England must learn to bat to the finish

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff arrives home on Friday ready for a week of decorating. If he and England can somehow regroup well enough to win the final match of the Cable & Wireless Series today, it is pretty certain that he will be packing in some early practice by painting the town red.

The form so far in the thankfully reduced number of matches, suggests a home victory. West Indies should have won the first and have won the last two with burgeoning authority and élan. Like England, the West Indies are building a new team, unlike England they are positively enjoying the experience.

England have an obvious frailty in their batting. For a start, the order looks slender. After Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan everybody else is at the bottom of a steep learning curve. Only Trescothick and Paul Collingwood have made one-day hundreds and Collingwood is trying to come to terms with a demanding new role at number four.

The way in which they are going about their task dooms them to underachievement. The last 10 overs of a one-day innings are an eternity in which an adequate total can be intelligently transformed into a formidable one. England have taken to treating them as if they had been issued with a five-second warning and must play the first shot that comes into their heads before running like hell for their lives.

It has not been an especially pretty or uplifting sight and it is the principal reason that they are 2-1 down. If they do not address the matter immediately that will assuredly become 3-1. True, there has been the eye-catching matter of the home side's coruscating batting, once at the end and once at the start of their innings, but England's lack of nous has cost them ground that the opposition might not have been able to make up otherwise.

"I think we have got to talk about it," said Flintoff. "Maybe we don't realise how much time we've got at the end of the innings."

How to do it is something they have either not explored sufficiently or have not taken on board. Neither are good signs.

"I think we've got to take singles when they're on offer," said Flintoff. "It's very difficult to hit every ball for a boundary with the way sides bowl now with yorkers, slower balls and mixing it up. We've got to take a run off every ball, and hopefully the boundaries come along as well. Maybe some of us mustn't get too greedy when we get in a good situation.

"The coach talks about training the brain, so that you can get yourself in a position where if the ball is in the area you want it you can hit it for four, but you can also bail out by getting a one as well."

The coach, Duncan Fletcher is clearly aware of the shortcoming, and it is his job to rectify it quickly. "Eight overs is a long time in a one-day match," he said. "There's still a lot of cricket left to play, and they've got to start making the right decisions."

He also mentioned the inexperience of the side but Fletcher would do this if a player had 1,000 appearances. Dwayne Smith, the explosively talented West Indian, has played seven one-dayers, and has looked as though he has never done anything else.

England seem to be falling between the old stools of whether to try to smash it to all parts, or whether to milk it. The dictionary definition of this is panic.

They have ended up doing neither one thing nor the other. In the first match at St Lucia, they made 66 runs in the last 10 overs, superficially satisfactory, but they had lost only three wickets going into that stage and were set up to make substantially more.

In the second they yielded crucial territory by adding a measly 19 runs in the eight overs between the 35th and 42nd, leaving them with too much to do. But there is a fundamental difference in cultures and mindset at work. This is a series-deciding game. West Indies will almost certainly give a debut to the fast bowler, Tino Best, something England would never risk.

* Zimbabwe's rebel players have rejected their board's offer of mediation and will renew their boycott, one of the 15 rebels said. "We're adamant that we've in effect had three weeks of mediation, and we believe arbitration is the only route," he said. "We're meeting [today] to write what will hopefully be our final letter, to say we're rejecting this. We're back to square one, we are boycotting again."