One-day whitewash looms for Windies

England on brink of series win as tour nobody wanted comes to low-key end

For England to lose in Birmingham today it would probably require them not to turn up. So mediocre have the West Indies been in approach and execution, so lacking in either gumption or spirit, so cavalier in their obligations to a magnificent past that it is difficult to see how they might draw level in the NatWest Series.

Since it is a one-day match, the presumption usually has to be that anybody can win on their day. One wonderful innings or one inspired piece of bowling could, both in theory and practice, turn a match. But these tourists appear to have forgotten the theory and are incapable of the practice.

John Dyson, their coach, has not entirely given up. "We've been disappointed with the results," he said. "We have shown that under conditions different from the Caribbean the guys and their techniques struggle a little bit. We can play better cricket, we've shown that in the last 18 months, and we'd like to prove it."

Although Dyson must be aware that it has gone beyond technique to the soul of the team, he is in regular discussions with the West Indies Cricket Board about pitches in the Caribbean.

"Some of the wickets in the West Indies give no bowler any help at all," he said. "Great if you're a batsman, but not good for the development of players, and particularly not good when you move overseas and encounter wickets that aren't like that."

Nothing (or not much) should be taken away from England, however, who are beating what is in front of them. They had optional practice yesterday and good-boy nets have not often been in England's pre-match routine lately.

As the fast bowler Stuart Broad, who took four wickets in the six-wicket win at Bristol on Sunday, said: "Normally we get two prep days. But we had a game of football, then a get-together to talk through what happened yesterday. The football's a bit of banter, a good chance to have a fitness sweat-out, but the point of the day was the half-hour chat we had in the changing room about where we're going with the cricket."

Winning becomes a habit and, when the opposition have been as plainly disinterested as the West Indies, the habit is fed. Heartening though England's performances have been, the feeling is comfortably matched by the sadness which comes naturally when the West Indies fail. Perhaps the glumness has been magnified because when they won the Test series and narrowly lost the one-day series against England at home they looked to have rediscovered their zeal. And now this. Everything so far suggests that this tour should never have been organised.

England will almost certainly retain the team that won at a canter on Sunday with 14 overs to spare. If they win it will be their third successive one-day victory, a run they last achieved, well, last year actually. It seems longer. Whatever happens, the tour will be put out of its misery.

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