England problems mount as World Cup nears
In the past few weeks, Andrew Strauss has spoken of England maintaining "positive" thoughts, of being "confident" and that his team "can do a lot in the World Cup".
If that is the case, then out on the field of play we must have been watching cricket from a parallel universe. The back end of the tour of Australia crumpled into a chaotic tailspin of injuries and defeats. Was it really only a month ago that Kevin Pietersen was out partying with Tinie Tempah in Sydney after England's Test team had quite brilliantly defended the Ashes?
Hot on the heels of the Sydney celebrations, cricket had to continue. The two Twenty20 internationals were shared, but then it all went Pete Tong to the power of 10.
England's Andrew Strauss soaks up the scale of England's defeat in the one-dayers (Getty)
England proceeded to lose six of the seven one-dayers, and so confused were their selections that they ended up with wicketkeeper Steve Davies, who had been dropped from the World Cup squad after the first ODI, back in the side and reclaiming the opening position from Matt Prior. It was Prior, we were led to believe, who would open with Strauss in the subcontinent. Now, frankly, it is anyone's guess who will take on that role.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Ravi Bopara, who has opened for England before but is not currently in the 15-man World Cup squad, will be given the job. Eoin Morgan's finger fracture is classed as "substantial" and with England's first match of the tournament on 22 February the Irish-born left-hander looks odds against making the plane.
In that scenario, England would be allowed to apply to the ICC to find a suitable replacement for Morgan, and Essex's Bopara would be one of the likeliest candidates.
Meanwhile, there are not many fit bowlers left: Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Paul Collingwood, Ajmal Shahzad and Stuart Broad are all nursing one sort of complaint or another. Broad, remember, has not played a match since early December after tearing an abdominal muscle in the Perth Test.
England's first warm-up for the World Cup is against Canada in Fatullah on 16 February and with a daunting list of walking wounded one theory was espoused that coach Andy Flower might be pressed into service.
An ECB spokesman was quoted as saying such a scenario was "so remote as to be up there with Martians landing at Lord's." One might beg to differ.
Leaving the injuries aside, what about the performances in Australia? Bearing in mind that the Aussies were juggling injuries themselves and are most bookmakers' third favourites for the tournament, England should have been competitive.
Some of the time they were, at least with the ball. But on two rare occasions the batsmen performed, the bowling fell to pieces, firstly in the series opener at Melbourne (though Shane Watson's stunning 161 had a say in matters), and then when they were unable to defend 333 at Sydney.
Ian Bell was one of many England batsmen to disappoint (AP)
Of the individuals, one batsman could hold his head high: Jonathan Trott hit two centuries and emerged with 375 runs, the rest looked badly out-of-form, the worst cases being Morgan and Paul Collingwood.
At least Collingwood did his bit with the ball, providing remarkable economy with a few wickets as well. By contrast, James Anderson was the most expensive frontline bowler and Michael Yardy looked exposed without his spin-twin Swann at the other end.
England need some sort of lift between now and the moment they board their plane from London to Bangladesh on Saturday - after a mad four days at home when they will have time to wash their kit, take the dog for a walk and little else.
There are no plans for a motivational session with Kenny Dalglish, the man who has transformed Liverpool's faltering season, though how about it ECB? Perhaps the knowledge that they are going to a very different place, and playing against different teams might allow body and mind to re-awaken.
Any positive fitness bulletin will surely help, and they must remind themselves that prior to the last series they had won their past five ODI rubbers.
As long as they show some appetite for the occasion, England should have enough quality to make the quarter-finals. To be sure of doing so, they only need to beat Netherlands, Ireland and win any two of their remaining four group matches (the easiest being Bangladesh and West Indies).
Once there, it's shoot-out time and they will be able to draw on their own success in last year's World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, when they stumbled into the Super Eights before finding their mojo and reeling off five comprehensive wins to pick up the trophy.
Things might not look too clever at the moment, but Strauss, Flower and company must remind themselves that they are one of the best five teams in the world - and play that way.