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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 11:12 GMT
England reach crossroads
By Oliver Brett

Since beating Sri Lanka on the 2001 tour, England have registered only three series wins out of 11
2001: England 1-1 Pakistan
2001: England 1-4 Australia
2001/02: India 1-0 England
2001/02: NZ 1-1 England
2002: England 2-0 Sri Lanka
2002: England 1-1 India
2002/03: Australia 4-1 England
2003: England 2-0 Zim
2003: England 2-2 South Africa
2003/04: B'desh 0-2 Eng
2003/04: Sri Lanka 1-0 England

England are still third in the ICC Test Championship table but do not read too much into that rating.

They have won only three series out of their last 11, two of those wins coming against those behemoths of the international game, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

They have an unbalanced side, a novice captain, few real stars and a collection of seamers with a truly appalling injury record.

Their latest series defeat, against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka with Muttiah Muralitharan bowling as well as ever, is not in itself a calamity.

But the grand ambition of the England and Wales Cricket Board, at its inception in 1997, was to make the national team world-beaters given a 10-year platform.

And if that is still to be a realistic ambition, they need to have a nucleus of about 14 players who can compete in any conditions and win all their series at home.

Of most immediate concern is the upcoming tour of West Indies where England have not won a Test series since 1968.

But unless they reverse a losing trend over there early next year, they will surely find themselves slipping inexorably down the world pecking order.

Simon Jones
England need the likes of Simon Jones to get fit and stay fit

If there is to be sympathy for Duncan Fletcher, the coach in whom so much faith is founded, it lies in the injuries that routinely afflict the fast bowlers.

Simon Jones wrenched almost every ligament in his knee fielding in the first Ashes Test in November 2002.

He has not even played for his county since then.

Matthew Hoggard missed almost all of the last summer and Steve Harmison can never manage an entire series without breaking down at some point.

James Anderson, Richard Johnson, Andrew Flintoff and James Kirtley have all missed Tests with injuries and Andrew Caddick has been out since April with sciatica.

So just who would be England's four first-choice seamers given the remarkable improbability that they were all fit?

Perhaps Caddick, Jones, Harmison and Flintoff would combine pace and experience in equal measure but the chances of all four being fit for a second match would be slim.

Or perhaps one would want to slide Johnson and Anderson in there. It's a desperately complex puzzle to work out, either way.

Duncan Fletcher
The tour to West Indies will be England's first under Fletcher

The batsmen were generally woeful in Sri Lanka, with nobody even managing to average 40.

But faith will be kept in them for the tour to West Indies, because all have impressive career records and they should face some less daunting stuff in the Caribbean.

For the future, though, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher do not comprise a likely middle order for 2007.

After the failures of Robert Key and Ed Smith in the summer, Paul Collingwood did not exactly grasp the nettle in two Tests in Sri Lanka.

There are mutterings that Chris Read, dropped to eight in Galle, is not good enough to bat in Test matches, however good he is at wicket-keeping.

And where does Rikki Clarke fit into the grand scheme of things?

These and many other questions will trouble the selectors over the New Year.

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