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Could England be getting good at One Day cricket? The batting line-up actually seems to be reasonably balanced, with openers who are neither ridiculously cautious, overly aggressive, or Ian Bell. Meanwhile, Eoin Morgan has found a useful niche, and Matt Prior and Luke Wright at six and seven are actually quite good.

The bowling was also fairly impressive on Sunday, and the discovery of Trott as an economical medium pace bowler has been an unexpected boon.

England have, of course, fallen victim to false confidence before, so I’m reluctant to get too carried away. As Andy Zaltzman has said, “It will make a pleasant change if England can buck their recent trend by following up a spectacular victory with something other than a spectacular defeat.

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Part two of the Twenty20 Champions League Preview:

  • The Bangalore Royal Challengers have almost as many South Africans in their squad as the sides representing that country (even without the injured Kevin Pietersen). Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn all feature, whilst Rahul Dravid demonstrated in this year’s IPL that there’s a role for him in Twenty20 cricket which doesn’t simply involve driving down the run-rate.
  • Somerset‘s preparation has been dominated by Marcus Trescothick’s return to India, with some of the coverage seemingly willing him to suffer a breakdown. Assuming all is well with Trescothick, he and Justin Langer make an experience opening pair, with possible future ‘England’ wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter also capable of making quick runs. It’s difficult to assess how well the English sides will do, but at first glance it seems a mighty task for Somerset to win the tournament.
  • Sussex have a reasonably balanced side which was impressive during the English domestic Twenty20 Cup, with the batting of Michael Yardy and Ed Joyce and the bowling of James Kirtley particular highlights, with Luke Wright and to some extent Yasir Arafat capable both of adding runs and taking wickets at crucial moments. The side may struggle against some of the millionaire IPL teams, but perhaps greater experience of Twenty20 cricket will count in their favour.
  • Trinidad & Tobago are arguably considerably stronger than the side which is representing the West Indies at the moment, with Dwayne Bravo one of the stars of the (now presumably defunct) Stanford 20/20 competition alongside spinner Dave Mohammed, and with Windies wicketkeeper Dinesh Ramdin also in the side.
  • Wayamba have the experience of Mahela Jayawardene and the magic of Mendis. The latter will most likely bamboozle a number of players who are missing international experience, although he didn’t quite live up to his billing for Kolkatta in the IPL. The side look more like dark horses than front-runners, but, as I’ve already said, anything could happen over 20 overs.
  • Victoria might suffer for the loss of Dirk Nannes, but David Hussey and Brad Hodge have the class to make an impact with the bat. Bryce McGain has another chance to make an impact outside of Australia following his disappointing Test ‘career’.

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The Twenty20 reaches its conclusion this weekend with the now traditional Finals Day. This year will be the last season of the current format, and will also see the first qualifiers decided for the Champions League after last year’s cancellation.

As well as the exciting prospect of the mascot race being commentated on by Phil Tufnell, the cricket should be of a high standard, with four good sides involved:

  • Somerset, like Kent, are former winners, and the quality of their top order (Trescothick, Langer, Kieswetter…) is beyond question. The bowling is not quite as strong, but if the batsmen make a big enough score that won’t matter too much, and the experience of the older heads will be priceless in the field.
  • Sussex may be missing Matt Prior for Finals Day, but they have quality bowlers in Yasir Arafat and James Kirtley, whilst Luke Wright can make an impact with bat or ball (or both). Defeat in the Friends Provident Trophy final may have sharpened their hunger for success, but Murray Goodwin will need to regain his form if they are to lift the trophy.

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England have announced their squad for the summer’s World Twenty20, having trimmed their initial 30 down to a more manageable 15:

Paul Collingwood captains the side, somewhat suprisingly given his previous reluctance to do so, and the fact that he stood down as One-Day captain a mere nine months ago. Cynics may also suggest that if England’s best hope is someone who couldn’t even get a game in the IPL, then things don’t look good.

The other headlines are the inclusions of Rob Key (interesting because he hasn’t played for England – as opposed to the Lions – since 2005, and his last limited-overs international was way back in 2004), James Foster (also recalled after a long exile), Eoin Morgan (‘borrowed’ from Ireland), Graham Napier (another IPL bench-warmer, albeit with a fair bit of Twenty20 pedigree) and Leek’s very own Ryan Sidebottom.

The rest of the squad comprises James Anderson, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Andrew Flintoff, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Kevin Pietersen, Owais Shah, Graeme Swann, Luke Wright.

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Andrew Strauss hasn’t played a limited overs international since April 2007, but tonight he leads England in a Twenty20 international against a West Indies side superficially similar to the Stanford Superstars team that beat England by 10 wickets back when Allen Stanford was more likely to be asked ‘is it fun being a millionaire?‘ than ‘how do you plead?‘.

Cricinfo’s preview of tonight’s match expects Ian Bell to open the batting for England alongside Strauss. Yes, that’s right, Ian Bell.

England have never quite managed to get their Twenty20 opening partnership right. They have tried the following in the last four years: Geraint Jones and Marcus Trescothick, Strauss and Trescothick, Trescothick and Bell, Ed Joyce and Michael Vaughan, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, Prior and Darren Maddy, Prior and Luke Wright, Maddy and Vikram Solanki, Wright and Phil Mustard, and Bell and Wright. That’s 10 different partnerships in a mere 14 matches.

I doubt that Bell and Strauss are the solution, but I will graciously suspend judgement until, ooh, maybe the fifth over of tonight’s match.

UPDATE: It now seems that England will try another opening pair – Steve Davies and Ravi Bopara. They seem more like a Twenty20 opening pair than Strauss and Bell, so let’s hope for some success.

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England take on South Africa in the first ODI of the series at Headingley tomorrow with a slightly re-jigged side, possibly featuring Matt Prior opening with Ian Bell, and with Owais Shah at number three.

The hosts will also make changes to their bowling line-up, partially forced by injury to Ryan Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett. Called up in their stead is Tim Bresnan. Former captain Paul Collingwood is still suspended, but Samit Patel may miss out to Luke Wright and/or Graeme Swann in the lower-middle order.

For South Africa, JP Duminy, Johan Botha and the tremendously-named Vernon Philander are all likely to play. Albie Morkel is definitely injured, and brother Morne is a doubt. Graeme Smith‘s side will be overwhelming favourites (although Duncan Fletcher is optimistic about England’s chances), and the return of Herschelle Gibbs to the side for the One-Dayers is likely to put bums on seats, as they say.

UPDATE: Harmison’s only gone and unretired himself.

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England Lions, that oddly-named band of fringe players and jilted England captaincy candidates, take on South Africa tomorrow at Grace Road.

The likes of Samit Patel and part-time model Chris Tremlett will be hoping to prove themselves worthy of inclusion in the full England One-Day side, whilst Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Luke Wright will be hoping to have a bit of a recce of the South African side. I imagine their report will be something like ‘they’re much better than England‘.

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