Injury-hit England have much to ponder over fitness

By Pragya Tiwari, IANS,

New Delhi : England’s cricket fortunes nosedived in a matter of weeks. From a heady World Twenty20 championship last year to an Ashes triumph down under after 24 years, they crashed to a 1-6 defeat against Australia in the One-dayers and are no longer favourites for the Feb 19-April 2 World Cup.

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The three-month-long tour to Australia took its toll on the players. Some of their key players are racing against time to be fit for the mega event in the sub-continent. They have already lost exciting batsman Eoin Morgan with a broken finger and Ravi Bopara has replaced him. They are counting the fit men for the first match barely two weeks away.

The list of injured is long: Stuart Broad (side), Tim Bresnan (calf tear), Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring), Graeme Swann (knee and back injuries) and Paul Collingwood (back) and all of them are hoping to take the field against the Netherlands in Nagpur Feb 22.

Morgan’s exit is a big blow as the big-hitting left-hander has been a match-winner along with Kevin Pitersen and Ian Bell.

“It’s a big loss for us potentially. He is particularly important in those conditions as well, being able to clear the ropes in the manner that he does. Someone is going to have to fill those shoes,” said England skipper Andrew Strauss.

Strauss admitted they need to take a quick decision over the injured players.

“The first thing to ponder is who is fit and who is not fit. That’s going to be important to see exactly where we are and have a clear idea of who our best 11 players available are,” he said.

The England batting had looked flaky in the ODI series, Pietersen and Bell failing to come good in the ODIs against Australia. Pietersen has batted in fits and starts and is yet to hit form.

Veteran Paul Collingwood too has struggled and had a forgettable Ashes and ODI series, forcing to him to quit Test cricket.

The bowling, though, has been England’s strength. The trio of Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Broad have bowled consistently well in powerplays and their ability to reverse swing can be potent in the subcontinent. Shahzad and Ashes hero Chris Tremlett can be handy with the new ball.

However, it is off-spinner Swann’s fitness that is crucial to England. The slow and low pitches in the subcontinent are tailor-made for his bowling and he has the ability to take wickets in the middle-overs. Michael Yardy and James Tredwell are the other spin options.

Fielding and catching, too, have been the high points of this English side, something which was on display during the Twenty20 World Cup.

England’s last two World Cups in the sub-continent conjured contrasting results. In 1987, they showed tremendous fighting ability to beat India in the semi-final before losing a closely fought final to Australia. But they had a woeful run in 1996, where they were outclassed by eventual winners Sri Lanka in the quarterfinals.

This time around, England have a lot of ground to cover and Strauss is aware of the problems.

“We’ve got to think about what we haven’t done well on this (Australia) tour and we have got to think about how to adapt our game to the conditions in the sub-continent pretty quickly.”

Squad: Andrew Strauss (captain), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Ajmal Shahzad, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy.

Fixture: Feb 22 vs The Netherlands (Nagpur), Feb 27 vs India (Bangalore), March 2 vs Ireland (Bangalore), March 6 vs South Africa (Chennai), March 11 vs Bangladesh (Chittagong), March 17 vs West Indies (Chennai).