England's fledgling pace bowlers are effectively in a World Cup bowl-off for the remainder of the one-day series in India and beyond.
Coach Duncan Fletcher yesterday revealed that, despite the disruption to the limited-overs outfit this winter, he is confident about the personnel who will form ten of the starting XI for the tour-nament in the Caribbean next March.
Five one-day regulars are absent from this seven-match series - the second match takes place in Faridabad this morning - including captain Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick.
But it is the fourth and final fast-bowling spot which appears to be the opening in question, with a combination of Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones and James Anderson forming three of the quartet.
Fletcher said: "There is just one position we are trying to find. If we had everyone fit and raring to go, there would probably be only one place we would look at and scrutinise."
Jones opened the bowling with success against Australia last summer but is crocked, along with Harmison, while injured Warwickshire left-arm spinner Ashley Giles has a proven deputy in Ian Blackwell. That leaves Kabir Ali, of Worcestershire, Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood - all of whom are capable batsmen - to stake their claims for the No 9 berth.
While Mahmood has had only one appearance Kabir averages 22.75 from ten matches with the bat (strike rate 89.21) and has taken ten wickets (strike rate 25.6, economy rate 5.37) while Plunkett's return, in six matches, is 27.00 (71.05) with the bat and nine wickets (32.0, 6.39).
Fletcher said: "We would like to give the guys some breaks, there is no doubt about it. With the intensity of the tour and all the travelling, there are going to be some weary legs at some stage and it will give us an opportunity to look at nearly all the players."
England surrendered a firm hold in the first match in Delhi, losing by 39 runs, but Fletcher believes that another batting collapse - there were three serious slumps in Pakistan before Christmas - is symptomatic of a greenhorn team. He said: "We have a young side and we are always going to get caught napping a bit with inexperience. We are missing five players from our one-day side that played so well in the summer and matched Australia; to lose even two is major.
"There are some players relatively experienced at county level that still need to learn how to play at one-day international level. I have always maintained people need to play between 30 and 50 games to feel comfortable."
The tourists have not visited the stadium to get their bearings; instead of travelling through dense traffic to Faridabad, a town 18 kilometres away, they practised in Delhi yesterday. Fletcher said: "We didn't have the first practice slot which meant we couldn't go down at 6.45 in the morning when there is no traffic. I went down this morning at 7.30 to have a look at the wicket and just to go there and get back for practice took three hours and ten minutes. Is it fair to ask guys to sit in a bus for that long when you can easily get caught in a jam? We planned to practise in Delhi rather than let the bowlers sit for three hours on a bus the day before a oneday international."
Some players spent more than eight hours on the road on Wednesday on a sponsor's trip to the Taj Mahal.
Flintoff today becomes only the 11th Englishman to make 100 one-day international appearances. Fletcher said: "With some of the injury problems Freddie felt up front in his career, it is nice to see him get to 100 and still feeling pretty strong."
India are debating the recall of 33-year-old Sourav Ganguly and sweating on the fitness of all-rounder Irfan Pathan, who has a virus. Fast bowler Munaf Patel is still troubled by a heel injury. ..SUPL: