Preview: England



11 days to go ...

The recent second final of the VB triangular series captured England's ODI fortunes in a nutshell — the side has a tendency to falter at the crunch. Indeed, there have been so many tales of anguish, so many near misses... in the World Cup final.

At Lord's in 1979, Big Bird Joel Garner's toe-crushing yorkers spelt the host's doom, Mike Gatting's silly reverse sweep off Allan Border's innocuous spin did the side in at the Eden Gardens in `87, and Imran Khan's `Tigers' hunted England down ruthlessly in Melbourne '92.

After eleven barren years subsequently, England starts yet another World Cup campaign in Southern Africa. Nasser Hussain's men are bunched with Australia, India, Pakistan Zimbabwe, and Holland in Group `A'.

And, if there is no change in the venue, will meet Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13. This could be a potentially explosive contest, given England's reluctance to play in this violence-torn country.

Skipper Nasser Hussain is a fine motivator and he does have the job of making the side believe in itself. The World Cup represents the biggest challenge yet to his leadership skills.

The cricketers who can make a difference in this English line-up are not hard to spot. The free-stroking southpaw Marcus Trescothick can wade into the bowling effortlessly at the top of the order, another left-hander Nick Knight understands the nuances of one-day cricket, while the in-form Michael Vaughan, striking the ball with ease and confidence, and being able to pace his innings superbly, is the key man really.

Hussain, who has tended to play too many strokes too early, and batsman-wicketkeeper Alec Stewart, still being able to pull his weight in the side, bring experience to England.

Paul Collingwood, a somewhat crude but effective lower middle-order batsman, made timely runs in the VB triangular series where England had some good moments, however, the bottom half of the line-up is suspect.



The prolonged absence of the injured Darren Gough, England's best bowler at the `Death' with those reverse swinging yorkers, has taken the sting off the attack, and though Andrew Caddick has taken on the extra burden manfully, there is a hollow look about the English pace bowling.

It is in this context that Andrew Flintoff's return to fitness assumes importance. He can operate at a lively pace, extracting natural bounce due to his height, can give the ball a real wallop and his cricket has the much needed combative edge to it.

All rounder Craig White, if he recovers from his side strain, and utility man Ian Blackwell can be handy performers, however, the Collingwoods and the Iranis could get exposed with the ball in the heat of the `big battles.'

In fact, finding the right set of bowlers, in an injury-plagued season, has been a major headache for the think tank, in which coach Duncan Fletcher, a shrewd strategist, is a vital part. Rookie paceman James Anderson appeared adequate in a couple of games, but these are early days yet.

Mathew Hoggard, an old-fashioned swing bowler of fullish length, is an all or nothing bowler, and there are injury clouds over Steve Harmison, the quickest in the pack.

Following the Zimbabwe encounter, England faces off with Pakistan on February 22 in Cape Town, takes on India at Durban (Feb. 26), and duels it out with old rival Australia in Port Elizabeth (March 2), all tough games. It becomes clear why it is so important for England to defeat Zimbabwe in its first match, and begin on the right note.

A false start and the great English Dream could go bust in no time.

S. Dinakar

Recommended for you