Fletcher ignores fundamental truths in wasting Thorpe

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The Independent Online

If only England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, and his cohorts could get their batting order into a more sensible form, these idiotic middle-order collapses which cost them two matches in India, and probably should have cost them two more, might happen with less alarming frequency. So many fundamentals seem to be deliberately ignored.

One of the most essential truths of limited-overs cricket is that the batsmen with the best chance of building a long innings are the first three in the order. If he is not one of the openers, it is important that the best batsman should go in at No 3.

In the last three matches in India, Graham Thorpe, who is England's best batsman, went in at No 5 and was wasted. It is futile sending him in to slog and a waste of time if he runs out of partners. At Lancaster Park yesterday, he was elevated to No 4, which is still no good because he should have come in during the first over when Marcus Trescothick was out and not in the 12th when the second wicket fell.

A supremely hectic start infects the rest of the side with an irresistible urge to bat with reckless haste, as both India and England's middle-orders demonstrated so admirably in their recent series. The rather more solid example of Thorpe, who is an expert at rotating the strike, not the least of his values, would be crucial early in the innings and help to prevent the gadarene swine-like rush.

This would mean that Nasser Hussain must drop at least to No 4, which would be a good idea. In seven one-day internationals this winter his highest score so far has been 49 and that is not good enough for a No 3.

The other extraordinary happening has been the sudden, apparent belief that England's batting salvation lies in the broad shoulders and strong wrists and Andrew Flintoff. In three Test matches before Christmas he was hard pressed to reach double figures and in the four one-dayers in India he was only marginally better. Then, in Delhi, he slogged 58 and, in Bombay, fought hard for a match-winning 40. Those are hardly the credentials of a world-beater.

His place is at No 7, and, when the first 40 overs have been good enough, he should be sent in to take advantage of the last 10. Surely, too, Michael Vaughan must be a better bet at No 5 than Paul Collingwood, whose bowling hardly registers on the Richter scale, and whose batting is not yet within several arms length of being up to this illustrious spot in the World Cup. Why has this tour management turned its back on Owais Shah, who appears to have been convicted without being tried?

Then, one can only wonder about Craig White, whose one-day record is eminently forgettable.

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