| Woolmer says England will be up there with India, Pakistan, Australia and South Africa
England may have lost another one-day series this week but they are still likely to be a major force at the 2007 World Cup, according to the man who has just masterminded their defeat.
Bob Woolmer, Pakistan’s coach, lists England as one of the ‘Big Five’ teams who could carry off cricket’s biggest prize. To him, the fact that they stand at No. 7 in the ICC rankings is irrelevant.
“England will be right up there,” Woolmer said, “along with Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan.
“I think the 2007 tournament will be quite open, because a lot of teams are beginning to get closer to the Australians. Without Shane Warne, you can make runs against them and that is the key.
“England fell behind when they were playing fewer one-dayers than other countries,” Woolmer added, “and it is only recently that they have changed that. But they have some fine players, especially Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, and I’m sure they will keep improving.”
Woolmer’s first objective will be to guide Pakistan to their first World Cup triumph since 1992, when they knocked England out in the final. And as this last fortnight has shown, he has all the right equipment at his disposal.
If you were to write out a wish-list for one-day cricket it would include raw pace and mystery spin, big-hitting allrounders and cool-headed finishers. Pakistan possess all of these, plus one of the world’s great batsmen in Inzamam-ul Haq, their colossus of a captain.
“If you were to compare Pakistan to the South African side I coached in the 1999 World Cup,” Woolmer said, “the fielding prowess we had then was wonderful, but I think this team is potentially better in both batting and bowling.”
One senses that if Pakistan were to go out of the tournament, Woolmer would prefer to see the trophy go to either England, the country of his youth, or South Africa, his adopted homeland.
Certainly he is unlikely to be rooting for Australia, the one country he could never get the better of, and the team which eliminated the South Africans from the 1999 World Cup in the most painful circumstances imaginable.
“What I learned from that match' Don’t have two fast bowlers at the crease on the last ball when you want them to run between wickets! No, maybe that’s unfair. Don’t drop Steve Waugh on 56! What it comes down to is that you need a tremendous amount of luck to win the World Cup.”
For the moment, though, England need to fix their sights on Wednesday’s dead rubber in Rawalpindi. With ranking points at stake, victory could help them close the gap on the teams above them in the world rankings. Those who are outside the top-six at the start of April face the alarming prospect of having to pre-qualify for next autumn’s ICC Champions Trophy.
Early elimination would not be England’s concern, as they would only be going up against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the West Indies.
But the prospect of adding an extra 10 days in India to what is already an insane schedule would be a serious blow. By the time they reached Australia for the Ashes tour, England would already have spent five weeks on the road.