Selectors unconvinced by Flintoff's leadership

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff may have steered England to their first overseas one-day trophy in a decade, but he appears not to have convinced the selectors he is the man to lead England into the World Cup should Michael Vaughan be absent.

Vaughan was yesterday named captain of a 15-man squad notable for the inclusion of Ravi Bopara, the 21-year-old Essex all-rounder, ahead of Lancashire opener Mal Loye. But Vaughan's participation in the tournament, which begins next month, is dependent on his injured hamstring being passed fit.

Should he be unavailable, Flintoff would seem the obvious replacement having captained England to their unexpected Commonwealth Bank finals win against Australia last week.

However, David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, intimated the preferred option was for Flintoff to step aside. "Let's be honest," said Graveney after announcing the squad at the Oval yesterday. "We lost 5-0 in the Test series and five of our first six one-day internationals. Andrew Flintoff deputised for Michael Vaughan in that period of time.

"It's only right and appropriate that he has time with his family. Then I'll sit down and have an honest chat about how it went in the winter.

"There is a process we go through. Any captain other than Michael Vaughan has to be signed off by the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board]. I am respecting Andrew's privacy and will have a good conversation [with him] about the whole winter after that."

It was rumoured that the selectors wished Flintoff to step down during the winter after Vaughan, having regained the captaincy for the one-day series, was injured again. Flintoff insisted then he wanted to remain as skipper. Having since won a trophy it is hard to imagine he will feel differently now, unless Graveney offers Flintoff the blunt choice of stepping aside, or being overlooked.

But if not Flintoff, then who? Paul Collingwood is an option but the probable choice is Andrew Strauss. He had a poor Ashes tour with the bat but led England well when both Flintoff and Vaughan were injured last summer. The caveat is that Strauss is the player most likely to make way for Kevin Pietersen, whose rib injury is healed.

However, if Vaughan is absent, Strauss could return to opening the innings. While this gives England a rather prosaic top three, unless Pietersen can be persuaded to move up the order, it would further explain the decision to omit Loye, who only played in Australia as Vaughan's understudy. The 34-year-old scored 45 in the second final but only made 142 runs at 20.28 overall.

After Bopara won his sole cap as the 36th player used in the calendar year, Graveney denied his inclusion was an indictment of selection policy, or reflected a chaotic build-up. He preferred to draw a comparison to Geoff Hurst's late run in 1966. This was something of a stretch but Bopara is not a bad choice. His all-round ability may come in handy and he will gain experience whether he plays or not.

Bopara was due to fly to Bangladesh with England A yesterday but had postponed his departure for personal reasons before the World Cup squad was announced. Five of the players who did travel to Bangladesh will be on stand-by (Stuart Broad, Amjad Khan, Graham Onions, Matt Prior and the captain, Michael Yardy) along with the rejected players from the Commonwealth Bank squad (Loye, Chris Read and Chris Tremlett).

All will be keeping an ear on the progress of Vaughan, Jon Lewis and James Anderson, each of whom have yet to convince medical staff they will be fit for the seven-week tournament. Graveney said: "They will continue to undergo intensive treatment over the next fortnight and their rehabilitation will be monitored and assessed right up until the time they leave."

The flexible replacement rules mean they could each travel, with the final decisions being taken nearer the start of the second phase of the tournament, which for England will not be before 29 March.

Paul Nixon is the only wicketkeeper included. While Read would replace the 36-year-old in the event of a serious injury, Ed Joyce, or possibly Strauss, will provide short-term cover.

After reaching the final in the 1979, 1987 and 1992 competitions, England have struggled in the last three World Cups, winning three of 11 matches against Test nations despite hosting in 1997. "In the light of previous tournaments," said Graveney with some understatement, "it is very important to have a strong showing."

He added: "The challenge facing the team now is to build on those performances Down Under and peak at the right time in the Caribbean."

