Pietersen's head on block as England bid to rule world

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The Independent Online

Can England win the World Cup?

After fitful one-day progress in Australia, England can triumph in India but they probably won't. No one should underestimate the task before them of sustaining the necessary tone of cricket on the subcontinent for six weeks.

England's fortunes have varied considerably in the two World Cups to be held in Asia. In 1996 they were woefully prepared, fortunate to reach the quarter-finals, where they were outclassed by the unsung Sri Lanka. But a decade earlier, they had defied the odds, defeated India in the semi-finals and then lost excruciatingly to Australia in the final.

Both those tournaments lasted barely a month; this time the sides must be there for almost two if they are to reach the final. Given the brutal itineraries (England must take three flights from Chennai for a match in Chittagong) something is bound to go wrong. But the coach, Andy Flower, and captain, Andrew Strauss, have thought long and hard about what might be needed to prevail. England's bowling is their trump card, because the smartness their top four bowlers bring to their work is unmatched.

Hasn't the batting looked flaky lately?

It has. For most of the Ashes it could do no wrong, but since then it has been fragile and weary. As Kevin Pietersen said yesterday, there was bound to be a hangover. He did not sound concerned, as though they were planning to peak in India.

Pietersen's form has dipped but he said he felt he is batting as well as ever, almost too well. Sooner or later, England have to decide which of their batsmen to jettison. There is not room for them all. Pietersen suddenly becomes as vulnerable as the next man, who is probably Ian Bell. Neitherhas scored the runs he might have done in the one-dayers in Australia, both have been dismissed softly. Form cannot be turned on and off like a tap.

With the selectors seemingly adamant that Strauss and Matt Prior will open (their obstinacy knows no bounds) and Jonathan Trott beginning to look a fixture at No 3, options are suddenly limited.

Trott does not seem to possess many obvious qualities as a one-day batsman, but nor is he easily removed. Pietersen, Bell and Eoin Morgan should be the delectable fulcrum of England's batting. If one of them is omitted to include Collingwood it might seem unfair, but it might be the only way.

What will be the balance of the bowling attack?

For it to work, it is imperative that Graeme Swann is back to full fitness. The last thing England want is for his next game to be their second in the tournament, against India (at a venue yet to be finalised after Eden Gardens was rejected last week by the ICC).

Swann is in England at present recovering from knee and back injuries that forced him out of the ODI series in Australia. His wife is expecting their first child before the World Cup and only after the baby is born will Swann join his colleagues.

He is notoriously slow out of the blocks so England are keen for him to play at least the first match of the competition proper, against the Netherlands. Swann is crucial because he can take wickets, not merely contain, in the middle overs.

The trio of Jimmy Anderson, StuartBroad and Tim Bresnan will do most of the donkey work in the power-play overs and their accuracy and reverse-swing abilities will also be vital. England's other weapon is their strength in depth – Ajmal Shahzad looks the part and if Bresnan's calf does not recover in time then Chris Tremlett is ready and waiting.

The essential element is Swann, and the likelihood of Mike Yardy and James Tredwell being the side's spinners would not augur well. That, however, is not the only worry.

England might have Bresnan, Broad and Swann as bowling all-rounders but they need a batting all-rounder in addition to ensure they have six bowlers. Trott cannot fill this role, Luke Wright is not quite skilful enough in either discipline and that makes Paul Collingwood invaluable. But Collingwood's batting is either at a crossroads or it has hit the buffers. It looks as though they have no choice but to pick him and hope.

How important will the fielding be?

Of all the triumphs enjoyed recentlyby England, the winning of the World Twenty20 was the least sung. But it was a wonderful victory which on reflection deserved far greater plaudits than it received.

One of the key elements was the precise, aggressive fielding. Runs were saved almost every other ball in a fashion that suffocated opponents, and that will be vital. The catching in all positions is also slick, and noticeably so. India or Sri Lanka should win this tournament but they would be advised not to leave any doors ajar. Although England have played some pretty ordinary cricket during this past three weeks, they are more than capable of bursting through.

But won't they be tired?

Yes, they will, and three days of rest between the Australian tour and embarkation for the subcontinent is daft. They must use any rest wisely. Weariness could be what does for them in the end and it makes a nonsense of any subsequent involvement in the Indian Premier League, which follows immediately.