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May 4, 2004
England probably can't wait to get home, after a fortnight of rain interruptions and on-pitch reversals that have taken the sheen off one of their most clinical Test triumphs in recent years. But before they can board that plane and fly back to Blighty, they have to lift themselves for one last one-day match in Barbados.
England's one-day development has been stunted, to say the least, this winter. After three inconclusive thumpings of Bangladesh, one record-breaking defeat against Sri Lanka, and a litany of washouts, they were stunned by back-to-back defeats by West Indies in St Lucia over the weekend, and Duncan Fletcher, England's coach, has demanded that his charges raise their game for tomorrow's series showdown.
"We're just not putting a total game together," admitted Fletcher, after England had failed to defend scores of 281 and 280 on consecutive days. "On the batting side, we're not playing those last 10 to 15 overs correctly. With the bowling, once we got them where they needed nine an over, we should have been capable of ensuring they couldn't hit us out of the park."
Though England's scores in each match were similar, the circumstances of the two defeats were very different. On Saturday, England were cruising to victory when Dwayne Smith and Ramnaresh Sarwan turned the match on its head with a barrage of sixes. On Sunday, England were easing towards a total in excess of 300 after a disciplined top-order performance, only to lose five wickets in five overs.
"It is those last ten overs when we have not had a senior player take us all the way through," said Fletcher. "That can be down to inexperience, but it is also something that is down to decision-making, and could come from the way they play in county cricket. When they do play at this level, one of the senior players has to stick to his plan and try not to panic. They have to realise that eight overs is a lot of cricket to play."
England's Test triumph was built around the experience of Nasser Hussain, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe in the middle order, but Hussain and Thorpe have retired from one-day cricket, while Butcher has been overlooked in limited-overs throughout his career. "We have made no decision about anyone, apart from those that have retired," said Fletcher - a statement which hinted that Butcher, 31, may yet have a role to play.
If England's batting needs a father figure to guide it through the middle overs, then the bowling might be better served by sticking to the young guns. For Darren Gough cut a sorry figure during the weekend matches, and speculation is rife that this Bridgetown game could be his international swansong. Gough's spirit is as willing as ever, but his flesh is weak, and his return of 1 for 67 from 8.1 overs on Sunday was the first time in his one-day career that he had been carted for eight an over.
With a share of the series already in the bag, West Indies have sensed the opportunity to go for England's jugular in the final match, by calling Tino Best into their squad. Best was one of West Indies' few bright sparks in the Test series, bowling in excess of 90mph for long spells and giving Marcus Trescothick - among others - plenty to ponder with the new ball.
The clouds haven't exactly lifted over the Caribbean, but there is definitely a ray of sunshine glimmering through. That is the case both metaphorically and meteorologically, with the prospect of Wednesday's game being interrupted by scattered showers. But nothing will be able to rain on West Indies' parade if they can carry their momentum through to the final ball of the series.
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