England in right place to bounce back

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The frenetic nature of this NatWest one-day series may have its benefits for England when they meet Australia under the Old Trafford lights today. Unable to dwell for long on the shortcomings that cost them Tuesday's game against Pakistan, they can deal in the certainty that nothing short of a storming win will give them any chance of contesting the final in nine days' time.

History, if not current form or the nature of their opposition, favours them. Old Trafford may be a virtual win-free zone when it comes to Test matches for England, but they have won 17 of the 23 one-day internationals played there ­ just the place, you might think, to end your worst-ever losing streak of eight successive matches.

Such history may be about to be debunked. Australia are a side with no respect for niceties or facts. Their aim, to play total cricket with total confidence, is a philosophy that spares no one, least of all an England side high on error and low on belief. Worse still for Alec Stewart's men, Australia's captain, Steve Waugh, feels they are only playing at 70 per cent of their potential.

"We've not peaked at all," said Waugh before practice in the middle at Old Trafford yesterday. "If the batting and fielding have been good, the bowling has only been satisfactory. There is definitely room for improvement."

Waugh is adamant that standards will not be allowed to fall. "We are supposedly the No 1 side in the world and it is important we set the pace," he said. "We don't want to drop below the level we set for ourselves."

It is a mantra that now includes players' behaviour on the field, something again brought into focus in the Lord's match, when half the Pakistan team surrounded Ken Palmer in the final over when the umpire had called a wide.

The call by Palmer was a wrong one, as the ball had brushed Alan Mullally's glove, but recent additions to the International Cricket Council code of conduct make it an offence for players to show dissent in this way. For that reason, the match referee, Brian Hastings, should have got involved despite the highly volatile nature of the situation.

"We've made a conscious effort to accept every decision on this tour," said Waugh, a verdict that comes in the wake of the recent dissent shown by Michael Slater to the Indian umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan, after the umpire had ruled against a catch in the first Test against India last February. "I don't think we are any worse than anyone else," Waugh added. "I saw the Pakistan incident and TV replays don't look good. I'd like to think we'd have walked away from the incident, but until it happens you never know."

In the build-up to the Ashes series, which begins at Edgbaston on 5 July, you would think that the chance to inflict lasting damage to England's confidence would be a priority, especially now that Graham Thorpe's calf injury has ruled him out for another week.

"Obviously it would be nice to win going into an Ashes series, but England should feel encouraged by the way they've played," said Waugh. "To win you've got to know how to win first, and that comes from someone making that breakthrough. Once one player does it, others feed off that strength."

For England, only Marcus Trescothick and Owais Shah look likely candidates. Far more sobering for immediate future is that experienced players like Dominic Cork and Mark Ealham looked totally overawed by the situation at Lord's. England really ought to drop both of them and bring in Paul Collingwood and Robert Croft, but the reality is that only Ealham will make way.

Australia will make changes too, but only as a gesture to the rotation policy of resting a top-order batsman.

Against England at Bristol, Michael Bevan was the man to miss out, a role that could fall to Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting or Damien Martyn. If all three were to sit it out, England might stand a chance.

ENGLAND (from): A J Stewart (Surrey, capt, wkt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), N V Knight (Warwickshire), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), O A Shah (Middlesex), B C Hollioake (Surrey), D G Cork (Derbyshire), M A Ealham (Kent), D Gough (Yorkshire), A R Caddick (Somerset), A D Mullally (Hampshire), A D Brown (Surrey), R D B Croft (Glamorgan).

AUSTRALIA (from): S R Waugh (capt), M E Waugh, A C Gilchrist (wkt), R T Ponting, D R Martyn, M G Bevan, A Symonds, M L Hayden, I J Harvey, S K Warne, B Lee, G D McGrath, J Gillespie, D Fleming.

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