England endure last storm

After a tour that has seen everything – batting collapses, banking collapses, thrills and injuries – the final one-day match yesterday was delayed by rain
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The Independent Online

The threatened player strike having been averted, the final match of the one-day series was disrupted by rain. A storm overnight left the Beausejour outfield under water and play was delayed by nearly four hours.

A reduced match of 33 overs-a-side after the sun came out – the only visible means by which the soaking outfield was dried – was eventually agreed. But this was then rescinded with a further delay because the pitch remained too wet. It was as if, at the last, there was divine intervention. Enough was quite clearly enough, although a 29-over match was eventually agreed.

The tour has had everything: batting collapses, banking collapses, abandoned matches, thrilling finishes, dire England performances, injuries and egos. Given that, there was little chance of it concluding on a conventional, straightforward note.

Whatever the merits of their performances throughout this winter, England will be elated to get home. Not that there will be much opportunity for rest and reflection. The relentless nature of the sport was no better demonstrated than by the announcement that at Lord's on Monday the England squads – male and female – for the World Twenty20 Cups will be named. There will be 30 players in the men's squad, 18 in the women's – both eventually to be reduced to 15.

While the captain of the women's team is nailed on, the blessed Charlotte Edwards, the nomination of the player who will lead the men's side is more complicated. It is doubtful that a captain will be designated on Monday. Andrew Strauss, who has led this tour so ably, will presumably be in the 30 but there is a perception prompted by his batting style that he is not a natural Twenty20 player.

There will be a temptation to offer the job to somebody else and Robert Key, of Kent, is the name that springs most readily to mind. He has acquired a reputation for being a voracious Twenty20 player who thinks on his feet as a captain. The selectors will take the time to cogitate and whatever his limitations – Strauss has played only 19 Twenty20 games in seven years and has not made a fifty for six – they will not easily replace the man who came to the rescue after the England side came close to meltdown in the first week of January with the deposing of their captain and coach.

Key's star, however, is once more in the ascendancy. He led the England Lions on their short tour of New Zealand last month and it can be no coincidence that he will lead MCC in the traditional season curtain-raiser against Durham, the champion county, at Lord's next week.

Key will head a fascinating side which contains both Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell, who will have just returned home from West Indies. Both are genuine candidates for a place in England's middle order for the summer Test series against West Indies and, more probably, Australia.

Their appearance at Lord's will allow them to stake an early claim. Bell was in prime position 12 weeks ago. He held the No 3 position and was the recipient of abundant selectorial faith. However, failure in the first Test, which England lost, led to his omission. He has responded extremely well.

Vaughan has expressed an almost obsessive desire to have one last crack at the Aussies. There is no place at present but the man in possession, Owais Shah, has to perform rapidly to hold on. Whoever plays will step on to a treadmill of international cricket. Strauss has talked of plotting a long-term strategy, embracing the capture of the Ashes, of course, and he is right to do so. If England think they have had an arduous winter their impending schedule is one of hard labour.

The international season begins with a Test against West Indies on 6 May and ends on 20 September with the seventh one-day international against Australia. The following day England go to South Africa for the Champions Trophy, return for a maximum of a month (though that may be curtailed) before going back to South Africa for seven limited-overs matches and four Tests.

A tour of Bangladesh has been pencilled in but there is every chance that it will not take place, at least not with a full-strength squad. Rumours of arranging some one-day matches against Australia in Australia remain rumours for the moment. But whatever happens they must then come back to West Indies for another World Twenty20, a mere 10 months after the last. Yesterday's shortened match represented only the end of the beginning.

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