West Indies 272-4 England 276-7: Fletcher's flawed logic hinders one-day progress
Monday 30 October 2006
England's last-gasp win in a Champions Trophy match of little consequence should be treated as precisely that: a last-gasp win of little consequence. A speck on the heaving global mass of one-day cricket. But, if you really insist, an indication that all is not lost for the World Cup and also an uplifting win before the real business of the winter, the Ashes, (Brisbane, 23 November, lest you forget).
Had the Barmy Army been present - the good folk of Jaipur and Ahmedabad have been spared their good-natured but tuneless presence - they would undoubtedly have broken into something along the lines of "There'll Always Be an England".
So there might, but not necessarily one containing the likes of Michael Yardy. Poor Yardy is but the latest in a long line of sound county cricketers who will probably be ditched by England. When the coach, Duncan Fletcher, talks of an inexperienced team, and on some days he talks of little else, he is partly right.
Selectors are paid to make tough decisions but it is pushing it to claim that players are inexperienced when judgements have previously been made on others before they have gained the experience. You could call it catch-22 but it takes a lot of one-dayers to take 22 catches.
Yardy, like some of those who preceded him, has made the absolute best of his ability in county cricket but that does not make him an international. It would have been positively heartening had he played a significant part in England's three-wicket victory against West Indies in a competition from which they had already been eliminated after losing their first two matches.
But the vital bit was done by Kevin Pietersen. Without his 90 not out from 86 balls following the dazzling but curtailed start by Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell, there would not have been a sniff of overtaking West Indies' total of 272, which was positively gargantuan for this tournament.
"We're going to be inconsistent until we get a side together that plays together for a long time and gets a lot of games under their belt," said Fletcher. "It's been the same for the last five years when you bring in good young guys and I've repeated it over and over again."
The inconsistency in that remark is on a par with England's performances. If you keep bringing in young guys, you reap what you sow. England have a strategy to start building a one-day side for the next World Cup immediately after the one preceding it. Yet with five months to go until the ninth competition, five of the team that played on Saturday have played fewer than 30 one-dayers, generally considered the benchmark in passing from novice. Only four have played more than 50 times, obviously enough to make a mother proud, but laughable compared with other countries.
"We feel these young guys can do a better job and they're proving it," said Fletcher. "Jamie Dalrymple's bowling was again very good and it was good to see Ian Bell opening the batting showing his class. It was also good to see KP finding form."
KP's innings (Kevin Pietersen, that is) was important for more than winning the match. There had been the suspicion that he was not quite the one-day player he had been, becoming impatient, desperate. "He played like he can," said Fletcher.
But if Pietersen's match-winning was welcome, Andrew Flintoff's five overs were manna from heaven. He reached 87.1 mph and could have bowled more. Fletcher tried his best to avoid purring. Having omitted Stephen Harmison - rightly, but a big call four weeks before the Ashes - he needed that.
"We can get the extra 10 per cent out of Flintoff in the two-week build-up in Australia. Harmison is fit and will need lots of overs in the two warm-up matches. I am confident they will be ready for the Test match." What Test match is that, then?
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