Strauss seeks to revive weary England ahead of World Cup
Captain faces challenge to reinvigorate a tired, under confident & crocked squad, writes Henry Swarbrick
After winning their second successive home Ashes series in 2009, Andy Flower’s men wisely chose to avoid the over-exuberant celebrations of 2005.
Eighteen months later, after winning their first away Ashes series since 1987, England returned to an even more muted reception at Heathrow airport on Tuesday.
Not only has the gloss of retaining the urn been taken off by their 6-1 drubbing by Australia in the ODI series but a string of key injuries have dampened spirits further.
Eoin Morgan was ruled out of the World Cup in Asia yesterday with a broken finger while Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Ajmal Shahzad and Graeme Swann are all walking-wounded members of England’s 15-man squad.
And with only a few days to recover before the party jump on a plane to Dhaka on 12 February ahead of their World Cup opener against Netherlands 10 days later, captain Andrew Strauss faces an uphill task in galvanizing his weary men.
As always, Strauss has said the right things, that England are “dangerous”, “can do a lot at the World Cup” and are “confident”.
Despite the setbacks there is weight behind Strauss positivity.
In the last global 50-over competition, England competed well, beating South Africa and Sri Lanka before losing in the semi-finals to eventual champions Australia.
And their ODI form since has been promising; in their series wins in South Africa and Bangladesh before their dismantling at the hands of Australia they certainly displayed progress.
But the timing of the 10th World Cup couldn’t be worse for England, who are yet to win the trophy.
England set off for their tour of Australia on 29 October and many will have become nomadic travellers rather than contented cricketers by 2 April, the date of the World Cup final.
It is hardly a schedule that promotes success and unsurprisingly has attracted criticism from England’s players.
Earlier this month Kevin Pietersen slammed the packed itinerary. “Our schedule is ridiculous going into this World Cup,” he told the Press Association. “It has been for England teams for a very long time, and that’s probably why England have not done well in World Cups.”
Pietersen has a point and although England probably shouldn’t have scheduled to play seven ODIs in Australia but unfortunately it is a massive country and every corner of it wants their chance to see the
And as long as England are the only major European cricketing nation there will always be difficulties fitting them into the international calendar.
With 50-over tournament in the subcontinent probably the toughest physical test a cricketer could face, the signs are not good for England.
And so Morgan, who didn’t feature in any of the Ashes Test matches, was earmarked as the man who could inspire England to their second global trophy.
But one man’s injury is another’s opportunity and Ravi Bopara now has a chance to finally realise his immense potential. The Essex batsman was chosen to replace Morgan ahead of Alastair Cook, whose run-scoring heroics laid the foundations for England’s Ashes success.
Despite Cook’s idyllic winter, his county team-mate is a wiser option for he offers bigger hitting and a useful medium pace option. A more technically correct batsman than Morgan, Bopara had flattered to deceive in his 54 ODI matches so far, averaging under 30.
But after playing just four ODIs in the last year Bopara has worked hard on his game with successive club spells in New Zealand and India and it is hoped he will return to the England fold a more confident
and improved cricketer.
But though Morgan will be sorely missed, his absence may solve a headache for the selectors. Spin is sure to play a key role out in the subcontinent and so England will be keen to get both Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy into the side.
With Morgan out, the dilemma of whether to drop Pietersen, Ian Bell or Paul Collingwood (who could offer a useful alternative with the ball) is deferred. Collingwood could simply move up one place in the batting order to accommodate.
In essence we don’t know which England team will show up.
It could be the inspirational side which lit up the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup and 2009 Champions Trophy or the one which stunk up the past two World Cups.
But despite this apparent inconsistency, one thing that has been constant since Flower and Strauss took over is that this England team usually find a way to perform.