England are grappling with how to tweak a winning team as they move on from their unexpected one-day international whitewash of Pakistan back to one of their specialist subjects today.
After the world No 1’s 3-0 Test series humbling, few expected England to return the favour with a 4-0 ODI trouncing of their hosts.
Usual rules may, therefore, have to be discarded when it comes to assessing their prospects in three Twenty20 matches, given that – in contrast to their relatively lowly ODI ranking – they are not only top of the pile in the sprint format but world champions, too.
How to staff the first match has become a still thornier logic problem, with the absence of ODI and Test No 3 Jonathan Trott – not picked in Twenty20 squads these days – the only certainty.
The toughest conundrum revolves around whether to accommodate Alastair Cook’s Twenty20 ambitions in Stuart Broad’s team on the back of the ODI captain’s prolific run of form at the top of the order in the 50-over game.
Cook has already confounded those who insisted he could not transport his Test match skills to ODIs, and has left no one in any doubt about his wish to try his luck at Twenty20, too.
For Broad, in his first match back in charge after three out with injury dating back to last September, it is an awkward choice between one of his fellow England captains and his young county team-mate and Twenty20 incumbent opener Alex Hales.
There were few clues at yesterday’s press conference that Broad – or coach Andy Flower – were close yet to making a call which can wait if necessary until almost 3.30pm today (UK time)..
“Cooky is keen to play Twenty20 cricket. He’s made that pretty obvious,” said Broad, whose hand is being forced after the opener was added to the squad on Tuesday night because of the back injury which ruled Ravi Bopara out of England’s last ODI win.
Bopara, unlike Cook who took the option of a day’s rest, went through his paces with bat and ball and appeared to move fine at practice yesterday afternoon.
Broad added: “He’s been kept on in the squad, because obviously we’ve got some injury concerns – and you can’t go into a series with only one spare batsman, because if someone breaks a finger in the nets you look a bit silly.
“So it was very easy for Cooky to stay on for an extra three or four days to cover the squad, and we can obviously have a look at him in the Twenty20 format.
“He’s keen to play – as you’d expect everyone here on this tour would be.”
The complication, of course, is the challenge – perceived or otherwise – Cook might pose to Broad’s authority, should he become a Twenty20 regular. Unsurprisingly, Broad does not see that as an issue, explaining that he, Cook and Test captain Andrew Strauss dovetail and exchange ideas constantly.
“Straussy, Cooky and I work pretty closely on all formats of the game,” he said. “Just because Straussy doesn’t play in the ODI format doesn’t mean he has no say or opinion on it. It’s the same for Cooky in the Twenty20.
“The three of us work very closely with Andy Flower, and that will continue.
“We’ve worked closely as three captains, as we have done for nearly a year now, and that doesn’t change overnight.”
Broad has referred, confusingly, to a “few injury scares” in the England camp. But it seems the only doubts surround Bopara and Graeme Swann – who also missed Tuesday’s match, with a tight calf – and it is hoped even they will be fit.
Invited to champion Cook’s potential as a Twenty20 batsman – the left-hander has played just four times, the last in 2009 – Broad stopped short of a ringing endorsement.
“It seems to be whatever you throw on his plate, whatever you challenge him with, he can adapt his game,” he said. “He’s not played a huge amount of T20 cricket for Essex particularly, so it’s obviously hard to gauge whether he’s a good Twenty20 player.
“But you can see from his ODI form that he’s developed scoring areas, shots, and he’s played some fantastic one-day innings for us.
“A lot of this game is a mental game, we all know that, and he’s obviously a very strong mental character and can adjust his game to any format.”
Cook’s involvement is just one piece of the puzzle.
Broad and Flower need to make another tight judgment call over whether Kevin Pietersen, on the back of successive hundreds in his last two innings after being pushed up to open in ODIs, ought to do likewise in Twenty20.
Any two of four batsmen, it seems – Hales and Craig Kieswetter are the men in possession – could open for England at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium today.
“KP showed some great form opening the batting in the one-day stuff,” said Broad. “A confident KP is good for England.”