London: Physical exhaustion and mental fatigue, added to a lengthy injury list and the inevitable post-Ashes hangover, make England’s World Cup campaign a daunting prospect at best.
Australia’s 6-1 victory in the seemingly endless one-day series which concluded on Sunday will soon be erased from the collective memory while the Ashes triumph will be enshrined in the history books.
Andrew Strauss’s men are, however, on a mission to reach the top in both the test and one-day arenas and, with this in mind their ambition to become the first England side to win the 50-overs World Cup, has been seriously compromised in Australia.
Immediately after clinching the Ashes series, England played two Twenty20 internationals followed by seven 50-overs match spread over six weeks.
Strauss, in public, remained invariably diplomatic but his immediate predecessor Kevin Pietersen made no secret of his feelings.
“Our schedule is ridiculous going into this World Cup,” Pietersen said. “It has been for England teams for a very long time, and that’s probably why England have not done well in World Cups.
“How can the England team play once and then in six days’ time play again, and then in six days’ time play again?” he asked. “It’s ridiculous but there’s nothing we can do about the schedules.”
The effects of the scheduling and the understandable drop in concentration levels after the Ashes were evident in the number of soft dismissals England gifted Australia in the one-day series.
More seriously the amount of cricket has played havoc with a team who were rightly praised as the best-prepared and fittest XI to leave English shores.
World Cup squad members Graeme Swann (knee and back injuries), Tim Bresnan (calf), Ajmal Shahzad (hamstring) and Paul Collingwood (back) flew home before the one-day series had concluded.
Stuart Broad is still recovering from an abdominal injury which cut short his Ashes campaign and World Cup reserve Chris Tremlett also flew home early with a side strain.
The most worrying injury for England is a fractured middle finger sustained by Eoin Morgan, who had a quiet series against Australia but is still regarded as his side’s best one-day batsman. Morgan will consult a specialist this week.
Even if England were all fit and rested there would still be serious doubts about their ability to go one better than the finalists of 1979, 1987 and 1992.
The subcontinental sides have packed their squads with spinners and power hitters to take advantage of the conditions in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
England have Swann, who is deservedly ranked as the world’s best spinner. Their backups, though, are James Tredwell, who looks short of international class, and Michael Yardy, whose flat left-armers can be effective over four overs in Twenty20 cricket but are less so over 10.
Strauss, with characteristic determination and application, has made himself into a successful one-day opener but he will still not take the game away from the opposition and he has no established partner.
Wicketkeeper Matt Prior was entrusted with the role against Australia but gave the strong impression that he is better at finishing rather than starting an innings. Ian Bell, a quality player with a good technique and plenty of shots, might be a better option at the World Cup.
In the middle-order, Jonathan Trott is a fixture at number three while much hinges on Pietersen who remains the batsman most likely to destroy an opposing attack. Pietersen was man-of-the-series when England won the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean last year.
England do not have a bowler in the mould of South Africa’s Dale Steyn or Australians Brett Lee and Shaun Tait who can blast out the opposing team with sheer pace. Instead, they will rely on James Anderson, who did so well in the Ashes, as their spearhead while Shahzad’s ability to reverse swing will be an asset.
England’s strength under Strauss and team director Andy Flower has been their work ethic, intelligent planning and discipline. They will need all these virtues over the next two months plus the good fortune which deserted them in Australia.
On Sunday, Strauss paid tribute to Australia but said his team remained optimistic that they would perform much better on the Indian subcontinent after returning home briefly this week.
“We were thoroughly outplayed over the series,” he said. “We made too many mistakes too often, we lost too many early wickets too often.”
“But conditions will be very different out there and we are still positive and confident we can do well.”