Lutters’ World Cup lines (February 4)

NO ONE could ever claim that England’s build-up to the cricket World Cup has been plain sailing, or has even remotely gone to plan.

Of the specialist batsmen selected, only Jonathan Trott has got runs consistently, with all the others chipping in occasionally. Of the bowlers, four are injured and are racing to be fit back at home in England. On top of that, England have been royally stuffed by Australia, coming a distant second, and arguably third out of two.

So what are England’s chances for the tournament now?

In fairness, they are no different to what they were before this seven-match series Down Under. The pitches that they’ll play on in the sub-continent will be totally different. They will be far more batsman-friendly and the spinners in England’s ranks will have a far larger part to play than they have had. The batsmen should find runs easier to come by, too, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

One has to remember that the opposition’s batsmen will be batting the same conditions, however, and form will still be a factor.

Form is something that England’s top order lack, though, and a player would far rather enter a tournament seeing the ball like it were a football rather than a marble.

England’s batting line-up is pretty good in international terms, but they will all need to fire if England are to have a chance.

The bowling, too, is a worry, with fitness being the main issue. England’s seamers have been especially picked with the conditions in mind, sensibly in my view. They will need to bowl tight lines and lengths in order not to go the distance on those flat pitches. A lot will rely on picking up early wickets when the new ball actually does something, so seeing that James Anderson went for nine per over in the sixth ODI against Australia will set alarm bells ringing.

As I said, the spinners are going to be crucial. England have arguably the best spinner in the world at the moment with Graeme Swann, but his injury will be playing on Messrs Flower and Strauss’ mind. Michael Yardy is one of the best spinners in limited overs cricket and could be a major factor in the tournament, but he hasn’t bowled that well.

James Tredwell is Swann’s back-up, but is nowhere near the bowler that Swann is, although he has got a good record in limited overs cricket for Kent. And there is always KP, who turns it square and is probably under-bowled by Andrew Strauss – England will see him as a bonus bowler as he’s gets in for his batting, or at least does so at the moment.

It’s interesting just how different the two series’ have been, the ODIs and the Test Matches.

It goes to show what different games they are, although class should always come through in any form of the game I suppose. Australia’s ODI side is totally different from their Test side, but Ponting is going to the World Cup, which could come back to bite them on the rear end.

My favourites for the tournament: India.

They’re playing at home and arguably are the best team in the world, they will certainly be in the mix, although they don’t have a great record in major tournaments, having not won the World Cup since 1983, beating a great West Indian side at Lord’s.

Australia have won it four times, including the last three, so maybe it’s worth an each way bet on them too. I’m not sure an England fan could do that, though. I think I’d rather give the money to charity, or lose it down a drain.