England appear to have finally conceded that they will not beat Australia this winter. The acknowledgement was indicated by England's admission that they were looking to rest James Anderson for today's Commonwealth Bank series match against Ricky Ponting's side here, in the hope that Anderson will be fit and strong for Tuesday's pivotal game against New Zealand in Perth.
Anderson has been the pick of the England bowlers during the one-day tournament. In the four matches he has bowled with pace, skill and control, picking up eight wickets at an average of 21. But England are looking to manage the 24-year-old carefully after he complained of a stiff back before Tuesday's embarrassing defeat to New Zealand at the Adelaide Oval.
Initially there were fears that the fast bowler had aggravated the back injury that forced him to miss all but the last few weeks of the 2006 season, but a scan revealed there to be no structural damage.
Though slightly defeatist, the move makes sense. England's chances of qualifying for the finals would receive a huge boost if they were to defeat an unbeaten Australian side, but it is unlikely. The situation means that England's two remaining games against New Zealand will decide their fate and, after conceding a bonus point to the "Black Caps" on Tuesday, they now need to win both if they are to join the all- conquering Aussies.
"My back has been pretty good," said Anderson, talking about his fitness during the Ashes tour. "I've had a bit of stiffness but you are always going to get that when you are coming back from injury. You always get a stiff back as a bowler.
"There is a difference between having a stiff back and the sort of pain I was getting when I had a stress fracture. In a series like this when you have games coming in quick succession, and when you are bowling OK in the games, it is fine to have a break and miss the odd net session. I don't see why I won't be running in and bowling against New Zealand on Tuesday."
For his part, the Australia coach, John Buchanan, has slated England for failing to provide a suitable challenge for the reigning champions in the build-up to their World Cup defence.
"All our bowlers have been able to control each game for most of the matches," he complained. "Our ability to deliver yorkers, length balls, bouncers and variety balls has not been placed under constant scrutiny by an opposition batting line-up. In essence, the batting efforts of our opposition are not assisting the development of our bowlers' one-day skills and decision-making."
Cricket's governing body, the International Cricket Council, is set to reduce the power of the on-field umpires by stripping them of the authority to terminate a Test match. That power will be handed instead to the match referee.
This follows the abandoned Test between England and Pakistan at the Oval last year when Pakistan refused to take the field after being accused of ball-tampering by Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, the on-field umpires.