Dream on England. By beating New Zealand in Brisbane in the early hours tomorrow morning they will stumble into the best-of-three finals of the tri-nation one-day series in which they will play Australia.
This improbable situation has evolved because of two results; England beat Australia last Friday and the host country crushed New Zealand by five wickets yesterday. The England win in Sydney came from much better batting, slightly better bowling, the winning of the toss and three slices of luck when Ed Joyce was dropped on six and 59, and possible matchwinner Andrew Symonds suffered a freak injury that separated a tendon joining his right upper arm bicep from the shoulder, and could even keep him out of the World Cup.
Clouding what seems a simple issue is the reluctant revelation made last Friday that the International Cricket Council has been approached by the England and Wales Cricket Board to inquire if their selectors can choose any cricketer for the final 15 to be named tomorrow week who is not in the provisional 30 selected last month.
There have been several cans of worms opened on this dreadful tour but none so full of the smellies and the wrigglies as this one. It has always been known that an injured player named in the early provisional 30 could be replaced so why did the ECB make a more significant inquiry?
The claim on behalf of chairman David Graveney that the selectors simply wanted clarification just won't wash. Why did they want clarification if they had no intention of making an extraordinary volte-face by bringing in other players?
The reason why they are backtracking is that win over Australia — otherwise they would have turfed out young bowlers such as Sajid Mahmood, Chris Tremlett and Liam Plunkett and brought back old-timers like Darren Gough, James Kirtley and Ryan Sidebottom.
They still might because the above-named young trio is so hit and miss that an exit from the World Cup before the semi-final stage would be inevitable if they are selected. Plunkett undoubtedly has something, as shown by his unplayable first ball to Adam Gilchrist (it would also have beaten and bowled any right-hander), and figures of three for 24 would cause a few eyebrows to be raised if he was replaced by someone like Gough.
But it is not cut and dried; in his third over he suddenly fired a wide a la Steve Harmison straight to slip, and also contributed his share of wides later. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has planned for this World Cup for two years but he would be hard pressed to write down six certainties right now. He and the selectors must pick for the here and now, and that is why consideration must be given to a re-think.
There are two scenarios; England beat New Zealand tomorrow and acquit themselves semi-respectably against Australia in the finals. If they do this, the selectors will probably try to put the lid on that can of worms. But what will they do if New Zealand beat them?
There are a few pluses to consider — Ed Joyce, a welcome change in the batting approach of Ian Bell and the first appearance of Ravi Bopara who has much to offer in all three departments. The return of Kevin Pietersen will fill most of the batting holes, and find a couple of reliable support bowlers to back up Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar — and the side starts to take shape.
Jonathan Lewis and Stuart Broad should be certainties and it may be a blessing that, for reasons best known to themselves, the selectors ignored Broad for this one-day series. It could be that such a precious talent could have been dragged down into the sea of mediocrity with the rest of this one-day party.
The treatment of Gough was appalling. Even if it was decided that his time had come, it was crass to suggest that he lacked the necessary fitness — a charge now unreservedly withdrawn by Graveney together with an apology. Whether Gough could stand up to a full World Cup campaign is questionable but, as England's most successful one-day bowler in the last ten years, he still has much to contribute off the field in nous and advice to youngsters faced with the impossible task of trying to learn their trade in international cricket.
Sport occasionally throws up the most fanciful of dream-like results. How about this one? England qualify for the best-of-three finals and the first two are rained off in Melbourne and Sydney. The third one is in tropical Brisbane where thunderstorms interfere and dear old Messrs Duckworth and Lewis settle everything with their log tables.
And so England hold aloft the trophy after winning only four matches out of 12 against an Australian outfit that would have lost only two out of 12? Truly the stuff of which dreams are made.