Fletcher forced to rebuild team for World Cup

In a country where the frankly ridiculous is an everyday occurrence and the blatantly obvious rarely takes place, India's 5-1 win over England in the one-day series was a true reflection of the merit of the two teams. England will feel that the absence of five influential players gave them little chance of winning a seven-match series against strong, confident opponents, but much of their cricket has still been disappointing.

England began the series ranked as the sixth-best one-day side in the world and, after the seven-wicket defeat here on Saturday, finished as seventh. With or without Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Stephen Harmison, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones the position is about right. It is to be hoped that England have learnt a lot over the past three weeks, even if little of it is positive. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, was fully aware of the ability of Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Strauss and Geraint Jones before the tour and it was they who carried the team's batting.

The return to form of James Anderson, along with the continued improvement of Liam Plunkett and Ian Blackwell, gives cause for optimism but it was disappointing to see the majority of England's fringe players failing to make the most of their opportunities.

Fletcher often cites inexperience as the reason for his side's shortcomings yet this obstacle did not prevent Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina, playing in their first and 19th matches on Saturday, from helping India to chase down England's competitive total of 288. The pair, along with the experienced heads of Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh, allowed India to complete their 17th consecutive victory when batting second.

Matthew Prior, Vikram Solanki and Owais Shah have played far more cricket than Uthappa and Raina but it is difficult to imagine any of them playing in such a controlled manner when faced with such a challenging total. The performances of England's reserve batsmen - along with those of Matthew Hoggard, Kabir Ali and Gareth Batty - may well have ruled each player out of England's plans for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. This series highlighted the fact that England's back-up players are not good enough to win the World Cup. Fletcher was probably aware of this before the first game in Delhi.

Pietersen was England's star, scoring more runs than any other player in the series. Bowlers did not know where to bowl at him. And nowhere was this more apparent than on Saturday when he scored 35 runs in 10 balls. The only criticism is that he passed 30 in each of his five innings in India but did not score a hundred.

The final game in Indore at last cleared up one issue: who should keep wicket. Geraint Jones appears perpetually one game away from being dropped but in this series he has proved why he should play ahead of Prior. It is difficult to believe England will continue to play two wicketkeepers in the same side this summer and after the opening two games of the series it appeared that Prior might force his way ahead of Jones. But Prior has batted at the top of the order in England's past 11 one-day matches and is yet to post a half-century.

There were, however, encouraging signs in the bowling department. Anderson had a disappointing 50th one-day appearance for England but his bowling in India has been a major plus. Despite his good form, he will not play in this summer's Test series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan if Harmison, Flintoff, Hoggard and Simon Jones are fit. Anderson is aware of this and it is to be hoped that the England selectors allow him to continue bowling for Lancashire when he is not required in the Test team. Carrying him round as 12th man will only undermine the progress he has made in the past 12 months.

Plunkett went about his business in a quiet, efficient manner and Sajid Mahmood bowled a couple of encouraging spells. Sajid's bowling figures have been expensive but England need to keep him involved because he has the potential to bowl like Harmison.

Blackwell did not look like a Test cricketer when he made his debut in Nagpur but he showed that there is life after Ashley Giles in limited-overs cricket. His batting has often lacked nous but he has bowled with craft and intelligence. Harbhajan Singh, with 12 victims, was the highest wicket-taker in the series but Blackwell, who conceded less than four runs an over, was the most economical.

England's one-day performances in Pakistan and India have highlighted why Fletcher wants his limited-overs team to resemble the Test team closely. They are the best players in the country. Fletcher's task is to transform them into a competitive outfit in 10 months. It will not be easy.

Scoreboard from Indore

India won toss


*A J Strauss c Khartik b Sreesanth 25

42 min, 34 balls, 5 fours

I R Bell run out (Yuvraj Singh) 32

92 min, 45 balls, 4 fours

M J Prior c Pathan b Sreesanth 2

11 min, 11 balls

K P Pietersen c Uthappa b Yuvraj Singh 64

83 min, 56 balls, 11 fours, 1 six

P D Collingwood c R P Singh b Pathan 64

117 min, 84 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes

ÝG O Jones c Karthik b Sreesanth 53

62 min, 50 balls, 7 fours, 1 six

I D Blackwell c Raina b Sreesanth 11

13 min, 10 balls, 2 fours

L E Plunkett c V R V Singh b Sreesanth 6

17 min, 9 balls

Kabir Ali c Venugopal Rao b Pathan 1

6 min, 4 balls

S I Mahmood c V R V Singh b Sreesanth 9

5 min, 4 balls, 1 six

J M Anderson not out 0

1 min, 0 balls

Extras (lb4 w8 nb9) 21

Total (all out; 229 min, 50 overs) 288

Fall: 1-43 (Strauss) 2-47 (Prior) 3-110 (Bell), 4-165 (Pietersen), 5-257 (Jones), 6-267 (Collingwood), 7-274 (Blackwell), 8-277 (Kabir Ali), 9-288 (Plunkett), 10-288 (Mahmood).

Bowling: Pathan 10-1-44-2, Sreesanth 10-1-55-6, R P Singh 7-0-44-0, V R V Singh 7-0-73-0, Powar 9-1-38-0, Yuvraj Singh 7-0-30-1.


A R Uthappa run out (Anderson-Jones/TV replay) 86

123 min, 96 balls, 12 fours, 1 six

*R Dravid lbw Mahmood 69

128 min, 79 balls, 9 fours

Yuvraj Singh not out 63

92 min, 57 balls, 6 fours

S K Raina b Kabir Ali 53

83 min, 65 balls, 2 fours, 1 six

Irfan Pathan not out 1

3 min, 1 ball

Extras (lb5 w8 nb4) 17

Total (3 wkts, 216 min, 49.1 overs) 289

Fall: 1-166 (Uthappa) 2-166 (Dravid) 3-281 (Raina).

Did not bat: Y Venugopal Rao, ÝK K D Karthik, R R Powar, R P Singh, V R V Singh, S Sreesanth.

Bowling: Anderson 8.1-0-67-0, Mahmood 10-0-61-1, Plunkett 10-0-40-0, Kabir Ali 8-0-47-1, Blackwell 10-0-51-0, Collingwood 3-0-18-0.

Umpires: A V Jayaprakash (India) and R E Koertzen (SA).

India win by 7 wickets.

India win series 5-1.

Man of the match: S Sreesanth.

Man of the series: Yuvraj Singh.

England's trip through hell

* 28 March (Delhi)

India 203.

England 164 (Harbhajan Singh 5 for 31).

India won by 39 runs.

Man of the match: Harbhajan Singh.

* 31 March (Faridabad)

England 226 (K P Pietersen 71,

A J Strauss 61).

India 230 for 6 (S K Raina 81 no).

India won by four wickets.

Man of the match: Suresh Raina.

* 3 April (Goa)

India 294 for 6 (Yuvraj Singh 103).

England 245 (P D Collingwood 93).

India won by 49 runs.

Man of the match: Yuvraj Singh.

* 6 April (Cochin)

England 237 (K P Pietersen 77).

India 238 for 6 (R Dravid 65).

India won by four wickets.

Man of the match: Yuvraj Singh.

* 9 April (Guwahati)

Match abandoned due to rain - no result.

* 12 April (Jamshedpur)

India 223 (M S Dhoni 96).

England 227 for 5 (A J Strauss 74*).

England won by five wickets.

Man of the match: Andrew Strauss.

* 15 April (Indore)

England 288 (P D Collingwood 64, KP Pietersen 64; S Sreesanth 6 for 55).

India 289 for 3 (A R Uthappa 86, R Dravid 69, S K Raina 53).

India won by seven wickets.

Man of the match: Sri Sreesanth.

* Next match

11 May: First Test v Sri Lanka (Lord's).

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