Strauss insists it is time for England to go on century duty

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The Independent Online

It is batsmen who predominantly win one-day games and Andrew Strauss, in an attempt to improve England's fortunes in this month's NatWest series, has set his players the challenge of scoring a hundred in each of the five scheduled matches against Sri Lanka, the first of which will be played today at Lord's.

England play far less limited-overs cricket than most other international teams but, even so, the names of their star players are noticeably absent from a list of top batsmen. Marcus Trescothick, with 11, has scored more one-day hundreds than any other England player, but his achievements are pale when they are compared to those of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly or Ricky Ponting, who have scored 39, 22 and 20 limited-over tons.

"The ideal gameplan is that one of your batsmen scores a hundred in every game," said Strauss, the England captain. "If we get five hundreds in the series we will win it comfortably, I have no doubt about that. Scoring hundreds is the crucial part of winning one-day games of cricket but it is easier said than done."

The responsibility for scoring hundreds and winning games lies with the top four or five batsmen in a team. It is they who can bat for the bulk of an innings and it is no coincidence that Tendulkar, Ganguly and Trescothick all open the batting in one-day cricket. Trescothick will open at Lord's today but the ankle injury picked up by Ed Joyce during Thursday night's Twenty20 match in Southampton, means that he will have a new partner.

Strauss has opened with Trescothick in the past but England seem to have pencilled in their stand-in captain at No 3. It is a move that could give Ian Bell the chance to push for a regular place in the one-day side.

One of the most worrying aspects of England's one-day cricket since the 2003 World Cup has been the inability of the domestic game to produce top-class batsmen. During this period several batsmen have entered Test cricket and excelled but Strauss is the only player to have come through the county system and made an impression in the shortened form of the game. Kevin Pietersen is obviously a superstar but county cricket only acted as a finishing school for him. Pietersen's game and approach to cricket was formed during his time in South Africa.

Strauss believes that the differing demands of the two games are the principal reasons why English batsmen have struggled to adapt to one-day cricket. "Test cricket is not an easier game but, from a batsman's point of view, it allows you to go out and play your natural game," he said.

"In it you do not have to think too much about altering your natural game. In one-day cricket you have the extra pressure of having to score runs quickly, and this forces you out of your comfort zone. And this explains why inexperienced players find it harder to come in to one-day cricket."

Joyce's ankle injury is not as bad as originally thought. He will be reassessed next week and Bell looks set to be the only change to the side that was defeated by Sri Lanka on Thursday. Tim Bresnan was walloped when he bowled and failed to hit the boundary England required off the final ball of the game, but it would be a trifle harsh to drop him after one 20-over match.

Strauss does not believe England's Test and Twenty20 defeat will have any bearing on the coming 50-over matches. "In Twenty20 cricket the result of the game can be decided by one ball," he said. "So you can't get too carried away by it.

"But the proof will be seen in these first couple of NatWest games. They will show what sort of form we are in and how much further we have to go.

"In our last few away one-day series we have not played to our potential. I thought we played pretty well against Australia last summer, when we came out pretty even, and that just showed that we are capable of beating any side in the world. All we have to do is develop the consistency to do it on a regular basis."

Sri Lanka will welcome back Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas for today's clash. The pair were given an extended rest after the team's Test win in Nottingham and their presence makes Sri Lanka favourites to win the series.

Probable Teams: England AJ Strauss (capt), ME Trescothick, IR Bell, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, JWM Dalrymple, GO Jones, TT Bresnan, LE Plunkett, SI Mahmood, SJ Harmison.

Sri Lanka DPMD Jayawardene (capt), ST Jayasuriya, WU Tharanga, TM Dilshan, KC Sangakkara, RP Arnold, CK Kapugedera, MF Maharoof, WPUJC Vaas, CRD Fernando, M Muralitharan.

* The 35-year-old Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed could play in the Tests against England following injuries to experienced bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved, captain Inzamam-ul-Haq said yesterday. "We are thinking along the lines of balancing the attack by turning to Mushtaq for the Tests," Inzamam said. Mushtaq has not played for Pakistan since October 2003 against South Africa.

Opportunity knocks Three with a chance to impress the selectors

* JAMES DALRYMPLE The Middlesex spinner has made an indifferent start to his international career, conceding 51 runs in nine overs against Ireland and scoring just one in the Twenty20 run chase, but is the type of player England are looking for.

* IAN BELL Ed Joyce's injury has given him an unexpected chance to show that he can score runs in one-day cricket and bid for the second opening spot. He opened in England's last two one-dayers in India, where he scored 46 and 32.

* TIM BRESNAN An injury to Glen Chapple has given the Yorkshire all-rounder the chance to show his credentials but he will need to bowl faster and more accurately than he did in the Twenty20 game if he is to maintain the interest of the selectors.