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One-Day dilemmas loom large for England

Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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London:England fans looking for plus points following their side's dip in Test match form since winning the Ashes last year are unlikely to take much consolation from the team's limited-overs record heading into the five-match One-day series with Sri Lanka.

In 2005, England won just eight of their 22 One-day internationals while earlier this year, after competing well in the drawn Test series in India, they subsided to a 5-1 campaign reverse in the One-dayers.

Regular captain Michael Vaughan (knee) and stand-in skipper Andrew Flintoff (ankle) have now both been ruled out of the Sri Lanka One-dayers while the likes of Ashley Giles (hip/hernia) and pace duo James Anderson (back) and Simon Jones (knee) remain sidelined.

In India, England coach Duncan Fletcher said he already knew his first-choice team for next year's World Cup in the Caribbean.

But with an Ashes tour of Australia before they arrive in the West Indies, hopes of that team taking the field remain slim.

And lifting the World Cup, as far as England are concerned, is not the ultimate triumph - winning the Ashes, as fast bowler Matthew Hoggard said, is.

His view reflects an entrenched opinion amongst all levels of English cricket where one-day matches, ever since their introduction to the county game in the 1960s, have been regarded as at best a necessary evil for all they helped provide the financial salvation of cricket in its birthplace and beyond.

England does have more professional players to call upon than any of its rivals and so ought to be better placed to cope with the loss of leading stars.

But the fate of Vikram Solanki, shunted everywhere from opening batsman to substitute during his time on England one-day duty and now no longer in the squad, is proof that there is not always such a thing as safety in numbers.

And the inclusion of five players - Tim Bresnan, Glen Chapple, Ed Joyce, James Dalrymple and Alex Loudon - previously uncapped before England's far from slick 38-run win in the inaugural one-day international against Ireland on Tuesday, for the Sri Lanka series did not suggest a host of new match-winners had been unearthed.

The result in Belfast was never in doubt but England's failure to bowl out Ireland meant it took the full 100 overs for the match to meander to its predictable conclusion - a worrying foretaste of the kind of contest that could blight the early stages of the World Cup.

And even this fixture ended with fresh fitness concerns for England after all-rounder Paul Collingwood (thigh) and pace bowler Chapple (abdominal strain) both sustained injuries.

It was not what England wanted to hear ahead of Thursday's Twenty20 clash with Sri Lanka at the Rose Bowl, a match that is starting at 7.15pm local time so spectators can watch the England football team's World Cup match against Trinidad and Tobago on giant television screens beforehand.

Before the Ireland match, Andrew Strauss - England's latest captain - made the usual positive noises.

"There are a lot of guys who are eager to impress, very eager to cement their opportunity," he said.

"We all took a hell of a lot of pleasure in seeing Alastair Cook come through in India and hopefully two or three of these guys will come through in this one-day series and really stake a claim for the World Cup."

Sri Lanka, world champions in 1996, have some of world cricket's most dynamic one-day performers in the likes of opener Sanath Jayasuriya and off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.

Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain, warmed up Tuesday with a dashing 79 against the PCA Masters in a rain-ruined Twenty20 at Arundel and assistant coach Trevor Penney said: "There was some really good batting there, so we're really pleased from the coaching side of things."

One consolation for England is that Muralitharan, their chief tormentor in the recent drawn Test series, can now only bowl a maximum of 10 overs per game.

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