Cricket: England to axe stalwarts in quest for winning mix
World Cup glory is just four victories away for England but first Andrew Strauss' side must avoid the ignominy of an early exit by beating the West Indies this morning.
They can do it but, with their opponents equally motivated by their own precarious footing in Group B, it could be as much about holding nerve as holding catches.
England are likely to have to prevail without two of their most experienced one-day players, Paul Collingwood and James Anderson, after both were set to be dropped.
Sickness to Ajmal Shahzad, who did not train yesterday, complicates the issue with regard to Anderson, who had his best performance of the World Cup at this ground against South Africa, but both stalwarts looked likely to be sacrificed in the attempt to ensure progress.
For Strauss, captain of a team who could have won or lost all five of their games in the tournament so far, the clarity of the must-win situation is almost welcomed as a means to motivate his side to play to their potential.
"The equation is very clear to us," said Strauss, having recovered from his health wobble. "We have to win this game. Mindset-wise that really helps you.
"There's no reason for us to doubt ourselves at this stage. It is a one-off and hopefully the start of a series of one-offs. I think the juices are flowing and there are a few butterflies in the stomach, which is a great sign for us.
"We have done well in big matches over the last couple of years. This isn't a time to go into our shells -- we have to got out there and take the West Indies team on."
What is less clear, and not just because of the usual secrecy surrounding Strauss' team selections, is which players will provide the winning formula. So far, England have employed their usual woolly thinking at World Cups by not knowing their best team. Injuries to key players such as Kevin Pietersen, who yesterday successfully underwent surgery for a hernia, have not helped, but there has been no unifying vision to the changes that have been made either.
With Collingwood and Anderson both set to miss out, the bowling attack could comprise just two specialist pace bowlers and two spinners, with part-timers Ravi Bopara, Jonathan Trott and, given the vogue for padding out the batting, Luke Wright, to fill in as the fifth bowler.
Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann pick themselves to head each category, especially now that Swann is over his Tamil Nadu tummy, but who joins them is not plain.
Strauss has talked about having wicket-taking options, and there is none more likely than Chris Tremlett, whose height and pace should have been utilised the moment Stuart Broad went home, or even a third spinner.
The West Indies have four left-handers in their top seven and if the ball is to spin, James Tredwell turning it away from them could be a better option than Mike Yardy, who would allow the lefties, Chris Gayle among them, to hit with the turn. Kieron Pollard, another mighty smiter, is right-handed and would relish Tredwell, so it is six of one and half a dozen of the other, given the length both get after teeing off.
The authorities at the MA Chidambaram stadium will be desperate for a truer pitch than the one used between England and South Africa, which turned alarmingly and had inconsistent bounce.
Yesterday, green grass cuttings were being rolled over, but not into, the pitch to help retain moisture in the surface and prevent the seam biting into too dry soil. The cuttings will be swept away before play today, and the hope, according to Andy Atkinson, the International Cricket Council's consultant on pitches, is for 230 runs to be made by the side batting first.
He stressed that it would be crazy for the team winning the toss not to bat first.
The other change England seem to have contemplated was who might partner Strauss at the head of the order. Matt Prior did it before and after Pietersen, with conspicuous lack of success in either era.
Yesterday, in the nets, both Bopara and Ian Bell batted before Prior. Not conclusive evidence that a change was in hand, though Bopara did face a combination of pace and spin, the opening salvo favoured by the West Indies in this World Cup.
They have mixed the fire of Kemar Roach with the turn and bounce of left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn. The West Indies have three spinners to call on, Benn, Gayle and Nikita Miller. For that reason, both teams will want to bat first and therefore win the toss.
Never can so much in a World Cup have ridden on the single toss of a coin. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
ENGLAND (probable) -- *A Strauss, R Bopara, I Trott, I Bell, E Morgan, †M Prior, L Wright, M Yardy, T Bresnan, G Swann, C Tremlett/A Shahzad (if fit).
WEST INDIES (probable) -- C Gayle, D Smith, R Sarwan, S Chanderpaul, D Bravo, K Pollard, †D Thomas, *D Sammy, K Roach, S Benn, N Miller.
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