Beleaguered England were offered crumbs of comfort today. Should matters work completely in their favour they may yet prove to be entire bakeries bursting with the bread of heaven.
Stuart Broad and Steve Finn, fast bowlers who have been missed recently like key components in a previously efficient machine, trained with the team for the first time in a week, took a full part in fielding drills and bowled off their long runs in the nets. Both may play in the final one-day international against New Zealand at Trent Bridge today, though Broad seems the likelier of the pair.
Looking a little further ahead it is heartening news for the Champions Trophy in which England start their campaign against Australia on Saturday. The evidence of recent days suggests that no Broad and no Finn may equate to no progress.
Their opponents in that opening match – the first of 26 between the sides up to the start of February – were not so blessed. Michael Clarke's chronic lower back complaint forced him to miss the side's second and final practice match against India as he had the first.
He will travel to London today for specialist treatment but he must now be a serious doubt for the match at Edgbaston. Clarke's back pain has plagued him throughout his career and the indications are that spasms are occurring more frequently.
England would doubtless prefer to play Australia at full strength but Clarke's absence would also make their task much easier. Without him, the batting order looks alarmingly brittle as was demonstrated when they were all out for 65.
The return of Broad and Finn would offer England a fresh perspective when they most need it after two heavy defeats against the Kiwis. Finn has been a handful in limited-overs cricket for more than a year and with signs that Broad is returning to his peak form their presence would unquestionably help.
England's preferred bowling quintet in one-day internationals is probably Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Broad and Finn. They have appeared together in only four matches, of which England have lost none.
Swann may be rested today to allow James Tredwell, a solid performer when he has been called upon to fill in, a bowl in the middle. There may also be a debut for Boyd Rankin, the Ireland international who has now declared his hand for England, if it is thought unnecessary to risk one of Broad or Finn.
The batting line-up will be more perplexing. It must be tempting to change after two weak displays, but whoever plays today will definitely be there on Saturday. Thus, the selectors may yet stick with the present bunch of under-achievers in the hope that atonement is round the corner.
Ian Bell, one of the culprits in the two matches against New Zealand, said: "All of us feel in good form but we've done the hard yards and got out. In the last couple of years, people have gone on and got big runs which allow our bowling attack to defend good scores, or when we've chased, someone in the top four has had the responsibility to go through. Jonathan Trott did it two days ago but we need more of it.
"Chasing 360 you need maybe two guys getting hundreds, two or three with fifty-plus scores. That's not happened for a while and it's been frustrating but the guys still feel in pretty good touch."
The margins, it is true, are narrow but Bell insisted that England would not be changing a method that had worked for them hitherto. They would not be going back into their shells.
"English cricket, certainly in one-day form, has taken so many strides forward and we don't want to go backwards now," he said. "We want to be as positive as we can be."
New Zealand, ebullient after wins by five wickets and 86 runs, see this as the perfect preparation for the Champions Trophy. As Mitchell McClenaghan, one of their suddenly thrusting new kids on the block, put it: "We're a good side and we're really starting to click together. We're led well... I can see us doing this a lot more in future."
Lose today and England will be profoundly glad they are playing a team as hapless as Australia on Saturday.
Trent Bridge details
For third One-day International between England and New Zealand
England A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, J E Root, E J G Morgan, J C Buttler (wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, J C Tredwell, W B Rankin, J M Anderson
New Zealand B B McCullum (capt), L Ronchi (wkt), M J Guptill, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor, G D Elliott, J E C Franklin, N L McCullum, T G Southee, M J McClenaghan, K D Mills.
Umpires A Dar (Pak) and R Illingworth
TV 1.30-10pm, Sky Sports 1
Weather Dry and overcast throughout the afternoon. Max temp: 16C.
Odds England 8-13; N Zealand 13-10
The series so far
31 May (Lord's): NZ won by five wkts
2 Jun (Rose Bowl): NZ won by 86 runs
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