Bring on the Rickshaws

Ah, opening ceremonies, god love ‘em.

Synchronized activities involving a local mode of transport; slightly sinister mascot; off-key musical number by a washed-up rock star paying the mortgage; more money than the national debt of Venezuela going up in smoke in a gloriously over-the-top fireworks display to put a merciful end to the cringe-inducing proceedings.

I bloody loathe ‘em. But then there will only ever be one Fatso the Wombat.

More importantly though, now that that’s over, we can concentrate on the meat of the action  – though unfortunately, that comes after the group stages, which Mark Waugh has predicted England will not advance beyond.

This is because England are failing abysmally in giving the impression they know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to 50-over cricket.

“Their form has been ordinary,” Waugh says. Oh, it’s been worse than that, mate. The CB series – well, who gives a rat’s proverbial about some limited overs series after the Ashes? Hang on, there’s a World Cup just around the corner? Thank Christ we were able to leave the country with that little terracotta thingy.

Waugh also helpfully added: “I think Eoin Morgan is a huge loss for them; he’s their best one-day player.”

Ouch. Yeah, y’see, about that… Morgs, trying to be the brave little soldier, insisted it was merely a bruise and played another two ODIs. England decided it was rather worse than that, and decided the stricken digit would need surgery. Last week, Morgan announced on Twitter the injury was not that bad and no operation was needed. “Pretty much healed..will be back sooner than expected!!”

Cue red faces at the ECB and one hell of an own goal all round. Having said this, Morgan’s form in the Australian one-dayers, even allowing for his injury, was someway below his scintillating best. Now, though, the only opportunity he will have to show he is still the one-day side’s most devastating batsman is through injury to a current member of the squad.

But that’s only the half of it. Unfortunately, two batsmen are needed to open; a source of much hand-wringing for England over the years. Matt Prior was the latest poor sap to be “volunteered” for the position of opener, with decidedly mixed results.

In their warm-up match against Canada on Wednesday, Andrew Strauss opened the batting with… Kevin Pietersen. An England spokesman announced just before the match started that this was to be their strategy for the World Cup. Alrighty then!

KP didn’t quite get round to hitting the ignition switch – he was out for 24. But after the boggling in disbelief finally subsided, this move by England makes a bizarre kind of sense (if you discard completely the sneaking suspicion this was an act of knee-jerk desperation of the “We’ve lost Morgs; Matty’s not cutting the mustard at the top of the innings; Jesus, we are doomed” variety).

Pietersen is struggling for runs and confidence. Spin is the factor that will win a World Cup on dustbowls that would test Rommel. Spin, especially of the left-arm variety, has a tendency to make Kevin a bit twitchy. Matt Prior has been a fish out of water at the top – he has never looked comfortable and usually gets out with a rash shot because he feels he has to get the scoreboard moving.

KP opening, however, just might work. He denies he has been given the role of pinch hitter, but after a week in which rumours abounded that he was planning to retire from one-day cricket after the World Cup – eminently plausible but which he denied – this could be the galvanising factor needed to kick-start his comeback, both as regards his talent and his ego.

I love opening batsmen. They are the first in the line of fire, the ones who go over the top, who face everything an angry quick hopped up on aggression can throw at them. It is a challenge tailor-made for Pietersen, and with Morgan absent, something drastic was needed to shake up England’s currently moribund batting. So I’ll be watching this latest experiment with interest.

Pietersen might not have made an immediate impact in his new position, but Matt Prior’s innings of 78 at no. 6 saved England from an even bigger embarrassment than beating Canada by a meagre 16 runs.

This is where Prior should be batting – he is excellent at judging a match situation, responding to it, and saving it. While wickets fell at the other end, he cracked on at a brisk rate to get the England total more in line with expectations that accompany a match against a perceived minnow.

The minnow gave the bigger fish a bit of a scare, though. I confess feel partly responsible for this: before this match started I’d picked Canada as my chosen Associate nation (read: gutsy underdog, not a hope in hell) to support in this World Cup. While Rizwan Cheema was going berserk and scoring 93 out of his side’s eventual 227, it did wearily cross my mind that it was typical that Canada would have one good match, and bloody inevitable that it would be against England.

I’d like to be more optimistic about England’s chances. Maybe that’s a good thing though, as I won’t be disappointed, and I will be able to pen at least a couple of expletive-laden rants about it.

In other, more encouraging news, Leicestershire’s own little Little Master, James Taylor, continues his march towards an England place. Narrowly missing out on a double ton for the England Lions against Barbados, following on from the 96 he made against the Leeward Islands, it is surely only a matter of time.

England’s next warmup match, against Pakistan, is on Friday. It is not against an Associate nation, so England should be okay, though I have the sneaking feeling Pakistan could go on to win the whole damn thing. We will see.

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