England and their coach, Duncan, Fletcher are whistling in the wind if they really believe they are within one player of finalising their best team for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.

Fletcher has made the Sphinx look and sound like a chatterbox in recent years, which is why it was an astonishing statement to make last week.

Even his qualification that it depended upon the availability of five senior players who are not in India - Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones - begs at least two questions.

How can Fletcher possibly know that he can write down ten names - nine of which played in the Ashes series - so far in advance?

Someone might pop up in the next 12 months in which nearly 30 ODIs will be played, just as Suresh Raina did for India last Friday in Faridabad.

Perhaps Fletcher simply dropped his guard to a press conference, just as the Prime Minister did in Australia when he admitted an error in saying he would not serve a full third term in charge.

When pressed, Fletcher refused to identify the only position about which he was doubtful, but it is crystal clear that it is a No 9 quick bowler who can bat.

If his hopes are realised about the form, fitness and availability of Vaughan and Trescothick next month - which is far from certain - then they will complete a first three with Andrew Strauss. Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones take us to seven, and Fletcher understandably cannot wait for Giles to come back and bat at eight.

Ian Blackwell bowled well enough in the games in Delhi and Faridabad but, for a man with 16 first-class hundreds, his batting has been woeful. Had he batted to potential, England would not have started today's third ODI in Goa 2-0 down - and could even have won both games.

Back to the Fletcher crystal ball. He wants Harmison and Jones for the new ball, because the modern game calls for wicket-takers. James Anderson and Kabir Ali are certainly that, but at a totally unacceptable cost because of regrettable inconsistency.

They had a tricky batting pitch to exploit on Friday, but they gift-wrapped 53 runs from the first ten overs to leave their captain without a decent game plan.

The pitch was an oldfashioned Indian strip - not a blade of grass and dry cracks which moved before a ball was bowled. The harder a bowler banged it in, the stodgier the bounce.

Anything of ordinary full length and straight could not be hit off the square, but Anderson and Kabir sank without trace in a boatload of long hops and half-volleys.

It was no better when they came back and, even though runs come more easily with a hard new ball at the top of an innings, a final count of 110 runs conceded from their combined 17 overs, compared with 116 from 32 at the other end, tells the story of why England lost by four wickets with one over to spare.

Flintoff took protective post-match comment to the limit when he claimed that positives to take from the game included the fact that he was leading an inexperienced side. Really?

What about Raina and Mahendra Dhoni who came together at 92 for five in the 23rd over. Their combined age is 40 and their ODI caps are just in double figures.

Their seventh wicket part-nership was beautifully paced, even though the run-rate rose from a starting point of 135 in 27 overs (five per over) down to 73 off 11 at all but seven per over.

Technically and tactically, they were flawless, maybe because they were waiting for England's hapless new ball pair to come back into the attack.

Any hope that lessons had been learned disappeared when Kabir went for 15 in one over followed by Anderson conceding nine in the next. Liam Plunkett must now be rated ahead of Anderson and Kabir.

Flintoff did not help by contributing to an unforgivable tally of 18 wides, but the over-all performance was so typically dismal that the theory is growing that Fletcher does not attach as much importance to one-day cricket as full Test cricket.

The artificial element has increased with the illogical power-plays striking a further imbalance in favour of batsmen and while the England coach can bring out the best of his players in five-day cricket, he cannot obtain the same disciplined response in the hurly-burly of 50 over cricket.

As for that magical NO 9 position, a hint might be given if Matthew Hoggard plays in the third match of the series today. His last two one-dayers were poor - nearly eight runs per over conceded - and it was decided that his fielding and dogged batting were too much of a handicap.

But the Yorkshireman has moved his bowling up a gear and, having kept him on tour when Harmison went home and with two defeats already suffered, it would be ironic if he does not play in Goa, the holiday resort into which he had booked himself and family for a three-week holiday.

England can always win the odd one-day contest through a batting extravaganza from Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, but until consistency is the watchword with bat and ball, England will always remain also-rans.

Even if Fletcher truly believes he is one piece away from the complete jigsaw.