England take heart from Bristol performance

Despite losing to Australia in Bristol yesterday, England can take heart from several aspects of their performance. Fielding a young, inexperienced team against the World Champions, they pushed Australia all the way, and perhaps gave us a glimpse of the make up of the side for the future.

Ben Hollioake: Bright Future Photo © CricInfo

The partnership between Trescothick and Knight was of the highest class; for a while they took the finest bowling attack in the world apart, and though England lost momentum when they perished, it was Hollioake and Shah who produced the most heartening cricket of the day as far as England are concerned.

They fully justified their 'fast track' promotion to the England side and can be expected to remain in contention for the foreseeable future under the consistent selection policy of the Fletcher regime.

"Hollioake will never be fazed, he enjoys the big time," England's skipper Alec Stewart revealed. "I'm a big fan of his and we saw a few years ago at Lord's what he's capable of. He's had a couple of off years, but worked hard to get back and he had an excellent game.

"Shah also impressed me. He was a little nervous, as we are when we first start, but once he got his feet and hands moving I thought he played really well and will have done his confidence a lot of good."

With an injury list that is reaching epidemic proportions (Hussain, Caddick, White, Thorpe, Vaughan and Giles would all be in the squad, and perhaps Flintoff too) some commentators wrote off England before the game began, but, as Stewart explained, England refused to submit.

"We had five main players out, then Michael Vaughan injured his finger and I was very pleased, very proud of the guys the way we competed; we ran the world champions to within three balls in what was a very exciting game.

Australia, too, were without several top players, and perhaps the most daunting aspect of their strength is the fact that they were still able to rest the best one-day batsman in the world, Michael Bevan. And, despite the positive elements from Bristol, the fact remains that England are adrift at the foot of the NatWest table and are the outsiders in the race to reach the final. But Alec Stewart stressed that the World Cup of 2003 was the aim for the England team and that their results should be viewed with that in mind.

"It's going to be very hard to get to the final now, but we knew that before a ball was bowled," revealed Stewart. "The long-term aim is to compete well in the World Cup in 2003 and this is the start of it. The preparations are starting here and that's why we have picked such an inexperienced side to play in this tournament.

"We're on a learning curve and since 1992, when we lost in the final, we haven't competed in the two World Cups since then. If we can compete with sides like Australia and Pakistan with our inexperience then, hopefully, I think we will learn quickly, to stand us in good stead for the next World Cup."

England's young players also won praise from rival captain Steve Waugh: "Hollioake and Shah are both promising players, they've been around for a few years now and they've had that promising tag for a long time," he said. "For them, that was two big innings and probably a breakthrough. They played very well under pressure and kept the momentum going at the end, which is not always easy."