New-look England a work in progress heading into World Cup
LONDON (AP) Ending England's wait for a first cricket World Cup title seems to be beyond a team that changed captains in the lead-up to the tournament, is without one of its most destructive batsmen in outcast Kevin Pietersen and continues to struggle with its bowling late in the innings.
The limited-overs squads have often been a source of embarrassment in a country where test cricket remains the pinnacle form of the game. The English have lost five straight ODI series in favored conditions at home and were blown away 5-2 in a series in Sri Lanka at the end of 2014.
Hopes raised by reaching the final of a pre-World Cup tri-series tournament involving Australia and India were quickly shot down by a humbling 112-run defeat to the Australians in its last competitive match before the global showpiece begins.
It was a reality check, a signal that the team is still a work in progress.
Removing Alastair Cook as captain - and from the ODI squad - in December and giving the role to Eoin Morgan was widely viewed as a step in the right direction but problems persist.
Is England missing a trick by going with a new opening partnership of Ian Bell and Moeen Ali, leaving big-hitting Alex Hales to wait patiently on the sideline?
Is Ravi Bopara the answer as the team's allrounder? He struggled in the tri-series and was barely used as a bowler.
And will a bowling lineup that lacks variety - there is no left-arm paceman in the team - be able to keep the runs down in the final overs?
''We're not that far away,'' England coach Peter Moores said, and there are some encouraging signs.
Bell and Joe Root are in good form, newcomers Gary Ballance and James Taylor appear to have a strong futures and wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler, with his huge hitting and improvised shot-making, could be one of the most exciting players to watch over the next two months.
In Morgan, England has a limited-overs specialist and a potential match-winner, and paceman Steven Finn's return to form is welcome news to a bowling attack that will include the experienced James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
''We are getting better fast,'' Moores said. ''We are one of the improving teams in the world.''
England probably could have done with another year to let a new squad find its momentum and for Morgan to get accustomed to the captaincy. The team's opening two games are against tournament hosts Australia and New Zealand, which will be a genuine test of its credentials.
Watching with interest from the commentary box of British broadcaster BBC will be Pietersen, whose international career was ended for good by England last year when he was dropped following the disastrous Ashes tour to Australia and held responsible for disharmony in the dressing room.
As he showed in the recent Big Bash League in Australia, Pietersen remains a potent batsman on his day and thinks he would improve England's chances of success in the World Cup. The English lost the final to Pakistan in 1992, when the World Cup was last hosted by Australia and New Zealand, and also lost the finals in 1979 and 1987.
England has moved on from Cook, Pietersen and what was a destabilizing 2014 in every respect. But probably not enough to be lifting the World Cup trophy in Melbourne on March 29.