England have to learn - yet again

Three years on from the last one-day inquest the same failings still need curing
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The Independent Online

It was perfectly natural for the chairman of selectors to take stock after England were dumped from their own one-day tournament. David Graveney conceded that the side faced a steep learning curve before the next World Cup and added: "We have not done ourselves justice. The key element is for the young players to go back knowing what the gap is between domestic cricket and international level and tell the other guys in the dressing room. It can be done, look what's happened in 18 months to the Test side."

The analysis was incisive, pertinent, willing to address shortcomings, gleaning encouragement from success in the longer game. Spot-on in its assessment. As it was three years ago, when Graveney first made it. What happened then was that England were eliminated from the first stage of the next World Cup.

Graveney, still chairman, might easily have dusted down his comments for a fresh airing last week when, once more, he had to issue an apology for England's poor form and early exit from the NatWest Series. "This particular series is a real bitter blow," he said. "Twelve months ago we looked to be making some advance. We beat South Africa in the final of the competition, but now we know we have a lot of hard thinking and reflection to do.

"I stand by the squad we picked for this series, but it has not performed as we thought. We have to look at the penetration of our bowling and the mobility of our fielding." Since three of the sel-ectors are the very same who were picking teams in 2001, there is some reason to believe that they might have learned from their previous mistakes, and this time will unearth a squad to conquer the world. In one respect, they have a little more time on their side, because the next World Cup is not until 2007. But in another they have less, as the Champions Trophy is in this country in September.

That competition is much derided as yet another superfluous one-day tournament, but since it involves all the major nations, and therefore the best players, appearing in one competition, and gathers vast global television audiences, it may be wise not to scoff too loudly. It also starts with the distinct advantage, from everybody else's viewpoint, that Australia do not hold it and have never won it.

England, even in their present state, would be severely embarrassed not to qualify from their group (Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka are the opposition). Nothing that has happened in the past three weeks offers abundant reason for expectation. Tomorrow, the selectors will name a preliminary squad of 30, which will be trimmed to 14 next month. Perm any 30 from 250, minus the EU passport holders dotted around the counties.

Graveney was in genuinely low mood about this year's defeats. He made some noises about the experience of New Zealand, which might be true, but West Indies, at the least, are a work in progress. In statistical terms England are not as bad as in 2001, when they lost 11 consecutive one-dayers, but they have been well off the pace. (Then, coincidentally, they recuperated by going to Zimbabwe in the autumn and knocking off five straight victories, and might do something similar this November, albeit in somewhat more controversial circumstances.)

Graveney was not as agitated as some about the batting, which at the top of the order has been poor. Indeed, he is confident that the openers, Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, will come good and of the two Andrews, Flintoff and Strauss, he was gushing. "I have never seen batting like that in any form of cricket," he said of their record partnership at Lord's. Big talk, but it was big batting.

The batsman to pay the price might be Robert Key, who was a peculiar choice in the short form of the game. He ought to be persevered with because there is undoubtedly class and an imperturbable temperament lurking beneath the mysterious errors, but to get himself back into the one-day side he might, perversely, have to prove himself in Tests.

The fielding stunned Graveney. Perhaps he and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, should have known, and it was plain for all to see at Lord's on Tuesday. Never did England make a possible single into no run or a possible two into one because they were never there in time, or their throwing was inaccurate.

So, Graveney and his panel, who meet next Friday, have to find some fielders from somewhere. "The most difficult positions to bat are from six to nine, and we need players who can take the pressure there," he said. "The Twenty20 Cup may have a part to play in that respect." That is good news for Dimitri Mascarenhas of Hampshire, who took 5 for 14, including the competition's first hat-trick, on Friday, bats in the late middle-order, fields with reasonable alertness and might or might not be the kind of cricketer they are searching for.

They have to find what the chairman described as "multi-faceted" players they have probably used before. It is a convenient term, which conceals the fact that the chaps concerned are not proper all-rounders. "Multi-faceted" brings forth the worry that they might be like those do-it-yourselfers who say they are multi-faceted round the house in terms of joinery, plumbing and electricity. They are untidy in execution, rarely finish the job and by the time they have put a nail through their thumb, flooded the bathroom and fused the lights, they realise it is time to call for the specialists.

England's bowling was clearly not up to it over the long haul. Stephen Harmison is turning into one of the wonders of the age (can't bat, can field a little, but boy can he bowl). The supporting cast was lacklustre (though spare a thought, as ever, for Ashley Giles, who presented himself like the good professional he is), and if England need players at eight, nine and 10 who can accrue vital scores, they also need them to take wickets.

"We have to assess for one thing the futures of the older players," said Graveney. He said that three years ago too. But he could reasonably have repeated it last week. We should hope that Darren Gough tells us that he is going before they tell him.