England have spent most of the past 20 years hoping their one-day team might be really good one day. One day, some day, any day, never has been the general run of things.
The latest squad aimed ultimately at World Cup glory was announced yesterday. They will take on Pakistan in four one-day internationals starting next Monday. With almost but not quite identical personnel, they will then play three Twenty20 matches, a form of the game in which England, somewhat bizarrely considering their failings in the longer limited-overs format, are world champions and ranked No 1.
After the hammering that England received in India last October, when they lost all five of the 50-overs matches, there are changes. Ian Bell has been dropped after playing 108 internationals in which he never quite cracked the one-day code, astonishing for one so gifted. He may be back one day, he probably will not.
Kevin Pietersen has again been promoted to open the innings, a move last tried in the 2011 World Cup, when it was neither an outrageous failure nor an unqualified success. The experiment ended when Pietersen went home injured after four matches.
Two uncapped 50-overs players are included, about whom there should be genuine excitement. Jos Buttler, 21 and of Somerset, has had a high old time of it for England Lions recently. He limbered up on their winter sojourn with three scores of 40-odd in Bangladesh but in Sri Lanka over the past two weeks he has been electrifying, scoring two centuries and a total of 326 runs from 253 balls. Buttler has the highest strike rate of all batsmen in English limited-overs cricket and if he is not the finished article he is an unquestionably exciting one.
Danny Briggs, 20, is a left-arm spinner whose returns have been less spectacular but have personified steadiness. In nine Lions 50-overs matches this winter, he has only once conceded more than 50 runs. Briggs has received the spinning vote over the Durham leg-spinner Scott Borthwick, who played one match in India.
Of Pietersen as an opener, the England coach, Andy Flower, said: "The thinking behind it is that we think that he can win games for England.
"His natural aggression that he employs as a batsman should ensure that we get off to quick starts and it gives him the opportunity of facing a lot of balls in one-day cricket. I hope he finds the challenge really exciting and it reinvigorates him in one-day cricket."
Pietersen may or may not be around by the 2015 World Cup, when he will be 35, but Flower said he was "hungry enough, fit enough and good enough". But Pietersen is without a one-day hundred for 34 innings going back three years. The next fortnight would be the time for Pietersen to demonstrate not only his hunger but also his undoubted ability.
Flower issued a veiled warning to some members of the squad, including Samit Patel, about their fitness. Patel has been there and got the T-shirt in this regard, of course, but it remains a constant challenge for him and whatever happens to him on the field he will never be accused of leaving it all in the gym.
Flower said: "He has done certain work and he is still inching in the right direction. He still has a lot of work to do. He's just done quite well for the Lions and he's also handled himself there pretty well but we expect a serious push on the physical side from him and from others."
On the face of it, England have no chance of competing with Pakistan, at least in the 50-over matches. Considering the way they were outclassed in the Tests, a form of the game at which they are champions, they may be as badly beaten as they were in India.
But they have defied expectations before. On a one-day tour to Sri Lanka in 2007 they did not have a prayer. One of the travelling reporters said he could not see how they could win a game and after they lost the first, reinforced his view by saying he would eat his hat if they did. England won the next three, and apparently the tour baseball cap went down well with fava beans and a nice chianti.
He has already had a taste of international cricket with four Twenty20 matches but will now play in the longer limited-overs form. The 21-year-old has a career strike rate in list A matches of 143.27 at an average of 77.36, a combination that puts him a long way clear in the all-time charts so far.
Although he is now entering different territory he has already displayed a big-game temperament. In the CB Final at Lord's last year, he went in with Somerset at 79 for 5 and made a blazing, inventive 86 from 72 balls. A brilliant fielder, he is also a wicketkeeper and may eventually push his Somerset colleague Craig Kieswetter for the England place.
Nowhere near ready yet for Test matches – his Championship record is modest – but anything is possible if he impresses in the next three weeks.
For a spinner, he is ridiculously young, at 20, to be this far advanced. Not a big turner of the ball but his accuracy and knowledge of length have already won him plaudits. Briggs came to the attention with some nerveless performances for Hampshire in the 2010 Twenty20 Cup. He has performed well on the last two Performance Squad tours, last winter in the Caribbean and Australia, this winter in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He has taken 16 wickets in his 11 limited-overs matches in the past five weeks and – as importantly – has gone at just under four runs an over in the 50-overs matches.
Briggs would be the first cricketer from the Isle of Wight to play for England but would continue a long tradition of left-arm spinners. Given the UAE pitches, he has a splendid chance of lining up with Graeme Swann.
A N Cook (capt, Essex) 27/41
J M Anderson (Lancs) 29/151
J M Bairstow (Yorkshire) 22/6
R S Bopara (Essex) 26/69
T T Bresnan (Yorkshire) 26/57
D Briggs (Hampshire) 20/0
S C J Broad (Notts) 25/84
J C Buttler (Somerset) 21/0
J W Dernbach (Surrey) 25/13
S T Finn (Middlesex) 22/11
C Kieswetter (Somerset) 24/28
E J G Morgan (Midds) 25/71
S R Patel (Notts) 27/21
K Pietersen (Surrey) 31/123
G P Swann (Notts) 32/64
I J L Trott (Warwicks) 30/40
Twenty20 squad only
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