The Reuters global sports blog
from Reuters Soccer Blog:
So, once again, England qualify in style. The garages can start stocking up on plastic flags of St George, the breweries can breathe a sigh of relief and the tabloids can start their gradual shift from cautious support to the crescendo of expectation that will accompany Fabio Capello and his squad to South Africa next year.
But is there any evidence that "this time, more than any other time, they'll do it right"?
Do England really have a team capable of getting beyond the quarter-finals, let alone winning the thing?
Points in favour:
1. The rest of the world aren't so hot at the moment. Brazil, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are going along pretty nicely but Argentina, France, Portugal and even Italy have got problems. None of them looks unbeatable.
Derek Pringle, David Capel and Phil DeFreitas were hailed as potential successors while the all-rounder was still playing in the 1980s. The unsought weight of expectation then fell on Chris Lewis and Dominic Cork.
In the wake of England’s Ashes triumph over Australia, a huge question awaits…can England find a replacement for Andrew Flintoff?
He has been the scourge of the opposition for so long. His importance was underlined in this series where despite being half-fit he managed to knock over the tourists at Lord’s to claim five wickets and even ran out Australian captain Ricky Ponting at the Oval (which he said on Monday was probably the first time he’s ever run somebody out).
England have regained the Ashes after beating Australia by 197 runs at the Oval to seal a 2-1 series victory.
How important was Andrew Flintoff’s run out of Ricky Ponting when the Australia captain looked well set? Flintoff did little with bat or ball in his last test before retiring but still made sure he grabbed the headlines.
It can be a dog’s life being a cricket captain: adored and cherished, chastised and deplored in equal measure. If Ponting was the crown prince of captains after the first test in Cardiff, he became the pauper at Lord’s and is now very much in the shadow of Strauss at the Oval.
The second day of the final and deciding Ashes test could not have gone much better for the England captain, with the home side bundling Australia out for 160 inside 53 overs and closing day two on 58 for 3, a second innings lead of 230 after England were bowled out for 332 earlier in the day.
Heard the one about the English batsmen who just couldn’t resist nibbling at balls way outside off stump? It is an all too common occurrence and is the main reason why England fell short of a good first innings total in the deciding Ashes test.
Of course, flashing away outside the off-stump isn’t just a disease to afflict English batsmen, although the problem does appear to be more acute on these shores than any where else.
In the end the England selectors kept their calm, remaining cut off from the hyperbole that followed Australia’s demolition of the home side at Headingley, and made just the one change for the Oval, with Jonathan Trott chosen to replace Ravi Bopara in England’s fragile middle order.
Personally, I would have been happier to see Kent’s Rob Key getting a recall for his experience and proven grace under pressure, but given Trott was in the squad for the fourth test, it would have smacked of vacillation from the selectors not to stick with him. As it was, Ricky Ponting described Trott’s promotion as an act of desperation.
England will be under huge pressure to make changes for the deciding Ashes test at the Oval and the middle order is the obvious place to start, with Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood contributing just 16 runs in six innings at Headingley.
So what should England do about it?
Andrew Strauss had a bad start to his day when he and his team mates were evacuated from their hotel at 5 o’clock in the morning because of a fire alarm. Unfortunately, that was just the start of a black Friday for the England captain.After days of assessing the fitness of Andrew Flintoff, Strauss and coach Andy Flower finally decided that the inspirational all-rounder could not be risked in a five-day match and it was announced that he was ruled out of the fourth Ashes test.
Strauss took part in a game of soccer on the Headingley outfield and watched in horror as wicketkeeper Matt Prior collapsed with a back spasm before retiring gingerly to the dressing-room for treatment.
Australia have far more limited options than England when they consider changes to their
battle-weary side for the fourth Ashes test starting on Friday at Headingley, with their main hope of fresh impetus resting on the fitness of Brett Lee.
England had the luxury of bringing in fresh blood on Tuesday, calling up fast bowler Ryan Sidebottom and uncapped batsman Jonathan Trott for the first time this series, while again putting Steve Harmison on standby in a 14-man squad.