Fletcher delight as Flintoff ready to bowl again

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The Independent Online

Captain Andrew Flintoff is likely to give the beleaguered England side a timely boost tomorrow after being cleared to bowl in the Champions Trophy match against the West Indies.

Flintoff bowled at full pace in the nets and suffered no adverse reaction. Therefore, he is likely to bowl at least "three or fours overs", according to the England coach Duncan Fletcher.

If England field an unchanged team tomorrow, it would be a vote for consistency of selection, which is vital to eventual success, and it would also be a nod of approval for a team who have not only lost both their matches in the tournament but on both occasions have committed the cardinal one-day sin of failing to use the full allocation of 50 overs.

At least they were spared prolonged misery last night when India's defeat by the West Indies ended their faint aspirations of qualification for the semi-finals. Last March, Fletcher said he knew 10 of the players he wanted in his starting team at the World Cup. It is safe to assume that at least four of them ­ Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones ­ are not present here.

But the harsh truth is that England have failed to adjust in terms of either selection or performance. They came to India with an inexperienced squad, whose task was much the harder because one eye has been on the Ashes. Twice here they have failed to think on their feet.

Fletcher has conceded the team so far has been picked partly with the Australian series in mind. Hence, Jonathan Lewis, England's best bowler in the drawn limited-overs series against Pakistan in September, was probably whistling in the dark if he expected a game here.

Flintoff said: "People have tried to make it a distraction because almost every question at Press conferences has been about the Ashes. But I'm equally excited about the World Cup."

Flintoff felt compelled to deny again that Test cricket was England's main focus. "We are just as interested in one-day cricket. Some of the lads in the team haven't played Test cricket so this is their England team and it's massive." Two of the lads in the team ­ Mike Yardy and Jamie Dalrymple ­ do not play Tests, the rest of the Champions Trophy XI so far will be heading for the Ashes.

Yet it is also true the selectors have been casting around for a one-day quick fix. After the defeat against Australia last weekend, Fletcher blamed injuries. But in the past 24 matches since the start of the series against Pakistan last December, England have used 31 players in 17 different permutations. They have won only six times and were bowled out on 13 occasions without using their 50 overs.

The number used in 2006 is 30, and this when they should have established a settled squad for the World Cup which is six months away. Only once in the history of one-day cricket have England used more players in a year ­ in 1996 immediately before, during and after a World Cup.

Fletcher has conceded that the next World Cup is coming too soon, perhaps preparing for a fourth successive failure. At least on the injury front there is good news. Apart from Flintoff's return, there is not a single niggle in this current squad.