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England take the panicky route to parity

When England get it right, it all looks so easy. Thanks to another brace of forceful performances from Steve Harmison and Marcus Trescothick, and a timely return to form from James Anderson, this time it was West Indies who found themselves on the receiving end of a drubbing. For the third match in a row in this year's NatWest Series, the side batting first has been stuffed out of sight. The toss, it is fair to suggest, was a useful one to win.

However, the magnitude of today's victory does nothing to allay the doubts about the depth of England's side. If it was confidence that the team was lacking, then the events that preceded this match did nothing to inspire the troops. According to a report in today's Daily Mail, David Graveney was so concerned by the team's lack of backbone that he put out a plea to Graham Thorpe to reconsider his one-day retirement. But if that was a retrograde step, then it was nothing like as panicky as the decision to send for Andrew Flintoff.

Back in 2002, Nasser Hussain admitted that the selectors had been "slightly unprofessional" with Flintoff, forcing him to play through a Test against India at Headingley when he was palpably unfit. The groin strain from which he was suffering in that match developed into a full-blown hernia, and he went on to miss that winter's Ashes campaign. Today's decision to recall him, despite initially ruling him out for the entire series, was a return to those desperate times - and it was utterly disheartening to behold, despite the gleeful thwacking with which he wrapped up the match.

Maybe the Freddie factor did lift the team. But seeing as he did not bowl, didn't take a catch and would hardly have been missed if he hadn't batted, it was not only an unnecessary risk, it was also a lost opportunity. For the first time in the series, England elected to play a properly balanced side, with Robert Key included at the top of the order and Geraint Jones back where he belongs at No. 7. Even though they were right to SOS for an extra batsman, the selectors chose the wrong man. They can't ignore their lack of depth forever.

But regardless of their panicky route to parity, England will be all smiles tonight. They have recouped their lost bonus point and drawn level with West Indies (albeit from a game more), and seem set to persevere with this same side. For the first time in the series, Trescothick found his range to thump England out of any danger of an upset, although in truth, that prospect had long been blown out of the water by Harmison's stunning start.

It is hard to equate England's champion bowler of the past four months with the shambling figure who sent down eight consecutive wides in that one-day opener at Lilac Hill on the 2002-03 Ashes tour. Where once Harmison was a limited-overs liability, now he is all thrift and menace. But that much we have known for a while now. Today's real revelation was Anderson. He has been threatening to rediscover his mojo all season, but at last he was back to his buzzsaw best, sliding the ball back into the left-handers at pace, and troubling Brian Lara throughout his brief stay, before bowling him off the inside-edge.

A few more tosses won, a few more timely contributions from the big guns, and England should yet qualify for the final in nine day's time. But their over-reliance on a clutch of key players remains deeply troubling.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.