Can mediocre England emulate Lazarus?
According to Jimmy Anderson’s Twitter postings, one of the first things twelve members of the England squad did on arriving in Johannesburg was to get stuck in a lift for an hour. Coming after the 6-1 thrashing against Australia, England fans can only pray that their side’s campaign improves after this inauspicious start.
England are not the worst of the eight sides competing for the ICC Champions Trophy. That honour falls to the West Indies Cricket Board XI who are ranked one place below England’s seventh in the ICC ODI rankings. Unfortunately, the WICB XI are not in England’s group so Andrew Strauss and his side face a tough battle to even win a match let alone qualify for the semi-finals.
To make matters even harder, England’s first game in Group B is against the brilliant Sri Lankans (their other opponents are South Africa and bogey side New Zealand), who are fresh from crushing the hosts and number one ODI side in the World in the tournament’s opening match on Tuesday. If Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were able to flay the South African attack so easily they must be licking their lips at the prospect of facing England’s misfiring attack. Tim Bresnan in particular must be quaking in his boots.
England were truly awful against Australia and but for Strauss winning an important toss in the last match probably would have been handed an unprecedented 7-0 whitewash. They are also hampered by the fact that they were required to name their final Champions Trophy squad well before the series against the Australians finished meaning that the selectors were unable to freshen up the squad. This means that Strauss is stuck with some woefully out of form players that are also low in confidence such as Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Ryan Sidebottom. The selectors did need help themselves by inexplicably leaving Jonathan Trott (fresh from his hundred on debut at The Oval), Ian Bell and Steve Harmison out.
So England need to play with the hand they have dealt themselves, which means options are limited – even more so by the fact that England’s best two one day players Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff are injured. Despite this predicament Strauss is surprisingly confident believing that the combination of a change of scenery and competition will enable England to rise from the canvas. He explained “A change in environment can make a big difference actually. There is something quite exciting and intoxicating about world events, with all the world’s best players. It’s not difficult to be energised by that. It’s not a long tournament, a bit of a sprint and quite exciting to know if you play well in three games you’re in the semi-final. We can wipe the slate clean to be honest.”
With Stuart Broad and Luke Wright both safely negotiating training after recent knocks, England at least have a full squad of 15 to choose from. For what it’s worth this author would go with the following XI: Strauss, Denly, Shah, Collingwood, Morgan, Prior, Swann, Rashid, Broad, Anderson & Onions. That means no place for Bopara, Wright, Bresnan and Sidebottom.
Bopara and Sidebottom are both lacking form and confidence, Wright is not good enough with bat or ball and Bresnan simply lacks the class to be an international player. Of the XI, Shah is drinking in the last chance saloon for the umpteenth time, Prior is keeping the gloves warm for Craig Kieswetter and Rashid simply has to play. The only time South Africa exerted any sort of control on Sri Lanka was when van der Merwe and Botha were bowling in tandem and Swann and Rashid are both better spinners than the Proteas pair.
So England go with hope but not expectation and even that is in short supply. They will need luck to be on their side in large doses if they are to beat the rampant Sri Lankans tomorrow.
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