Plunkett goes the distance for England chance

Click to follow
The Independent Online

To join the England team, Liam Plunkett took four flights covering 15,000 miles lasting 30 hours. He left a gym in St Kitts, bought some magazines in Miami, booked briefly into a hotel in London, took some sleeping pills in Singapore and pitched up in Perth.

If he fails to make the XI for the final one-day international against Australia on Sunday it will have been one of the least worthwhile journeys of modern times. It would demonstrate several things: that England leave nothing to chance when selecting teams, have a strict pecking order, and that the England & Wales Cricket Board is not frightened of meeting that cost.

The seventh match of the Commonwealth Bank series is rapidly assuming the status of an international in name only. It is not simply that Australia are 5-1 ahead and demonstrating the utter paucity of dead matches, but also that both sides are denuded of their World Cup players.

At the last count England are without five of their squad members for the most important one-day competition of all, which starts in a fortnight, plus their apparent first reserve. To the list of Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Ajmal Shahzad and Chris Tremlett was added yesterday Paul Collingwood, who flies home today after suffering a back spasm in the sixth ODI in Sydney on Wednesday.

In addition, they appear reluctant to allow two other members, Luke Wright and James Tredwell, a sight of the middle unless they are performing substitute fielding duties or carrying drinks. Australia have six World Cup players either unfit or now officially rested, including Ricky Ponting, and Michael Clarke. Given all these circumstances, it might have been difficult to market the match at the Waca on Sunday, which is a sell-out.

In the case of Plunkett's being in the starting XI, England are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Collingwood's injury broadens his opportunity. If he plays ahead of Wright, the all-rounder who bowls fast and is off to the World Cup, it makes a nonsense of Wright's selection. If Plunkett does not play it makes a nonsense of his long journey, since he is returning to St Kitts on Monday to be reunited with England Lions, who are playing in the West Indies' four-day competition.

Plunkett has bowled two overs for England since his young star was briefly in the ascendant between 2006 and 2007, in a Chittagong one-dayer last winter. The long and possibly fruitless journey did not appear to have fazed him. "I feel I've gone well this winter with the Lions," he said. "Yes, it was a long journey, but I didn't think about that because it means playing for England. You think: 'I want to be there.' I watched a few movies – more than a few movies – and I was here. If you work hard, you can get the nod."

But it need not have been like that for Plunkett. When he was plucked from the bowling production line of Durham, for England's tour of Pakistan in the winter 2005-06, he was an immediate hit and Michael Vaughan, then captain, said it looked as though they had found one in Plunkett.

Not long after, his action appeared to falter. There were million-dollar balls, like the brute of a yorker which bowled Adam Gilchrist first ball in Sydney early in 2007, but there has been plenty of low-rent stuff too. Plunkett has remained dauntless.

As for the in-flight movies, he watched Denzel Washington's Unstoppable twice. If it inspires him Australia ought to worry about 5-2 on Sunday.