Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher decided not to delay their departure for Brisbane yesterday morning to visit Maroubra Beach on the southern shores of Sydney. Thankfully so. Had England's captain and coach travelled to the southern suburbs of this great city to check on the welfare of Darren Gough, who is playing for an English side in a beer-sponsored beach cricket tournament along with legends from Australia and the West Indies, it would have confirmed that England's World Cup preparations were a complete farce.
As it is, England's outlook for the Caribbean in a month's time is far from promising, but the prospect of selecting a rickety 36-year-old who has spent the last three weeks diving around in a sandpit and drinking the sponsors' brew does not bear thinking about.
England, it is rumoured, are contemplating adding Gough to their 30-man preliminary squad for the World Cup, a decision that would give him an outside chance of gaining a late and unexpected recall. Fitness concerns over James Anderson, who returned home to England with a back injury that is causing him no discomfort - work that one out if you can - and doubts about the ability of younger bowlers are causing the selectors to question their original picks.
Yet selecting Gough cannot be the way forward. It is often said that the stock of a player goes up when he is out of the side, and it is the case with Gough. He still sees himself as the man that can cure the team's bowling ills, but a quick look at his recent performances does not back up the judgement.
In his last eight appearances for England Gough took seven wickets at an average of 52 and conceded almost six-and-a-half runs an over. If an exciting 25-year-old had figures like that he would be sitting on the sidelines, and so should a veteran whose overs have to be managed carefully.
England's World Cup pros-pects are poor with or without Gough, and the position in the 15-man party should be given to a younger bowler with a future. Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood showed what they could do against Australia two days ago and it is one of them, or Chris Broad, who would have to make way for the Essex paceman.
On Thursday there were eight players who, injury permitting, were certain of places on the flight to St Vincent in less than a month's time, and at the SCG on Friday three more booked their seats during the timely victory over Australia.
The names of Ed Joyce, Liam Plunkett and Jamie Dalrymple can now be added to those of Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Jon Lewis, Monty Panesar and Anderson. Joyce's wonderful hundred against Australia would have provided every member of the England side with great comfort. It was the innings of a player who knew what he was doing and how to build, skills England's batsmen have not expressed often enough this winter.
Australia play New Zealand today, and whatever the outcome England face the Kiwis on Tuesday in Brisbane in the last of the round-robin matches with a very real chance of progressing to the tri-series finals, which begin on 9 February in Melbourne.
Plunkett's inspired bowling was a source of cheer too. England are blessed with a gifted group of young fast bowlers. Anderson, Plunkett, Mahmood, Chris Tremlett and Stuart Broad all have the potential to become high-quality performers, but it will be those possessing the right work ethic and aptitude who come through and play regular international cricket.
Plunkett has both, but he needs to play cricket. One of the problems with touring these days is that you play little cricket if you are not in the Test or one-day side.
Dalrymple has had a disappointing tour after an impressive summer in England. Dreadful top-order batting has deprived him of the opportunity to play with freedom, but he showed what he can do when striking a quickfire 30 on Friday. His spin bowling needs to be worked on because it will be needed in the West Indies.
That leaves us with four places to fill, and the first must be that of the wicketkeeper. Paul Nixon seems certain to play in the World Cup but I would rather see Chris Read fill the position. Nobody should begrudge the hard-working and effervescent Nixon his moment of glory, but he is not the right man for the job. Read is a far better gloveman. He is a dangerous lower- order one-day batsman too.
Ravi Bopara made an encour-aging international debut against Australia, but the final two batting positions should go to Andrew Strauss and Malachy Loye. Strauss is out of form but he is a good player with experience as an opener and middle- order player in one-day cricket. He could act as an emergency wicketkeeper too.
Loye has shown glimpses of what he can do without posting a significant score. His unconventional style and ability to hit the ball over the top during powerplays - periods when the field has to be up - offer England something different. The lower bounce of West Indian pitches may suit his game more.
The final place should go to Broad. England have managed the young fast bowler with care, but now is the time to get him involved. He bowls with greater consistency than Mahmood and has more about him than Tremlett, who needs to toughen up. He could be a surprise package.
Possible England World Cup squad: M P Vaughan (capt), E C Joyce, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, J W M Dalrymple, P A Nixon, J Lewis, J M Anderson, M S Panesar, A J Strauss, M B Loye, L E Plunkett, S C J Broad.Reuse content