Swann's struggling to stop England sinking to new low

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The Independent Online

There are 13 one-day internationals in England next summer. It is understood that queues will not be forming around the block to attend, though it might get interesting if England lose the first 12.

The reason for the probable reluctance – though it should be remembered that a year is a lifetime in sport – is that England are increasingly hopeless at one-day cricket. Their performances against a crisply efficient Australian side in the unnecessarily long NatWest Series started ineptly and have become worse.

England should have won the first two matches but, after failing to chase attainable targets, may as well not have bothered turning up since then. Their batting especially has been miserable in the face of disciplined bowling and when they did manage to score 299, Australia knocked them off as though they had promised not to be late for dinner.

Today, the series finally ends and England face the unenviable prospect of becoming the first side to lose a one-day series 7-0 – or indeed 0-7, to put it in its correct, still more grotesque form.

There have been only 16 previous seven-match series between two countries. Four of them ended in 6-1 margins but the winning side did not win the first six matches.

Graeme Swann, who was recalled to the side on Thursday night, when it became 0-6, said yesterday that the team had not talked of the prospective whitewash. "It is not a fault in the way we approach one-day cricket," he said from the nets where Luke Wright was passed fit to play. "It is pretty obvious to anyone who is watching that we are not making enough runs. Having said that, we made 300 on Tuesday and they chased it down. We are not playing good one-day cricket and we haven't done that for a few years."

The reasons are deep-rooted. England do not take one-day cricket seriously enough and they have not played enough of it, which seems odd considering that this bash has gone on and on. They are beginning to catch up. Since the start of their series against South Africa late last summer, they have played 24 matches, six fewer than Australia in that period but only one fewer than India and many more than South Africa, who have been resting for the Champions Trophy at home after a hectic schedule, and Pakistan.

More for the moment is necessary but this series has been poorly timed and England have been forced to rest players weary at the end of a long summer. They have desperately missed Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, which is entirely understandable, but it is hugely disappointing and a reflection on the standards of the English professional that they have not come close to replacing them. Nobody has stood up to be counted.

All players are culpable but the batting has been clueless. In six matches they have managed no hundreds and only four fifties compared to Australia's three hundreds and eight fifties. In that sequence since last August England have scored fewer centuries than all but South Africa and Zimbabwe who managed far more fifties.

That England freeze, there is no doubt. That they also cannot find a strategy appropriate to the occasion also seems pretty clear, that they keep messing around with their batting order is there in the scorecards. That they may simply over a period of time not be up to it is also becoming difficult to argue with.

England have played insipidly this past fortnight. For them to avoid making the wrong kind of history today somebody may have to score a hundred and plenty more. It really is time.