England return from their successful tour of Zimbabwe today with growing optimism that they have the resources at their disposal to compete with the leading sides at the next World Cup. The coach, Duncan Fletcher, and the captain, Nasser Hussain, will deliver their tour reports to the chairman of selectors David Graveney as they begin to discuss the make-up of the squads to compete in one-day series in India and New Zealand this winter.
Assuming the tours go ahead, those matches will provide a more realistic guide to where England stand in the world rankings than their 5-0 whitewash over a dispirited Zimbabwe, who have now lost 12 successive one-day internationals and rarely tested the tourists' inexperienced squad.
But the experiment of leaving proven players behind to look at untested, emerging talent has been a success with several newcomers having cemented their places for the winter, while even the more experienced players have demonstrated greater flexibility and improved performances.
"When we set out we said we had an inexperienced squad and Zimbabwe are going through a bit of a lean patch, but they have given a lot of sides frights and they are pretty capable on their own turf," Fletcher said. "It was nice to see guys come out here and prove a few points. We asked them to do so and the most pleasing part was the way we got better and better as the tour progressed."
Those successes include the Gloucestershire all-rounder Jeremy Snape, who provided consistent displays with bat and ball and may even stand higher in the selectors' thoughts than Ashley Giles and Robert Croft for the spinner's role.
Hussain admitted: "He may not be the most naturally talented and he doesn't pull up many trees in county cricket but he has come out here and shown great character and that is what pulls you through more often than not."
Matthew Hoggard and Paul Collingwood will also be regarded as great finds and with the more experienced players such as Craig White, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick likely to be added to this winter's one-day squad to be announced in the next couple of days, Fletcher can at least see some optimism ahead after the disastrous run of 11 successive defeats that preceded this tour. "I don't think we had a base before now, but now we're looking at getting a couple of guys back and we also have a few players on the fringe who we know can perform at this level," he explained.
This tour is the first step in a gradual process to increase the number of one-day internationals England play each year, which lags behind most of the leading nations, in the build-up to the 2003 World Cup. In addition to the 10 scheduled for early next year, England also have a triangular series against India and Sri Lanka next summer before they enter their ICC Trophy tournament in Bangalore next October. They finish their preparation with another triangular series in Australia, also involving Sri Lanka, before travelling to South Africa in February 2003 for the start of the World Cup.
England are considering selecting an extra wicketkeeper as cover for the young James Foster in the 16-man squad for India, with Lancashire's Warren Hegg favourite for the place. But the base for this winter's one-day squad will be made up from the current tour party with as many as 10 out of the 16 being drawn from the Zimbabwe squad.
* The Surrey and England wicketkeeper, Alec Stewart, will undergo an operation on his elbows to confirm one of the main reasons he has made himself unavailable for England duty until the New Year. The operation will attempt to rectify a form of chronic tennis elbow that has been affecting Stewart's game for the last 18 months.Reuse content