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Time to take long-term decision on Freddie

England must keep their best player in shape for Ashes and World Cup, writes Graham Gooch.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 16:33 IST

It is difficult to avoid being repetitive for England yet again walked the same filthy path and met the same wretched fate.

They are not lasting their 50 overs or cutting down on their wides and no-balls or sorting out the Indian spinners. I also wonder if they would get past this Indian batting line-up again, the absence of Rahul Dravid notwithstanding.

How Flintoff must be envious of Dravid! The Indian captain can now put his feet up while Freddie must keep bowling, batting and fielding and taking those critical decisions which can drive anyone nuts.

He has kept up with the punishing schedule as only Flintoff can but surely the hour has come when England must decide if they want to ground their best player to dust or keep him in shape for this winter's Ashes and the 2007 World Cup.

Flintoff is the glue which keeps England intact and a long-term decision on him can no longer be put to another day. England now have series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan at home and then the Champions Trophy would beckon. The time to manage your best player is right now!

Indeed, I am squarely and directly calling upon Andrew Strauss to step up the ladder at this dire hour. For a top quality player, he is getting out too often to Pathan.

He has only two hundreds from 48 games and one of them is against Bangladesh. He is averaging 20 against India and 26 against Australia; 28 against Pakistan and 17 against South Africa. And these four probably are the sides who could be next year's semi-finalists.

Coming back to Kochi, India again had England by the spin. Their tweakers have now sent down 114 of 184 total overs bowled. Spinners are not meant to bowl that many overs in one-day arena!

Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar are secretly trying to better each other and it is doing England no good. There now seems an inevitability of a "brownwash."

I guess England still haven't worked out how to play the two off-spinners. I would advice them to play a mixed game; pushing them into gaps, driving a few in the deep and resorting to sweep at times.

They can also take the odd calculated risk by chipping over the conventional midwicket. The essence is to keep the Harbhajans and Powars guessing. It might appear an odd advice to come from someone who only "swept" in that semi-final against India in the 1987 World Cup but there we had two left-armers and not off-spinners in action!

He found his hands forced in the 29th over with England at an imposing 148 for 3. However, the 10 overs of next two Powerplays, added only 40 runs to the kitty and three more wickets had fallen. England at 178 for 6 again had too many overs but too little runs on the board.

There was also familiarity about the way Indians batted. Be it a matter of returns from Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif or the familiar reliance on Dravids and Yuvrajs; Rainas and Dhonis. At the moment truly it seems that India only has to turn up in the park to collect their customary cheques and medals.

More youngsters will now look to get kick-started into international arena at England's expense. I can spot at least three names in the Indian squad who would have their moment under the sun in this final week of tour.

India's pool of cricketers would only get bigger while England's, much as I feel sorry to say it, could shrink further.

Of course there is much for England to salvage in this final week. Series was never as much a priority as the need to get their combinations right.

Youngsters must still step up the platform. Matthew Hoggard can still resurrect his one-day career and his swinging deliveries can find an answer to Irfan Pathan.

First Published: Apr 07, 2006 13:10 IST