Strauss sets tone for new England

Wales 222-8 England 225-4
(England win by 6 wkts)

For some reason, it is generally assumed that England are hopeless at one-day cricket. This may be connected to the fact that at the last six major competitions - three World Cups, three Champions Trophies - they have barely made it through customs before being eliminated.

For some reason, it is generally assumed that England are hopeless at one-day cricket. This may be connected to the fact that at the last six major competitions - three World Cups, three Champions Trophies - they have barely made it through customs before being eliminated.

True, this did not quite apply when the World Cup was held in this country in 1999, but then the feeling was that they need not have bothered leaving their sitting rooms. The ICC Champions Trophy is being held here this September, and all England would like is to avoid continuing this abysmal sequence.

The latest plan - and therefore the latest team - to rectify matters begins in earnest this week with the NatWest Series. There are plenty of reasons to suggest that England will do well. Between the big competitions they often have. As Michael Vaughan, the captain, said yesterday: "I keep hearing that we are struggling at one-day cricket but we have had our hands on four out of five trophies since I took over and that is not a bad start."

That figure became six after a fashion yesterday when England beat Wales in their traditional warm-up match. It was not quite at the gallop but with more than 10 overs to spare it entered the realms of canter. The tradition is now sadly finished: it seems that envious English counties were no longer prepared to countenance England making an annual appearance in Cardiff.

Andrew Strauss saw England home. He was dropped three times on his way to 92 not out but played handsome strokes all round the wicket. The man-of-the-match award went, perhaps debatably, to Robert Key for a bright and assured 83. He was stoic after England lost two early wickets, then comfortably eased himself into his innings.

What a start Key has had to the season: six centuries in 13 first-class innings and now this. The last time he played for England, against South Africa at The Oval a year ago, he was out first ball, but he is one of those batsmen that selectors tend always to have an eye on - good feet, good hands, time to play.

Key, who took 95 balls over his innings yesterday after a watchful start, will start off as the spare batsman in the series but he has earned this renewed opportunity.

He is also one of several England players who could perhaps help with inquiries into the mystery of who ate all the pies. There are several lads in this squad who would merit being described as big-boned, and since fleetness of foot is not an asset but a necessity in one-day fielding, this may hinder England.

A year ago, they deliberately picked players who were outstanding fielders. In going for Key, Anthony McGrath and Ian Blackwell - not to mention the burly figures of Marcus Trescothick and Darren Gough - they might be taking a risk. Vaughan was canny in his reply, neither conceding the point nor denying it.

"People say we're not athletic in the field, but while we are constantly working on all aspects of our game to improve them, we have had our hands on trophies and you don't do that if you can't field. There is always room for improvement but there is a lot of energy out there."

It will be intriguing to compare this new England in the field to their NatWest Series opponents, New Zealand and West Indies. The result may not be altogether pleasant.

West Indies lost to Ireland last week, failing to defend a total of nearly 300. If this was a damning result typical of a mercurial team, perhaps not too much should be read into it. They have batsmen - and athletic fielders - who can take a game by its scruff.

New Zealand are invariably combative but they have some serious regrouping to do after their Test series loss. England should go through to the final at Lord's next month and are favourites to win. They will also gain more invaluable experience before full houses.

Vaughan said: "It is frustrating that the weather in the West Indies restricted the amount of cricket played by some of our guys, but we see this as the next step in a process of building up to the 2007 World Cup and a good chance to see how we are progressing." 'Twas ever thus, of course. Past evidence suggests that the NatWest Series is not necessarily a reliable guide.

Vaughan could do with some runs himself. He confirmed that he will open the innings after putting himself up the one-day order in the Caribbean. He could hardly do otherwise after such a recent elevation, but it is still confusing. He batted down the one-day order for long enough despite the fact that he was one of the best Test openers in the world. Now he has put himself down the Test order to No 4. Can it be long before he reverts to No 4 in the shorter form?

He did not play yesterday, along with Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison, both of whom desperately needed a rest. This gave an opportunity not only to give Key a game but also the new fast bowler Sajid Mahmood. He went for 20 off his first two overs and was immediately removed, but he looks impressive. He has a smooth run-up and an economical action that looks capable of exerting bounce.

The Welsh, naturally with nine Glamorgan players, provided no real match, although Glamorgan are fully worth the top position in the National League. Fortunately for England, three of the catches that were taken fell to Strauss and Paul Collingwood, their two exceptional fielders. Exceptional catches they were.

Michael Powell, who was close to being selected for the NatWest Series squad, made a crisply brutal 49 and David Hemp scored 52 before he became Sajid's first wicket for England. A total of 222 was never likely to be enough to trouble England. Trescothick, the stand-in captain, went early and was followed by Geraint Jones, who came in at No 3. If this was to prove the selectors' point that he can bat anywhere, he partially proved it with five blazing boundaries. Key and Strauss put on 138 to end it as a contest. England look in solid shape - in every sense.

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Thu 24 June

England v New Zealand

(d/n, Old Trafford)

Sat 26 June

New Zealand v West Indies

(Edgbaston)

Sun 27 June

England v West Indies

(Trent Bridge)

Tue 29 June

England v New Zealand

(d/n, Durham)

Thu 1 July

England v West Indies

(d/n, Headingley)

Sat 3 July

New Zealand v West Indies

(Cardiff)

Sun 4 July

England v New Zealand

(Bristol)

Tue 6 July

England v West Indies

Lord's

Thu 8 July

New Zealand v West Indies

(Rose Bowl)

Sat 10 July

Final (Lord's)

(reserve day, Sun 11 July)

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