Jacks of all trades must be masters

Stephen Brenkley says England's all-rounders hold key to success
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The Independent Online

There is nothing like a one-day match for high drama. Well, nothing, that is, except a Test (name the one-dayer in which 21 wickets have fallen in a day - no, thought not), and if everybody has recovered sufficiently, England's first fully-fledged triangular tournament, which begins on Thursday, should provide its fair share of thrills and spills.

There is nothing like a one-day match for high drama. Well, nothing, that is, except a Test (name the one-dayer in which 21 wickets have fallen in a day - no, thought not), and if everybody has recovered sufficiently, England's first fully-fledged triangular tournament, which begins on Thursday, should provide its fair share of thrills and spills.

It is unfortunate that it is interrupting a dramatic Test series between England and West Indies, but it would not do to be too sniffy. One-dayers pay the rent, the wages and in some cases, unfortunately, the bookmakers. None of the three sides involved in the NatWest Series - England, West Indies, Zimbabwe - have been seriously implicated in the match-rigging scandal, but that will not prevent sharp eyes being trained on everything that happens up to and including the final at Lord's on 22 July.

The teams will play each other three times in the group stage and the top two will go through. England are not among the best three one-day sides in the world, and are probably still in the bottom three. They can, however, win this inaugural competition with their peculiarly balanced squad, which is a hybrid, part ditheringly trying to look to the future, part hesitantly trying to win the matches at hand.

The party of 14 selected reflects the policy of the coach, Duncan Fletcher. He spent the latter part of the winter, his first in charge, emphasising the importance of all-rounders. There are four of the one-day variety, though they have not always looked like it internationally: Andrew Flintoff, Craig White, Mark Ealham and Paul Franks.

There are doubts about Flintoff, who has suffered a recurrence of a long-standing and worrying back injury. It is of increasing concern that bowling debilitates him. If it is, as has been suggested, an over-use injury, there is no reason to suppose it will go quietly.

The recall to one-day colours of Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe obviously strengthens the side. They are aggressive, they know how to get their runs and where. Nick Knight at the top of the order may not be quite indispensable, but he is a huge asset.

Whatever the captain, Nasser Hussain, says - and he is rightly unequivocal about his right to be in the side - there are still doubts about his strengths as a one-day batsman. He agrees he has to open because of limitations, not least in his sheer weight of shot, but Stewart and Knight might be more suited to that job. Still, Hussain it is, and since he came belatedly into the World Cup (replacing the injured Michael Atherton in the squad and then Knight in the side) he has not let them down.

On English pitches, even in July, the attack should profit. The front-three bowlers can be a handful and one of them, Darren Gough, seems actually to prefer the instant, constant pressure of one-day cricket.

England may eventually prove to be foolhardy in going down this road, in failing to bring on enough young players, of whom the wicketkeeper-batsman Chris Read springs readily to mind. But they can atone partially for that by trying to ensure Vikram Solanki actually gets a game or two. At least,they appear to have some sort of game plan.

It is difficult to be sure of the challenge likely to be provided. West Indies have been fairly wretched at the short game of late, and England at last appeared to get the measure of Zimbabwe last winter. West Indies will miss Curtly Ambrose, but they are a reunited side.

The Zimbabweans meanwhile have become accustomed to English pitches, they are a team in the true sense and it would be folly to take them lightly. But if England's batting and fielding hold up - no certainty with so many apparently key players over 30 - they can take the first new NatWest Trophy.

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