England heads to the World Cup with fans and commentators unsure which team will turn up.
Will it be the dominant limited-overs side that clinched last year's World Twenty20 title in the Caribbean? Or will it be the side that followed its historic triumph in the Ashes tests with a 6-1 loss to Australia in the just completed one-day series?
And how many of its injured players will be fit enough to make an impact?
With so many questions hanging over England's one-day side, the three-time World Cup runners-up could do almost anything in the six-week tournament without surprising too many people.
- Andrew Strauss (captain)
- Jimmy Anderson
- Ian Bell
- Ravi Bopara
- Tim Bresnan
- Stuart Broad
- Paul Collingwood
- Kevin Pietersen
- Matt Prior
- Ajmal Shahzad
- Graeme Swann
- James Tredwell
- Jonathan Trott
- Luke Wright
- Michael Yardy
Much depends on whether the injuries picked up on a 3½-month tour of Australia clear up.
"Our schedule is ridiculous going into this World Cup," said Kevin Pietersen, who will bat at No. 4.
"It has been so for England teams for a very long time. And that's probably why England has not done well in World Cups."
For so long an underachiever in limited-overs cricket, England followed its improvement in five-day tests with a similar advance in 20-over cricket. Honing basic skills under the methodical Andy Flower and picking players according to conditions and form rather than reputation, England won the World Twenty20 for its first ever limited-overs global title.
But similar progress in the 50-over game has not followed. Going back to when its openers surrendered any chance their team had of winning the 1979 World Cup final against the West Indies by scoring at the rate of one run per every two balls, England has rarely looked like getting to grips with the format.
No. 3 batsman Jonathan Trott excelled against Australia but found insufficient support as England failed to reach 250 runs in three of its seven matches. When the batting did click, an injury-depleted bowling attack failed to defend the total to the point that Australia, the three-time defending World Cup champion, hit its highest-ever winning chase of 334-8 in the sixth ODI.
Recent tour planning, which rightly elevated the Ashes above all other concerns, could prevent England from improving on that.
The players flew to Australia on Oct. 29 and only returned on Feb. 8, 11 days before the start of the World Cup.
Coach Flower could have only 12 of his 15-man squad available for the first warmup against Canada on Feb. 16 and his most serious problem is how to field an adequate bowling lineup.
Spinner Graeme Swann has a back problem, paceman Ajmal Shahzad a hamstring injury and allrounder Tim Bresnan a calf injury that could keep him out until the second group match against India. With possible replacement Chris Tremlett carrying a side injury, Chris Woakes could be drafted in.
"Without a doubt the length of the tour is a reason for the injuries," Flower said. "With the intensity at which the guys play their cricket and with the intensity that we demand in training, it is no surprise that people will pick up injuries and break down at the end of a long, hard tour."
The trip included five tests, seven ODIs, two T20s and five more tour games. Flower wants to be consulted in future to avoid a repeat.
"In most instances, these fixture lists and itineraries are in place way before any information is sought from the coach," Flower said. "It would be quite sensible to look at how these tours are set up, especially this close to a World Cup."
Paul Collingwood had a back spasm in the first week of February and flew home for treatment, although he, like Stuart Broad, should be fit for England's tournament opener against the Netherlands on Feb. 22.
Veteran allrounder Collingwood retired from test cricket at the end of the Ashes to focus on his limited-overs performances for the remainder of his international career. His sharp reflexes in the field, cutters and medium-pace deliveries are crucial to England's chances of making an impact for the first time since losing the 1992 final to Pakistan.
Four years ago in the Caribbean, a side deflated by its 5-0 mauling in the Ashes muddled into the Super Eight stage. Although England was still mathematically in contention for a semifinal berth until its penultimate match — a nine-wicket loss to South Africa, which passed England's embarrassing 154 all out with more than 30 overs remaining.
A Michael Vaughan-led team more comfortable in test cricket simply could not score quickly enough and was hampered by a lack of bowling options.
Even with injuries, things look brighter this time around.
Although the slugging and glovework of World Twenty20 final man-of-the-match Craig Kieswetter has been deemed unsuitable for the longer format, captain Andrew Strauss and quicker-scoring wicketkeeper Matthew Prior are a decent opening pair, while Trott scored more than twice as many runs as any other England player against Australia.
With Pietersen also on hand, England should look strong on the batting front, even with Eoin Morgan ruled out after fracturing his middle finger in the fourth ODI against Australia. He was replaced Tuesday by Ravi Bopara.
Under a new competition structure, the 14 teams are divided into two groups. With four teams advancing from each group, a quarterfinal berth should easily attainable for England. Progressing from a pool also containing India, South Africa, the West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and the Netherlands would almost certainly set up a match against Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or New Zealand.
From there, anything is possible.[GALLERY id=4431 cat=sports]