Stuart Broad still rates Australia the world's best one-day team - but said yesterday England's vast improvement under Andy Flower means they are capable of beating the old enemy. Australia face England, the hosts, in a five-match one-day series starting on Tuesday. And Broad, back for the NatWest Series after missing two home Tests against Bangladesh to undergo "intensive strengthening", is itching to get back on the pitch for his country. He traces the "turnaround" in England's 50-over fortunes to a summit meeting between Andy Flower, the coach, and his team in Johannesburg last year.
It came just before the Champions Trophy campaign - England reached the semi-finals before being trounced by Australia - and after a 6-1 humbling at home to the same opponents. The results, Broad believes, are there for all to see in a team who have since won ODI series in South Africa and Bangladesh under Andrew Strauss's captaincy and then beaten the world for the first time in their history, in the 20-over format in the West Indies last month - with Paul Collingwood in charge on the field.
"We're playing fantastic cricket," said Broad. "We've beaten Australia in Test match and Twenty20 format but, last time we played them in one-day cricket, we struggled. I think we can really improve on that performance; we've changed our one-day cricket around since then." Even so, Broad is not about to argue with the evidence of the International Cricket Council rankings - which place Australia top and England fifth. "I certainly think Australia are the best one-day team in the world, so it will be great to test ourselves against the best," he said. "We've got some exciting players, and there's no reason why we can't give them a great run for their money.
"I think it's important we focus on the strengths we've built over the past seven months - powerful, fearless batting and great planning with the ball." The new ethos did not evolve; Flower's sudden change of tack was much closer to a revolution, hastened by his frustrations at England's apparently habitual ODI haplessness. "Andy was obviously hugely disappointed with the performance in the one-day series against Australia [last September]," added Broad.
"I think we've turned that round. The backing of the captain and coach means we can play fearless cricket. Gone are the days of, if you have two or three low scores, your place comes under threat. Australia, meanwhile, survived a spirited Ireland run chase to secure an unconvincing 39-run victory in an ODI yesterday. The Irish reached 80 without loss chasing Australia's total of 231 for nine but James Hopes took five wickets to halt their momentum and the hosts subsided to 192 all out at the Clontarf Cricket Club.
Hopes, the medium pacer, completed figures of five for 14 off nine overs after William Porterfield and Paul Stirling had given Ireland a fine start with bright knocks of 39 and 36. Stirling eventually lost his leg stump to Ryan Harris and Porterfield was dismissed by Nathan Hauritz. John Mooney struck a late 38 for Ireland but the damage was done as they slumped from 80 without loss to 156 for nine.
Tim Paine, the opener, was Australia's top run scorer with 81 from 122 balls and Ricky Ponting, the captain, made 33. Australia never really dominated Ireland's attack, however, and needed a punchy 42 from Cameron White to post a testing target. Kevin O'Brien was the pick of Ireland's bowlers, taking three wickets for 43 runs. Meanwhile, Cricket Australia (CA) will break with tradition and employ their first full-time national selector who will also double as a national talent manager in an initiative designed to appease states and disgruntled players.
The need for a full-time selector has long been debated at board level, with Michael Brown, CA's general manager of cricket, confirming the time was right to further professionalise the four-man panel. * PA