More than one piece missing in Fletcher's World Cup puzzle
Friday 31 March 2006
With the World Cup less than 12 months away, each team will be looking to reduce the number of players they use, in order to finalise their tactics. England's planning has not been helped by the injuries and personal problems which have prevented five of their leading figures from playing in the current series in India.
If each member of the 16-man one-day squad here plays at least one game, England will have used 25 players in 22 games by the end of this tour. Yet despite a high turnover Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, still feels there is only one place up for grabs. "We have a very good idea of what our strongest side is," he said on the eve of this morning's second one-dayer against India in Faridabad. "If everybody is fit and ready to go, there is probably only one position we would look at over the coming weeks."
Fletcher, typically, refused to divulge the position he has yet to fill, and it would be encouraging for England supporters if it were blatantly obvious which it was. But it is not. There are several areas where the England one-day team look vulnerable, and it starts with the openers.
Marcus Trescothick, if he sorts out the personal issues that forced him to withdraw from the tour, will be welcomed back and will open the batting. But with whom? Matthew Prior opened with Trescothick in Pakistan before Christmas when England believed they needed a pinch-hitter at the top of the order. In Trescothick's absence he opened with Andrew Strauss in Delhi on Tuesday. But the pair are yet to fill fans with hope. In six games this winter Prior has averaged under 20 and in his last 10 innings Strauss has scored 233 runs.
Moving on to Michael Vaughan, nobody can be sure how his right knee will react when he returns during the summer. Vaughan is desperate to captain England to the 2007 World Cup, but if his knee specialist advises him not to play both forms of the game he will have to retire from one-day cricket.
Vaughan is a wonderful batsman and a great captain, but he has not conquered the limited-over game. In 74 matches he has yet to hit a hundred and he scored 142 runs in his last 10 one-day innings. But if he is fit, he will bat in the top three.
Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood are all certain to play, but there are still questions being asked about Geraint Jones. In their last six one-dayers England have played two wicketkeepers, Jones and Prior - a strange policy. Both are capable batsmen, but are they more likely to score a hundred than specialist batsmen such as Owais Shah, Ian Bell or Vikram Solanki? Only one of Prior or Jones should play.
The position that Fletcher is talking about is for the fourth seamer and No 9 batsman. Liam Plunkett, Kabir Ali, Sajid Mahmood, Simon Jones and Chris Tremlett will all be considered over the coming months. But, despite Fletcher's claim, there are several other issues that need to be sorted out, too.
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