Ireland v England, Only ODI, Stormont June 13, 2006

Indifferent England are fooling no-one



Ed Joyce: a disappointing return against his former countrymen © Getty Images

Welcome to a vision of the not-too-distant future. In a little under nine months' time, the ninth cricket World Cup will be getting underway in the Caribbean, and on today's evidence it promises to be an event of unrelenting tedium.

The plucky Irish, who held all their catches and produced moments of panache with both bat and ball, proved no match at all for a new-look, under-stretched England team. God alone knows how they'll fare against a side that actually gives a toss about one-day cricket.

June was once the defining month of the English cricket calendar. The first Test of a season would take place in the opening week, and the Lord's Test - one of the three pillars of the social season, alongside Ascot and Wimbledon - would be wrapped around the penultimate weekend.

Now, however, it is simply an excuse to unwind in the summer sunshine, as Andrew Flintoff demonstrated with his bucolic address to the nation from Frankfurt last week. There's only one World Cup that matters, as the ECB's schedulers have tacitly acknowledged.

So, against such a backdrop of antipathy, what will this victory prove for England's cricketers? It provided a low-octane debut for Jamie Dalrymple and Glen Chapple, a chance for an emotional (and disappointing) return to old pastures for Ireland's former stalwart, Ed Joyce, and a morale-boosting victory ahead of a tough five-match series against Sri Lanka.

At least, the England camp will claim it was morale-boosting. In fact, the flaws in England's performance were manifest. The state of their ground fielding was abysmal, while some of the shots that their top-order produced would have embarrassed ... well, the Irish. All seven English wickets fell to catches outside of the slip cordon, which was indicative of the freebies on offer, but only Marcus Trescothick, that great yeoman accumulator, had the nous to cash in while the going was so good.

Duncan Fletcher stated after the one-day debacle in India that he already knew what his first-choice World Cup XI would be, which is either reassuring or alarming, depending on how you view it. But, Simon Jones's probable absence from all of England's winter plans is proof that nobody's fitness can be taken for granted. And so, if this is the sort of team that has to represent the nation come March, let's hope they are a little sharper than this when the going gets tough.

This match, in fact, has been eerily reminiscent of another horrible victory - against Holland at the 1995-96 World Cup, when Graeme Hick anchored a flawed innings with an unexciting century, and England managed just six wickets in 50 overs in the field, as Klaas van Noortwijk and Bas Zuiderent ground towards an unobtainable target. It was one-day cricket at its very, very worst.

England, however, managed to maintain that standard throughout their campaign. Four days earlier, they struggled to raise their tempo against the journeymen of UAE; two weeks later, they were panned by Sri Lanka (an ominous precedent) to lower the curtain on what remains their most dismal World Cup performance to date - and there have been a few contenders for that crown.

Of course, this England team will cite several mitigating circumstances. Flintoff, as we know, is putting his feet up in Germany; Kevin Pietersen was rested to the disappointment of a large crowd, and though he struck in his first over, and twice more after that, Steve Harmison will be a tougher opponent when he has more international overs under his belt.

Any one of those three could have delivered the killer punch, but that is precisely the point. In the absence of the star performers, England's reserves needed to raise their game - and by that I mean their intensity, their enthusiasm, at the very least, their ground fielding. And no matter what the scorecard tries to claim, they didn't.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo