England preparations hit by illness

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The Independent Online

What England would have preferred for the match that will determine their World Cup destiny was unimpeded preparation. Given the contrary nature of their progress so far they could have expected otherwise and what they have are doubts about their captain, Andrew Strauss, and their leading spinner, Graeme Swann.

Had the key Group B match against the West Indies been yesterday neither could have played. They have succumbed to the local variation of Delhi belly, known as the Chennai chapatis. England are not panicking yet – now is not the time – but if both miss training today their presence in the Group B match will be increasingly unlikely.

England will be desperate to have both but the sort of stomach virus which has affected several members of the touring party in the past three weeks usually leaves the patient lighter and enfeebled for a few days. Strauss's role as leader would be assumed by Paul Collingwood. The poignancy would be deep considering it could be Collingwood's l98th and last match for England if they are eliminated from the tournament.

Swann is as close to irreplaceable as it is possible to get given the dearth of high-class spinners and James Tredwell, an inconspicuous presence in the squad both in Australia and India, could expect a summons to play his first World Cup game.

It has not come to those extremes yet and England will spend the next day or so sweating over their fitness. It might be perspiration rather than food which has caused their illnesses. Players are forever going from extremely, warm and in this city humid atmosphere into rooms where air-conditioning cools them down artificially and quickly and spews out untold hidden menaces.

West Indies, who have played efficiently after their early loss to South Africa, seem in dangerously good heart. They would be significantly uplifted if Chris Gayle, their rampant opening batsman were to recover from a stomach strain. Jonathan Trott, England's record-breaking No 3 batsman, had a bout of the Chennai chapatis not long after arrival in the city from Chittagong. But he was able to practise yesterday and expects to be in full heart by tomorrow. Trott has now scored more runs after 23 innings in one-day internationals than any batsman before, overtaking both Viv Richards and Kevin Pietersen. He has received some harsh criticism, however, for his scoring rate, although at 77 runs per 100 balls that is higher than both Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell in the present squad.

It may be that Trott is unfairly lambasted because he tends to bat by stealth. He steals plenty of singles but has yet to hit a six in an ODI. "People are entitled to their own judgement. As long as I'm being effective, and I work hard for Andy Flower. Whatever he says is more important to me than what other people in the media say.

"My role is to get as many runs as I can as close to a run a ball as possible, sometimes better if the situation demands it and the conditions demand it as well."

There is one part of the game that Trott and England are failing comprehensively to tackle properly. They have simply failed to come to terms with the batting powerplay, either in terms of when to take it and how to play it.

"You can get caught up in a powerplay and I think changing your mindset as a batsman is quite dangerous," said Trott. So far in this tournament, England have scored 163 runs in the batting powerplay, an average of 32 in the five overs, but lost 13 wickets, three times losing three or more. How they play it on the slow pitch at Chennai tomorrow could be decisive.