coach, selectors and administrators were discussing what went wrong and how they might put it right by the next World Cup.

One school of thought is that this sort of all-chaps- together gathering might have more profitably taken place straight after the last World Cup.

Whether the paucity of the national side's performances which prompted it – 11 straight defeats – will have any effect on their quest for the Ashes, which begins in 11 days, remains a moot point.

"Personally, I doubt that it will have any effect at all," said David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, after the meeting. "But we will know at 11.01." He was referring to a minute after the start of the First npower Test, at Edgbaston.

The one-day strategy announced, obviously right but possibly belated, is to pick a cadre of some 25 players who will form the vast majority of the squad which will represent England in South Africa in 2003. As usual in these circumstances, the way is purportedly not blocked for other players who show form or make an overnight breakthrough, but it may well be, in effect. The names of the 25 will be released in the next fortnight or three weeks and are likely to include a whole host of young players. Experienced hands such as Alec Stewart, Mark Ealham, Dominic Cork and Robert Croft may well find themselves surplus to requirements.

Graveney conceded after the meeting that England faced a steep learning curve before the next competition in 2003. Before they go to South Africa that February they will probably have no more than 35 matches, and it could be as few as 30. But they are determined to cram prodigiously, with 15 games this winter in Zimbabwe, India and New Zealand followed by another six in the home triangular tournament next summer, seven if they reach the final, and a few more the next winter in Australia.

"It's important that the cricketing public know the path we are trying to go down," Graveney said. "They might disagree with the make-up of the 25 but they need to know. There's some groundwork to do in the next few weeks. We have to assess for one thing the futures of the older players. The players named won't be contracted, but it will give a clear message to some players that they have a part to play in 2003. We have to be a lot more specific in our strategy." The trouble is that specifics and strategy have been evident nowhere lately.

Take, for instance, the opening batting partnership. It may be thought desirable to bed down one pair before starting with occasional improvisation. England have used three different pairings in the six matches this summer.

Graveney said, and he was probably understating the point: "We have not done ourselves justice. The key element is for young players to go back knowing what the gap is between domestic cricket and what is required at international level, and tell the other guys in the dressing-room." The meeting was hastily arranged on Thursday afternoon as England slid ignominiously to their third defeat against Australia. But it was not the kind in which votes either or confidence or no-confidence were issued. Graveney merely sat down with his fellow selector, Geoff Miller, the coach, Duncan Fletcher, and administrators including the ECB chief executive, Tim Lamb, and chairman of the England Management Advisory Committee, Brian Bolus.

It appears they talked primarily about what domestic limited-overs cricket in England meant with regard to one-day international cricket. It takes less than half a second to enunciate the word "Nothing". The hard part will be getting the 25 names right. The harder part is what to do with them in terms of training, practice and getting up that learning curve. Graveney said: "It can be done. Look what's happened in 18 months to the Test side." And what, then, of the Test side? Graveney, in positing his theory that recent limited-overs events would have no bearing, is also optimistic that all five of his injured players will be fit for the First Test: Nasser Hussain, the captain, Graham Thorpe, Craig White, Ashley Giles and Andrew Caddick. The biggest doubts are over Thorpe, whose calf muscle has not fully healed, and White, who has yet to bowl at full tilt.

Caddick has a broken bone in his left hand. If he was a batsman he would be ruled out at Birmingham, and indeed the doctor told him to keep a plaster on for four or five weeks. "I told him I expected it to be off in a week," Caddick said. "I'm seeing a specialist on Monday but I will be fit for Edgbaston, make no mistake about that. It's not my bowling hand."

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