Team preview: England September 5, 2007

Familiarity breeds competence

England have the first-mover advantage when it comes to the Twenty20 format, says Andrew Miller



Main man: Flintoff's ultra-economical bowling could prove to be the key for England © Getty Images

Most teams have had a simple choice for this tournament: do they take the Australian route, and treat the trip with deadly seriousness, or do they do as the Indians have done and blood some new talent while resting some old? England, as it happens, have done neither. The pioneers of Twenty20 cricket have five seasons of domestic knowhow to colour their selections, and as such their squad is brimful with proven veterans of the county circuit.

The familiar faces are there of course - Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are England's backbone in all forms of the game - but the success of their challenge will depend on how the likes of Darren Maddy and Jeremy Snape adapt to the tempo of the international game. On paper it looks like a gamble, but familiarity could provide a crucial edge.

Home truths
Some countries haven't quite shaken off the impression that Twenty20 cricket is a gimmick. Not so England, for whom the two-week midsummer jamboree has reinvigorated the domestic game and provided the first-class counties with a vital injection of popular support. Nowhere is the format more firmly established, or more seriously contested, and consequently England will be disappointed with anything less than a semi-final slot. That is, after all, what they managed in each of the first five World Cups, back in the days when they too played more 50- and 60-over cricket than any other nation.

Strengths
As above. The squad are at ease with the concept, and in theory at least, have men for all occasions. A big-hitting top order, canny improvisers for the middle overs, out-and-out strike bowlers, asphyxiatingly slow spinners, and men who have five years' experience of batting and bowling at the death - which in this form of the game can be quicker and more painful than ever before. Plus, for the first time in a long time, England are entering a one-day tournament with a semblance of form, after their impressive performances in the NatWest Series against India.

England are a much improved limited-overs side and no aspect of their game symbolises this change better than their fielding

Ian Chappell

Weaknesses
There was a suspicion, when England's squad was announced, that the selectors were using the competition as a journeyman's day in the sun. The team's performance in the 50-over World Cup meant that changes were inevitable, but trading regular international performers such as Ian Bell and Monty Panesar for county pros such as Maddy and Chris Schofield, who have not seen international service since the early days of Duncan Fletcher, would be regarded as a risk in any form of the game.

There's also the itinerary. England don't finish their seven-match ODI series against India until September 8. The competition gets underway two days later, 9000km away.

Players to watch
Kevin Pietersen Pietersen has been quiet in Twenty20s to date, but he has never yet failed to front up when the stakes are at their highest. If he finds his most devastating range, this tournament could be his for the taking.

Andrew Flintoff Five overs of his best batting could put a match out of reach, but it's his ultra-parsimonious bowling that could be the biggest weapon. Fast, accurate and splice-rattling - and with just four overs a game, his ankle might even stand up to the strain.



The Wright stuff: England's new find is a big hitter and medium-pacer in the Flintoff mould © Getty Images

Dark horse
Luke Wright Amid the medley of proven and unproven performers, there's one man in the squad who could turn out to be a name for the future. Sussex's 22-year-old Luke Wright is a genuine allrounder - a medium-quick in the mould of Jacques Kallis, and a blistering opening batsman whose finished as the season's top-scorer in the Twenty20 Cup with 346 runs, including a 44-ball century against the eventual champions, Kent.

Ian Chappell's take
England are a much improved limited-overs side and no aspect of their game symbolises this change better than their fielding. They have taken on the personality of their livewire captain Paul Collingwood, and they scamper and dive and generally save many more runs in the field than they did in the World Cup just five months ago.

There is a question mark over their batting at the top of the order but this could be partially alleviated by using Kevin Pietersen at No. 3 to take advantage of the field restrictions. They may also have a surprise package in the powerful young striker Luke Wright, whose boundary-hitting ability could be utilised in the opening position. Andrew Flintoff - provided he remains fit - gives England a late-over boundary-clearing threat, as long as he is a bit more selective when he is trying to loft the ball.

Stuart Broad has added some bite to the English new-ball attack and the bowling is no longer in the hands of some magnanimous gentlemen as it was some months ago. I'm not so sure about their slow-bowling options, unless Chris Schofield is fully rehabilitated from his early career troubles.

England will scrap with the best under Collingwood and I will be surprised if they don't make it to the semi-finals. However, they are very good at inventing games as they did with Twenty20 and then finding themselves quickly overtaken by the rest of the world. Rating 7/10

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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