Graveney plays down World Cup ambitions
Wednesday 14 February 2007
Less than a fortnight ago, it seemed the list of names to be recited by David Graveney shortly after 11am today could have been prefaced with the words: "The condemned men are..." However, four wins - three of them against Australia - have done more than grant England's cricketers a reprieve from criticism; they have transformed them into World Cup contenders.
The 15-man squad announced by the chairman of selectors at the Oval today can look to the Caribbean with optimism rather than trepidation. So, too, can the selectors (Graveney, Geoff Miller and the coach Duncan Fletcher, with input from the captain Michael Vaughan). Until the team's sudden revival, it seemed they had been working with a blindfold and toothpick.
They have chosen 36 players in the past 12 months, only four of whom (Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, James Dalrymple and Andrew Strauss) played in two-thirds of the 30 internationals in that time. Now, by luck rather than judgement, they appear to have stumbled on a winning team. But Graveney is keen to dampen expectations.
"I'm delighted for everybody involved," he said yesterday. "They have had a hard time over the last few months and their last few performances give everybody a lot of confidence, but I agree with Duncan [Fletcher] in that we should not get ahead of ourselves.
"Two weeks ago everyone was saying we shouldn't bother going to the Caribbean and now people are talking about us being second favourites. We're a young team and there are still lots of areas where we can improve. I'm sure Duncan will be aware of that and will be working on those areas in the coming weeks."
This squad will have been one of the easier selections. The players behind England's Antipodean resurrection can expect to be chosen en masse.
There are arguments against the inclusion of Mal Loye and Paul Nixon. Loye made 142 runs at 20.28, with a top score of 45 in seven innings; the long-discarded Alastair Cook averaged 40 in his two one-day internationals at a faster scoring rate but looks destined to spend the next two months in the Essex nets. Nixon managed 104 runs at 11.55, and is an inferior wicketkeeper to Chris Read (who has a one-day international average of 17.64, at a higher strike rate than Nixon).
But disrupting the collective would be counter-productive. In addition, Loye, 34, has a style of batting which may disrupt bowlers. Nixon, 36, is a competitive cricketer of the sort beloved by Fletcher, and a highly vocal team man. His 11 not out in the first final was worth more than the scoreboard suggested. The pair's experience will also be beneficial in a relatively youthful squad.
Added to the XI who contested both finals will be injury victims Vaughan (hamstring), Kevin Pietersen (rib) and Jimmy Anderson (back). All, if fit, can expect to be in the starting line-up, probably at the expense of Loye, Strauss (or possibly Ed Joyce, given Strauss is the year's only ever-present) and Sajid Mahmood respectively. This assumes all are fit, an assumption England erroneously made with regard to several players at the start of the Ashes series. There is provision to replace injured players, even those who carry an injury into the tournament, but changes are disruptive.
This leaves one place to be contested by Jon Lewis, another player who limped out of the Australian series (ankle), Ravi Bopara, who played in the first game of England's current four-match unbeaten run, the spinner Ashley Giles or the young Leicestershire seamer Stuart Broad. The prospect of the veteran seamer Darren Gough being recalled appears to have receded with England's belated success. Selectorial conservatism, and a desire for balance, suggests Lewis will be included.
England's World Cup lead-in: 5 March Warm-up match v Bermuda; 9 March Warm-up match v Australia; 13 March World Cup opens; 16 March England's first match v New Zealand.
Down Under heroes worthy of Caribbean chance
Angus Fraser, cricket correspondent, selects the XV who would make his squad for the World Cup. The 11 players who brought England one-day success in Australia arrived home yesterday confident of leaving for the World Cup on 2 March, and rightly so. England's record in limited-over cricket overseas has been appalling, and four years of supposed planning has been superseded by four highly encouraging performances, but these players deserve the opportunity to carry the nation's hopes in the West Indies.
They will be joined by their captain Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen and James Anderson, and probably Jon Lewis. Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara will miss out, but they are young enough to play in the next two or three tournaments.
Sajid Mahmood and Mal Loye gained most from the victories over Australia and New Zealand, showing the selectors that they could supply the team with tantalising options. The pair will occupy the places Broad and Bopara hoped to make theirs.
Angus Fraser's XV
M P Vaughan (c)
E C Joyce
I R Bell
K P Pietersen
P D Collingwood
J W M Dalrymple
P A Nixon
L E Plunkett
J M Anderson
M S Panesar
A J Strauss
M B Loye
S I Mahmood
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