England's woes: batting, fielding... thinking

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The Independent Online

England can have no complaints about being knocked out of the NatWest Series. Michael Vaughan's side were comprehensively beaten in four of their five matches and were the weakest team in the tournament.

England can have no complaints about being knocked out of the NatWest Series. Michael Vaughan's side were comprehensively beaten in four of their five matches and were the weakest team in the tournament.

Vaughan, the England captain, attempted to be upbeat about certain aspects of their cricket during the past fortnight but he and his fellow selectors must have concerns about the direction in which this squad are heading. Andrew Flintoff, Andrew Strauss and Stephen Harmison carried England, and a team cannot expect to win competitions when only three of their players are performing to an acceptable level.

England have eight weeks to work out what went wrong in the NatWest Series. On 1 September they play the first of three matches against India and then they play in the Champions Trophy, the second biggest one-day tournament in cricket.

What have England learnt from this tournament?

A lot, it is hoped, but I doubt it. Because England have been successful in Test cricket, they seem to assume that everybody should trust and believe in what they are doing in the one-day game. If England are to improve, they need to admit to their shortcomings, formulate a plan and then abide by it.

Without Flintoff they are a pretty ordinary side. His injury gave England the chance to look at alternatives, but Anthony McGrath, Ian Blackwell and Rikki Clarke failed to impress. England's desperation reached such a stage that they had to recall a half-fit Flintoff and play him solely as a batsman.

So have these players had their chance?

McGrath and Blackwell are both in their late twenties so it is difficult to see them making further progress. Clarke has something about him. The 22-year-old is an excellent fielder and a gifted batsman, and he could develop into a steady bowler if he works hard at his game.

If the bits-and-pieces players go, who replaces them?

Ian Bell is belatedly fulfilling his potential but he is a batting all-rounder. What England need are bowlers who can score quick 30s and sensible 50s. Only then will the side look balanced.

Paul Franks and Chris Tremlett are fast-bowling all-rounders who are having excellent seasons with their counties. Gareth Batty, the off-spinner, would add more vibrancy. The 26-year-old may not be as reliable as Ashley Giles but he would improve the fielding. Unfortunately, there is not a lot else. Too many of these positions are filled by overseas players, which deprives English players of the chances they need.

Is the lack of all-rounders England's only problem?

No, they need to sort out their batting order, fielding and tactics.

So where should Vaughan bat?

It all seems rather confused. In May he moved from number four to opener in one-day cricket. In June he moved from opener to four in Test cricket.

Vaughan is a selfless cricketer who is prepared to move up and down the order but it is not doing him any good. Vaughan's one-day record - 1,035 runs at an average of 24.10 - is pretty ordinary. It gets worse when you look at his statistics as an opener - 153 runs at 17. This is not good enough. Robert Key is not England's answer at number three and Vaughan should bat there.

This would mean that England have to find a new opener. Strauss has been superb at four but he is a specialist opener. Returning to this position would cause him few problems and allow Paul Collingwood to bat at four, Flintoff at five and Bell at six.

And what about the fielding?

The fielding was poor, and it is impossible to keep a batting side under pressure when batsmen know they can hit the ball at four or five of your side and take one or two runs. Good fielders are athletic and tend to be young but they can be produced.

The bowling was not up to much in the last two games. Didn't we have a pool of fast bowlers that was the envy of the world?

We do, but the impact a bowler can have in one-day cricket is limited. In Test cricket a captain can throw the ball to his best bowler as often as he wants but in the limited-overs game he can bowl only 10 overs. This means Harmison can be neutralised.

Darren Gough is now only a support bowler, James Anderson is struggling for rhythm. Flintoff and Simon Jones are injured and Matthew Hoggard is not seen as a one-day player.

Did England get their tactics right?

No, winning the toss has given one side too much benefit, but England's headless approach shows they still do not know how to set a total. They also took a huge risk at Headingley when they played three specialist bowlers and were fortunate that it came off. At Bristol and Lord's they had four but the tactic failed, Collingwood and Vaughan conceding 144 runs in 22.2 overs.

Perhaps the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, is hoping that by allowing England's contracted players to play in the remaining Twenty20 games, it might sharpen up their thinking.

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