No rest for England as walking wounded hurry to prove their World Cup fitness
Tuesday 15 February 2011
One week ago, England were flying home from Perth after a three-month tour of Australia. Tomorrow, they take on Canada in a World Cup warm-up match at the Bangladeshi venue of Fatullah. Not much chance, then, of letting the grass grow beneath their feet, never mind having a breather.
Indeed, Andrew Strauss knows his team must hit the ground running when it comes to a competition England have never won – despite nine previous attempts stretching back nearly 36 years – nor looked even remotely capable of winning since 1992.
Their first "proper" game of this World Cup will be played a week today, in the Indian city of Nagpur, against the Netherlands. But while that contest should not be too testing (in theory, at least), there is much to be said for Strauss's men finding some decent form as soon as possible.
For a start, there is the small matter of a 6-1 thrashing in Australia to put behind them. It is all very well saying England are a lot better than they looked during the recent one-day series but it would be nice see some evidence in support of that statement before too long.
Secondly, a clutch of recently injured players need to convince everyone, as soon as possible, they are back to full fitness and then shake off any rust. For Tim Bresnan (calf), Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring) and Graeme Swann (back), that opportunity will not come until Friday's second warm-up game, against Pakistan, at the earliest, but Paul Collingwood (back) may be able to play at least some part in tomorrow's fixture.
And thirdly, England need to settle on a strategy to use on what will be slow and most probably turning pitches in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka – the countries co-hosting the World Cup. Then they need to work on strategy.
If Australia's pre-tournament game with India a couple of days ago is anything to go by, spinners will play a crucial role over the next six weeks. The holders were set a modest target and were cruising towards it until India's battery of twirlymen tied them in knots. That match, England will have noted, was played at Bangalore – venue for their group games against India and Ireland.
Swann, given permission to delay his departure until after his wife had given birth, will be vital to England's chances in this competition. But the same is likely to be true of Michael Yardy and quite possibly James Tredwell, the other main spinners in the squad, and both will hope for a decent bowl tomorrow.
Canada have already played a game, failing to trouble Bangladesh last Saturday after being bowled out for 112. They should not bother anyone too much in this tournament but England need to be clinical, even in a friendly. That was not the case when the two countries last met, England labouring to a 51-run victory during the 2007 World Cup. But then World Cups do have a nasty habit of bringing the worst out of the English.
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