|Player:||LE Plunkett, SJ Harmison, AC Gilchrist, SI Mahmood, SCJ Broad, MP Vaughan|
|Event:||Commonwealth Bank Series 2006/07|
DateLine: 5th February 2007
England's long-term planning for the World Cup revolved around a Durham pace bowler's firepower - but just a month before the plane leaves for the Caribbean his identity has changed. Liam Plunkett has revelled in new-ball duties for England over the past week to fill the hole left by county colleague Steve Harmison's premature retirement from one-day internationals. Having kicked his heels in the nets for all but the fag end of the Ashes tour, the 21-year-old has seized his chance with six wickets in two matches. His opening burst at the SCG saw him send back Adam Gilchrist with a beauty first ball and finish with career-best figures of three for 24. With World Cup selection just 10 days away it was a timely opportunity to showcase his ability to unleash 90-mile-per-hour, wicket-taking deliveries. "Obviously you want to be as quick as you can but also in control, so game by game I feel like I'm getting better and more consistent," said Plunkett. "Hopefully the pace will stay along with consistency. I just want to read the situation. If the pitch is quick I want to run in and hit it but on Friday there was a little bit in it so I tried to slow down a little bit and try to hit an area. I am never going to be the quickest in the team but I feel I can hit the pitch hard and that is what I do best. I've had two months getting back into cricket, been in the gym quite a lot and got a lot stronger." Having been part of the squad that arrived on November 5, the maiden tour victory over Australia, at the 10th and what was effectively final attempt, Plunkett was part of a very different England dressing-room following the 92-run victory. Assistant coach Matthew Maynard led the singing of a team song, developed from one that used to do the rounds at Glamorgan, in celebration. "Everyone was a lot more relaxed and obviously that first beer is a lot sweeter than when you've been beaten," Plunkett said. "It was really enjoyable to be in there. Everyone just came together, it was a really good feeling." It was probably akin to the one he experienced when, with a total of 292 for seven to defend, he rearranged Gilchrist's stumps with an inswinging yorker. "I was trying to get it up there and swing it back into him," Plunkett reflected. "Lucky for me it was a bit fuller than expected and he missed it. Getting him has to be up there, doesn't it? He can change a game just like that because once he gets going he's quite hard to stop. To get him first ball meant the pressure was bang on from then." A side strain curtailed Plunkett's 2006 season and when he arrived Down Under he had not bowled in a competitive match since July. "It is always frustrating not playing and since I got injured last summer I knew I would slip down the pecking order," he added. "People come in like Sajid (Mahmood) and Stuart (Broad), so it was just a case of trying to bide my time." He is back towards the top of the queue now, however, in the competition for Caribbean places and, given his ability with the bat, appears to be a certainty for the 15-man party. Yet he is refusing to look beyond adding to his collection of victims in the Commonwealth Bank Series - a win over New Zealand in Brisbane on Tuesday could send England into the best-of-three finals. "I've not played that much cricket so I have to keep improving and get a few more wickets," said Plunkett. "You always think `am I going to be there?' but at the moment I am really glad to be playing cricket against Australia. They're the best team in the world and it is just nice to be proving yourself against them." Meanwhile, England are hoping Michael Vaughan's five-match absence, caused by a torn left hamstring, is at an end. Vaughan, 32, is scheduled to play at the Gabba as long as he shows no reaction to full net practice on Monday. "Michael came through three days of intensive training," said an England spokesman. "Should he be able to get through Monday's practice session then fitness-wise he will have done enough work to make himself available for selection. They pushed him really hard and he's responded to it well and is not experiencing any difficulties as a result of the training."