Despite One-day loss England focus on Ashes

Published: Monday, July 3, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:After mounting a vigorous defence of England's strikingly inept One-day side at the weekend coach Duncan Fletcher, accidentally or not, underlined his primary obsession.

Less than nine months out from the World Cup, a five-match series whitewash at the hands of Sri Lanka extended England's sorry One-day record against international team to 15 losses from 18 matches.

Yesterday, Fletcher pointed out that eight first-choice players had been sidelined through injury for the entire series.

In addition Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, two of the better One-day performers, missed two matches.

''It would be interesting if Sri Lanka were missing eight and we had eight of our players back,'' Fletcher was quoted as saying on the BBCWeb site. ''I would like to see what any side missing eight would have got.

''We have to pick the youngsters and show a bit of patience.

If these players we are missing do not come back you are in a rebuilding process.'' Then followed an allusion to the main aim of a season which is sliding into a summer of discontent after the euphoria of last year's Ashes win over Australia.

''How long did it take us to build that cricket side that went on to win the Ashes?,'' Fletcher asked rhetorically.

''It took three or four years to build that. You don't just pull people in and suddenly have a world-class side.'' Unfortunately for the selectors, England's test record since they drew the fifth Test at the Oval last September is only marginally better than their performances in the One-day arena.

Four months before they open their Ashes defence in Australia they have won only two Tests in three series, lost four and suffered serious injury disruptions.

Captain Michael Vaughan undergoes a fourth operation on his troubled right knee on Monday and under even the most optimistic prognosis will be out for four months, leaving no time to get fit for the Ashes. Fast bowler Simon Jones has already been ruled out after knee surgery and left-arm spinner Ashley Giles underwent a hip operation in the United States last week.

Now the selectors must choose a new captain for the first test against a dangerous Pakistan side starting at Lord's on July 13, decide what his team should be and take every possible measure to ensure Andy Flintoff returns to full fitness.

Flintoff, who took over from Vaughan for this year's series against India and Sri Lanka with mixed results, will miss the first match at least in the four-test series against Pakistan with an ankle injury.

If England are to have any chance in Australia, it is vital that Flintoff fires with both bat and ball, another factor in deciding a successor to Vaughan.

Flintoff was inspirational in the test victory in Mumbai, less so when Sri Lanka came back from the dead to draw the first of their three-test series at Lord's.

He bowled 51 overs in Sri Lanka's second innings, which could not have helped his tender ankle and re-ignited an old debate about bowler-captains.

With the senior professional Marcus Trescothick seemingly ambivalent about captaining his country, Andrew Strauss led the side in the One-day series against Sri Lanka.

Strauss, who has played test cricket for barely two years, did not appear a commanding figure although he could not be held accountable for his bowlers' waywardness.

There is, however, no other credible candidate in the present England side and Strauss appears certain to captain England at Lord's with the prospect then of leading his country on the most demanding tour of them all.

England need first to return to the plans and disciplines which enabled them to beat the Australians and get rid of the sloppiness evident in too much of their cricket this year.

That would appear to be Strauss's priority as he reflected on the latest One-day humiliation.

''We're going to be down for a couple of days after this, it's been a tough series,'' Strauss told the BBC.

''But we've got to drag ourselves back together and get back to doing things we've dOne well in the past.''

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