Vaughan sets out the road to Barbados
Captain hunts for nucleus of a World Cup challenge
The objective in naming the 15 players for five matches against Sri Lanka is what it has been for the past 14 years: to try to fashion, or perhaps simply cobble together, a team who will do well in the next World Cup. Since reaching the final in 1992, England have been lamentable in three consecutive tournaments - the only ones that truly matter in the one-day game - and the evidence amassed so far does not suggest that Michael Vaughan or any other England captain will be hoisting aloft the trophy on a sunny evening in Barbados on 28 April next year.
Vaughan fully intends to lead the team in the Caribbean, but that is of no help to the selectors in their deliberations for the forthcoming series. He and several other viable contenders for places are unavailable because of injury.
The probability is that several players not earmarked to make the Caribbean journey will have to fill in this summer. These include players such as Jonathan Lewis, the Test debutant at Trent Bridge, who was given an oppor-tunity in three matches last summer before being jettisoned.
"I do prefer the red-ball game," said Lewis when asked about his chances of making the one-day squad, thus betraying a potential indifference that may be said to afflict his peers and, who knows, may affect their whole approach. "I must have a chance, a few guys are injured."
Vaughan is well aware of the specific problem. "Somewhere along the line in the next 12 months we need to get a consistent 11 playing together," he said. "But if you look at the last 30 or so one-dayers and Test matches you will see that in Tests we've had around nine players nailed on every single time.
"In one-dayers it's about four, and that's the big difference. The key to a successful team is consistency in playing your role and getting used to each other. Where we did play together on a consistent basis, leading up to the ICC Trophy and Australia last summer, we played pretty well."
England, as always, have not entirely helped themselves. Since the 2003 World Cup, when they were eliminated at the first stage, England have used 33 players, which is coincidentally the same number as Australia. It is possible to wonder if the selectors assumed when they picked the likes of Alex Wharf and Anthony McGrath, worthy county cricketers both, in their late 20s that they would be serious candidates for the 2007 World Cup. Or were they wasted caps? Or are they planning on recalls?
The scheduling of matches is hardly ideal. On tour, the one-dayers tend to come at the end of Test series, when many players are close to being spent and thinking more of home than a crammed, frenetic round of matches. At home, England have now decided on a similar course, which allows less time for the players to weld together.
For instance, this summer they will assemble for five matches against Sri Lanka and five more against Pakistan in August and September. For several summers now there has been a separate part of the season allotted for the short form in which a triangular tournament has been played, allowing a longer period of specific training.
The system has changed mainly because it was becoming increasingly difficult to sell tickets for the matches involving only the tourists and not England. Equally, when Sky had the rights only to one-day matches, they liked the idea of a triangular tournament in mid-season.
England have to make the best of it. They cannot have their cake and eat it, and nor can they complain of playing too much. While it might seem that they are always involved in a one-day match if there is not a Test series going on, it cannot be quite true. Since the 2003 World Cup England have played 63 one-day matches while Australia and India, finalists in South Africa, have played 91 and 84 respectively.
"It is disappointing to have lost so many key players lately and it makes it very difficult," Vaughan said. "New guys are coming in and being given the opportunity, which would be good if there were seven or eight regulars. But there aren't."
Thus there is a familiar selectorial conundrum. The one place likely to be available for a spinner seems destined to occupy much scratching of heads, if only in discovering the existence of one.
In the absence of Ashley Giles and Ian Blackwell, who has an injured shoulder, the nod will probably go to the Warwickshire all-rounder Alex Loudon. It is almost like the old days when Test teams were announced, when nobody had a clue what the selectors would decree.
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