England geared for crunch game

After the agonising 2-run defeat to Sri Lanka on Wednesday, England approach Sunday’s game against Australia knowing anything less than a win will mean almost certain elimination. The return of Andrew Strauss is a distinct possibility, with Edmund Joyce’s head potentially on the chopping-block.

Strauss has missed every game in the World Cup so far, the first time in his One-Day-International career that he has been dropped, but is thought to be in line for a recall, possibly at the top of the order, possibly once again at the number four slot. No other changes are likely, with only Monty Panesar and captain Michael Vaughan enduring an out-and-out disappointing game against the Sri Lankans.

In spite of getting so close, the game going to the final ball, England know their batting was poor in that game, and failure to improve against an attack including Glenn McGrath and Nathan Bracken will mean meltdown. In particular, they will be desperate for some runs from Vaughan, who may draw a crumb of encouragement from the fact that his last 3 half-centuries against the Aussies have all resulted in victories, most notably in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy in 2004. Despite his failure on Wednesday, Paul Collingwood remains in the purplest of form, with an average over 100 in his last 8 one-day innings for his country.

Joyce, on the other hand, has never yet managed to convince against the top sides in his short ODI career: as an opener he has made a useful 66, a chancy 107 and has not crossed 26 in 7 other innings. In his more familiar role at number four he has, to date, fared even worse, scoring just 68 in 4 innings. Despite Strauss’ almost equally woeful recent form (in his last 48 innings against top sides he has averaged just 25.26, showing no preference for any batting position) his greater experience and proven calibre in the longer form of the game may see him given the nod.

Were Strauss to come in most likely it would be a straight swap with Joyce, but there is also the possibility of Ian Bell being pushed up to open with the captain and Kevin Pietersen moving to the number three slot which many have called for him to occupy. England will be hoping their bowlers can do a similar job on a similar surface to the Sri Lanka game, and with a more inspired batting performance it may yet prove possible to breathe life back into England’s campaign.

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