x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

England are not taking the Netherlands lightly in the Cricket World Cup

England are firm favourites to beat the Netherlands in their first match of the Cricket World Cup – but they are not taking anything for granted.

England's spin bowling coach, Mushtaq Ahmed, left, and team coach Andy Flower supervise bowling practise at the nets in Nagpur yesterday.
England's spin bowling coach, Mushtaq Ahmed, left, and team coach Andy Flower supervise bowling practise at the nets in Nagpur yesterday.

When England and the Netherlands take to the field at the Vidharbha Cricket Association Stadium on the outskirts of Nagpur in India, it will mark the 15th anniversary of their first World Cup meeting.

Graeme Hick, in India as a television analyst, scored a century in Peshawar and England eased home by 49 runs despite a 114-run stand between Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk and Bas Zuiderant.

Zuiderant, now 34, is still part of the Netherlands squad, having also played at East London in South Africa in 2003 when England cruised home by six wickets. Only James Anderson, then a young tyro who took four wickets, and Paul Collingwood remain from that team as England look to begin their campaign on a positive note.

Victories against the Netherlands aside, both the 1996 and 2003 World Cups typified England's one-day decline since the halcyon years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were the worst team into the last eight in 1996 and no one was surprised when Sri Lanka routed them in Faisalabad.

Seven years later, they did not even make the Super Six. It was all a far cry from the Graham Gooch years, when they reached consecutive finals (1987 and 1992), losing to Australia and Pakistan.

That 1987 tournament saw Gooch top the run charts with 471, and he saved his finest innings for the semi-final against the co-hosts, India. His 115, full of punishing drives and precise sweeps, was the inspiration as Kapil Dev's side were denied the chance to defend the trophy that they had won so dramatically at Lord's four years earlier.

In recent times, England have struggled in these conditions. In 2006, India thrashed them 5-1 in a bilateral series, and two years later, they were 5-0 down in a seven-match series when the attacks in Mumbai saw the tour abandoned.

Their opponents will also take some encouragement from what happened at Lord's just over 18 months ago, when they clashed at the World Twenty20. Edgar Schiferli and Ryan ten Doeschate were at the crease as the Netherlands clinched a thrilling last-ball victory.

"It underlines the point that you can't underestimate teams like Holland," said Andrew Strauss, the England captain, on the eve of the Nagpur game.

"They've played a lot of cricket now and are a side with some obvious strengths. We need to be good enough to overcome those. If we're 10 per cent off and they have a good day, we're in trouble."

A raft of injuries and the exciting Eoin Morgan being ruled out by injury disrupted England's World Cup preparation, which involved a 6-1 thumping in Australia. Forced to rethink their strategy, they have stumbled on what might just be an inspired gambit - Kevin Pietersen at the top of the order.

Since depression and other demons sadly ended Marcus Trescothick's international career, England have lacked oomph at the start of their innings. By promoting Pietersen, who certainly is not shot-shy, Strauss hopes that England can make maximum use of the first two power plays.

"Pietersen, we've always felt, has the game to prosper at the top of the order in the subcontinent, on these type of wickets," Strauss said. "I think he could take a couple of the opposition teams by surprise and put pressure on them."

England will be well aware of who they have to contain to ensure that their tournament starts on the right note. The South African-born ten Doeschate only made his debut at 26, but he averages 68.55 with the bat and 20.93 with the ball after 27 games. He has also been an effective performer for Essex on the county circuit.

The pitch in Nagpur is usually batsman-friendly. There have been three scores in excess of 300 in two games, and England could well call on the fit-again Graeme Swann as they tune up for a meeting with India on Sunday.

With Stuart Broad also back and bowling superbly, they will be eager to show that what happened in Australia was just an aberration.