• Vaughan, Pietersen and Anderson are trying to get fit
  • England failed to advance from the first round in 2003

    LONDON: England won an overseas one-day cricket title after a long time last month and is out to make the World Cup its second.

    For a country that is only seventh in the ICC one-day rankings that may sound too ambitious especially as four of its 15-man squad are carrying injuries.

    Last month's morale-boosting tri-nations series victory against Australia and New Zealand suggested a team which had slipped to eighth in the one-day standings could challenge favourites Australia and South Africa at the 16-nation tournament.

    Coach Duncan Fletcher will again lead the team after his position in doubt after England lost the Ashes 5-0 in January was made safe by the tri-nations win and he has largely stuck with the players who secured that success.

    But captain Michael Vaughan, star batsman Kevin Pietersen and bowlers James Anderson and Jon Lewis are trying to get fit for the start of the tournament and a first-round group in St. Lucia featuring New Zealand, Kenya and Canada. While Pietersen seems to have recovered from a rib injury and Anderson and Lewis are likely to be fine for England's March 16 opener against New Zealand, it is not clear whether Vaughan will make it.

    Vaughan, who was out of action for a year after knee surgery and has recently been sidelined with a hamstring problem, has warm-up matches against Bermuda on Monday and Australia on March 9 to prove his fitness.

    Getting better

    But he had played just three of the 10 one-day matches in the tri-series and missed the two finals victories over Australia.

    ``It's got better and better, but until I've played a game and come off feeling fine I don't want to start singing and shouting too soon,'' Vaughan told reporters on Thursday.

    England failed to advance from the first round at the last tournament in 2003 after boycotting a game against Zimbabwe in Harare because of safety concerns.

    That led to Nasser Hussain's resignation as one-day captain and the appointment of Vaughan.

    While Vaughan averages just under 28 an innings in one-day internationals, his leadership, tactics and man-management are crucial to England's attempt to at least match its three appearances in finals in 1979, '87 and '92.

    Putting it right

    ``Since '92 England haven't really shown up at the World Cup,'' Vaughan said. ``My one-day record isn't as good as my Test record so I'd like to put that right and I don't think there's a better place to put it right than at the World Cup.''

    England has risen to second in the Test rankings during Vaughan's four years in charge, although its one-day form remained poor until the past month.

    ``I read comments a couple of weeks ago that England should not turn up at the West Indies. Now I read comments that we are second favourites,'' Chairman of selectors, David Graveney, said. ``I think we are somewhere in the middle. We know if we play well we can compete with any team in the world.''

    England was on the verge of elimination from the tri-nations before beating Australia its first win in a total 10 matches against the Aussies on its three-month tour. Vaughan returned for the final group match against New Zealand and, although he failed to score, his bowling changes and field placings helped restrict the Kiwis to 256 for eight and earn a 14-run win.

    ``When we played New Zealand in Australia, Vaughan's contribution in the field as captain shows how important he is,'' Graveney said.

    Teams can replace injured players at any time before the end of the tournament and, if Vaughan withdraws, Mal Loye the only player from the 11 that beat Australia in the tri-nations finals would likely be called up.

    Andrew Flintoff, who led the team to a 5-0 loss in the Ashes series, would become captain despite Fletcher saying the demands of the captaincy were behind the all-rounder's struggle to hit form in Australia.

    If all goes to plan, Vaughan will open the batting alongside Ed Joyce starting in the warm-up matches. The 28-year-old Joyce, who used to play for Ireland but qualified for England because of his residency, hit 107 to lead England to the crucial first win over Australia on its recent tour.

    Joyce is part of a batting line-up also including Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Pietersen, who was the only England player to average more than 50 in the last Ashes series.

    The all-rounders are Flintoff, Ravi Bopara and Paul Collingwood, who hit 120, took a match-turning catch and had two run outs in the first final win over Australia.

    Anderson, Jamie Dalrymple, Lewis, Sajid Mahmood, Monty Panesar and Liam Plunkett are the bowlers, while Paul Nixon at 36, the oldest player in the squad is the only wicketkeeper. If Nixon were injured, Joyce or Strauss would likely don the gloves. AP

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