World beater Bopara can be our Hurst, says Graveney

If David Graveney's analogy is correct, Ravi Bopara will achieve a hat-trick in the World Cup final. Which perhaps underlines the invidious nature of comparing the 21-year-old all-rounder's eve-of-finals emergence with that of Geoff Hurst in 1966.

Bopara has promise and talent, but he is not as seasoned as Hurst, who had won five caps prior to the finals, was 24 years old, and had seven seasons as a professional behind him. Bopara does, though, appear to have something of the footballer's temperament.

"Ravi is a big-match player," said Graveney. "In the match he played in Australia he was not inhibited and he epitomised the spirit of the young players."

In that match, the victory over Australia in Sydney which marked the start of England's four-match unbeaten run, Bopara made seven not out and took the important wicket of Michael Hussey.

Bopara, who is nicknamed "Puppy", made his Essex debut at 17. He is a top-order batsman and useful medium-pace bowler. Graveney added: "He is a multi-dimensional cricketer whose all-round talents will help give the squad a better balance."

Bopara also has one other link to Hurst. The footballer also played county cricket for Essex.

Caribbean bound: England's squad for the World Cup

Michael Vaughan (capt, age 32)

Hardly the safest choice, given his knee problems over the last 15 months. But if he's fit there is no doubt he is the man to lead England.

Andrew Flintoff (age 29)

So often England's inspiration and unquestionably the premier all-rounder in world cricket. Handy recent scores suggest his occasionally irresistible batting may be on the way back too.

Andrew Strauss (age 29)

Has adapted his game to one-day cricket and he has been relied on heavily for runs and stability. But he needs some consistent scores under his belt soon.

Kevin Pietersen (age 26)

Averages well above 50 in one-day internationals and is arguably the most dangerous batsman on the planet when in form. Remains one of England's few match-winners.

Paul Collingwood (age 30)

A revelation in the final stages of the one-day series. Canny batting is complemented by athleticism in the field. Also the unlikely holder of England's best ODI figures of 6 for 31.

Ed Joyce (age 28)

It was the Irishman who kick-started England's unlikely revival Down Under with a hundred in Sydney.

Ian Bell (age 24)

Bell's accumulative style does not make him an obvious one-day option, but he has the game to complement the likes of Pietersen.

Ravinder Bopara (age 21)

Essex all-rounder is very much in the mould of Collingwood in that he is a batsman who bowls decent medium pace. Can chip in with important wickets.

Jamie Dalrymple (age 26)

An athlete in the field, Dalrymple did enough in Australia to stay in the frame with his resourceful middle-order batting and off-spin.

Jon Lewis (age 31)

Perceived cricket wisdom is that Lewis, archetypal English-conditions seam and swing man, may also be effective in the Caribbean.

James Anderson (age 24)

Anderson will be a key component if fit. At his best, he bowls with good pace, can swing both new and old ball and offers control at both ends of the innings.

Paul Nixon (age 36)

Usurped Chris Read and made the most of his unexpected chance. Renowned as an energetic contributor and the veteran keeper's influence on morale has already been beneficial.

Liam Plunkett (age 21)

Along with Collingwood and Nixon, Plunkett was perhaps the biggest winner in the Commonwealth Bank Series. Haspacy new-ball swing but he remains prone to inconsistency.

Monty Panesar (age 24)

His left-arm spin is tight and testing enough to make him a good one-day pick, with an economy rate of just above four an over in his limited-overs career so far.

Sajid Mahmood (age 25)

Mahmood is still anything but a banker bet in tight situations but the Lancashire fast bowler has done enough to convince the selectors he is worth a punt.

England's path to the final

Group C (St Lucia)

16 March England v New Zealand

18 March Canada v England

24 March England v Kenya

(all matches start 13.30 GMT)

27 March - 21 April: Super Eight series (14.30 BST)

24 April First semi-final (Jamaica, 15.45 BST)

25 April Second semi-final (St Lucia, 14.45 BST)

28 April Final (Barbados, 14.45 BST)