Ireland vs England, Super Eights, Guyana March 29, 2007

England taking nothing for granted

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Andrew Flintoff will be a force to reckon with in the closing stages of the innings with his power hitting © Getty Images

In India's very first one-day international in the 1975 World Cup, Sunil Gavaskar reacted to a humungous England total of 334 for 4 by blocking his way to 36 not out from a full 60 overs, an approach that persuaded one frustrated fan to dump his lunch at the little master's feet.

It remains to be seen whether England receive the same treatment on Friday in Guyana, as they embark on their Super Eights campaign against the surprise team of the tournament, Ireland but, if recent performances are anything to go by, they have more in common with the India of 32 years ago than the current superpowers of the one-day game.

At a time when Australia in particular are crushing all comers under their sheer weight of runs, England are content to stodge along, picking the gaps with their technically-correct top order, with the intention of unleashing their power pairing of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff in the closing overs of the innings.

"Back to basics" is what the team would like to call the strategy, although a lack of realistic options might be a better way to phrase it. Pietersen and Flintoff are of such fundamental importance to England's hopes in this tournament, they are being used belatedly and without subtlety, much as a nervous poker cheat might use his ace up the sleeve.

Michael Vaughan, England's captain, reckons that England's superior ability should see them through, but is taking nothing for granted. "They [Ireland] look a very organised team with some good players, and we know if we don't get our game in order, Ireland could certainly cause a shock," he said on the eve of the game. "We know the Super Eights are going to be very, very close, and because we didn't bring points through with us, we have to get points on the board quickly."

That cause will be helped by Flintoff's return to full fitness after a stomach bug. "He played a full part in practice today, so he's fit and firing going into tomorrow's game," said Vaughan, who also suggested that Jamie Dalrymple's offspin might be considered on a pitch likely to be very similar to the slow surface on which South Africa edged out Sri Lanka.



Ed Joyce made just 10 from 21 balls against his former team-mates at Belfast last year © Getty Images

Vaughan has also got a trump card of sorts in Ed Joyce, the Dublin-born opener who has an unusual remit on Friday - to derail the hopes of the former team-mates whom he helped to qualify for this tournament, when he scored 399 runs in five matches of the 2005 ICC Trophy. "Ed has been invaluable with his little tips: the way the Irish play," said Vaughan. "He has been talking to our analysts on areas to bowl and the kind of cricket we need to play to beat Ireland."

Joyce himself preferred to focus on the task at hand. "Myself, Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell are not massive hitters so it's a case of using what we've got in the side to do well," he said. Joyce has at least taken on his former team-mates in England colours once before - although it was not an occasion that he or England will recall with much pleasure.

He made just 10 from 21 balls before falling to Dave Langford-Smith, as a sketchy England creaked to victory by a margin of just 38 runs. So much on that occasion was owed to England's absentee enforcer at the top of the order, Marcus Trescothick, who made 113 from 114 balls - the last but one of his 14 ODI centuries.

Trescothick's absence, though long since unspoken, has been a body-blow for England's hopes in this competition, and Ireland - whose coach, Adrian Birrell, knows full well how much pressure there is on England to come away with two points - have the bowlers to exploit that uncertainty to the max. "They play as a unit very well," said Joyce, divulging former gameplans. "They bowl as a unit and they've got a lot of medium-pacers and spinners who bowl very straight."

None bowl straighter than Andre Botha, who returned the remarkable figures of 8-4-5-2 in that low-scoring thriller against Pakistan, while the experience of plucking a tie from the jaws of defeat against Zimbabwe shows just how adept Ireland's players are at performing when the crunch time comes along.

"I know 11 or 12 of the Irish guys pretty well but there are a couple who have come in who I haven't seen very much of," added Joyce. "I will be able to help out with a few tips but you have to keep things pretty basic against most teams whether you are playing against Australia or against Ireland so I think we're going to be keeping it pretty simple.

England should win. England have to win. But a cagey team that, in the first round, struggled to impose itself against New Zealand and Canada in particular, will have to guard against an opponent that has absolutely nothing to lose.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo