When I wrote a piece last month in the Ashes-winning souvenir edition of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, my pay-off line was that England would go on to surprise us by doing rather well in the forthcoming World Cup.
Since 1992, when Graham Gooch’s team was beaten in the final by Pakistan, England have been hopeless in four subsequent World Cups, but I genuinely felt that Andrew Strauss and his players could follow up their Ashes triumph in Australia by putting in a strong challenge for the 50-over world title to go with the World Twenty20 crown they won so convincingly last May.
I am not so sure now. To put it frankly, I just cannot believe that England’s players are still out there in Australia! As I write this, I have been home for three weeks and it seems an age ago now – at the end of October – when I travelled out to Australia to start work on covering the Ashes tour for the BBC. And, when I arrived in Australia, the England players had already been there for a week or so.
Players such as Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott have had no break at all since mid-October. It is no wonder to me that England’s batting has been so disappointing – as a collective unit – during the interminable Commonwealth Bank one-day series which, as I write this, still has a week to go.
Mental tiredness is solely responsible for the batting shortcomings in the first five one-dayers against the Australians. They are all exhausted. Seven one-dayers is ridiculous, and exactly the same mental and physical exhaustion happened after the 2009 Ashes series in England – when seven 50-over matches were scheduled too.
Simply ludicrous, and I do think it is finally time for the administrators in both England and Australia to have a major rethink on the scheduling policy. A short one-day series before an Ashes series is surely the way to go – as an appetiser for the main course – with perhaps a couple of Twenty20s thrown in as an additional warm-up exercise.
The problems for both England and Australia, of course, as they have slogged their way around that huge country playing two Twenty20s and seven one-day internationals since the Ashes series ended, is that injuries have piled up.
Australia have suffered perhaps even more than England, in that their injuries have included serious ones to the likes of Nathan Hauritz. But England have had their preparations for the World Cup severely disrupted by the injuries that have cost them almost an entire first-choice bowling attack.
Ajmal Shahzad is the latest bowler to break down, Tim Bresnan remains a doubt for the start of the World Cup tournament, and Graeme Swann’s knee and back complaints are also a worry, although it is a bonus to see Stuart Broad making strong progress in his rehabilitation from the stomach injury which ruled him out of the last three Ashes Tests and all cricket since.
What I will say about England’s chances at the World Cup at the moment is that the conditions in the sub-continent will be totally different from those in Australia. England went into their fifth one-day international at Sydney with a five-man seam attack, but I am sure that two spinners will be at the heart of the attack during the World Cup.
Hopefully, too, the batsmen will be able to get some sort of rest – mentally as much as physically – in the brief respite they will be given between the end of the Australia tour and the start of the World Cup campaign. I fear, however, that there are some very tired cricketers currently pulling on England’s one-day shirt.