England ponder one-day options
England's selectors face a tricky decision in the next few days as they prepare to finalise their squad for the seven-match one-day series that follows directly after the Tests in the Caribbean.
At the heart of the dilemma lie England's bowling heroes from the first two Tests, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones. Between them they have claimed 25 of the 40 wickets in the series to date, and such is the psychological hold they have established over the West Indian batsmen that England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, is tempted to include them for the one-dayers as well.
Set against that temptation is the fear of overburdening his two prized assets. Jones is still easing his way back into international cricket after his horrific cruciate-ligament injury in Australia two winters ago, while Harmison's flirtations with one-day cricket haven't been a great success - although he was a member of England's World Cup squad last year, he didn't play a game. "We are talking about the amount of cricket they play already," admitted Fletcher. "We have to be careful they don't play too much, and there is a chance we may have to look at this."
The seven one-dayers have been scheduled over an 18-day span in five different venues, and with a hectic English summer to follow immediately afterwards - starting with a potentially hazardous Test series against the resurgent New Zealanders - the selectors may prefer to look elsewhere for their one-day bowlers. Darren Gough is one man who can never be far from the reckoning. He was invited to join a pre-tour squad gathering in Loughborough, and might be a safer option for protecting England's long-term interests.
"There are a lot of Tests and a lot of one-day cricket to come," said Fletcher. "It is not just the physical side, but it is also the mental drain and strain of packing your bags and travelling and being in those tense situations for eight or nine hours a day." For the long-limbed Harmison, the prospect of non-stop travel is particularly unwelcome. In Bangladesh, prior to Christmas, he apparently aggravated a back injury during a cramped flight between Dhaka and Chittagong.
In the meantime, however, England's next task is to take on a Carib Beer XI in a three-day warm-up match in Barbados. It is the only remaining practice match available to the Test squad, and the side is sure to be dominated by the fringe members of the team. "We want to give a game to all those players without much cricket under their belts," said Fletcher. "We need to make sure they get some practice just in case something happen, and also to keep them motivated."
That means a starring role for the likes of James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Rikki Clarke and Geraint Jones, the reserve wicketkeeper, although Chris Read is likely to play as a specialist batsman as he has been short of runs in the two Tests so far. Another definite starter is Marcus Trescothick, who has been woefully low on confidence in four low-scoring innings.
"I still do a lot for the team in the field in the energy I provide," said Trescothick, who could lead the side if Michael Vaughan opts to sit out the fixture. "But the main part of my job is just not there at the moment. I've got to remain positive. I'm sure one good innings could kick it all off again."
The Carib Beer XI will be led by Daren Ganga, who scored two centuries against Australia last year but has so far been overlooked for this series. And England can expect to come up against another fiery pace attack, which will feature Ravi Rampaul, who played in the recent Under-19 World Cup final, as well as Dwight Washington and Jermaine Lawson.
The fast-bowling honours in this series, however, have so far gone to England, which has been especially pleasing for Fletcher. "It was some time ago when I realised there was something on the horizon," he said. "I saw there was some young talent and that was one of the reasons I wanted to carry on as coach, because I saw things were starting to come together. Hopefully this will continue."