Vaughan’s men at point of no return

England’s cricketers must avoid becoming another Bangladesh scalp today if they are to keep their slender World Cup semi-final hopes alive. Outsiders Bangladesh have already stunned India and South Africa in the tournament and a third surprise win in Bridgetown, Barbados, today would put them in the reckoning for qualification from the Super Eight stage and all but knock England out.

“They look a dangerous team. Any team that have beaten India and South Africa in a World Cup have got to be taken seriously,” England captain Michael Vaughan said.

Vaughan’s men, perhaps cricket’s biggest one-day under-achievers, have lost three matches so far in the Super Eight stage, including Sunday’s seven-wicket defeat by defending champions Australia. They have yet to score 300, Kevin Pietersen is the only player to have hit a century – and that hundred is the only one by an England batsman against Test-class opposition in the last five World Cups, a statistic that highlights their woeful campaigns since 1992. Furthermore, pace bowlers James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood have been woefully inconsistent.

Stuart Broad, the 20-year-old paceman who arrived last week to replace Jon Lewis who has returned home to be with his pregnant wife, has a chance of replacing Mahmood, with fellow seam bowler Liam Plunkett also waiting in the wings. Andrew Strauss returned to the side in place of struggling opener Ed Joyce against Australia, and despite falling cheaply to Shaun Tait he is expected to keep his place.

As well as overcoming Bangladesh, England need to beat South Africa and hosts West Indies in their remaining second-stage matches, and hope other results favour them, to have a chance of progressing. England managed a similar run of wins in the recent tri-series in Australia when they won four consecutive games to take the title having looked out of the running. “We did it in Australia when we were beaten quite comprehensively and got through to the final and we’ve got to make sure we do the same thing here,” England coach Duncan Fletcher said.

West Indies were virtually eliminated from the World Cup yesterday after their 67-run loss to South Africa in their Super Eight game in St George’s, Grenada.

South Africa amassed 356/4 after being put in to bat by Brian Lara. Opening batsmen AB de Villiers led the charge, top scoring with 146. In reply, the hosts could only manage 289/9 in their 50 overs. The result means that even if West Indies win their remaining two games, they will need other results to go their way to have any chance of reaching the semi-finals.

Bridgetown’s newly rebuilt Kensington Oval will be opened to international cricket for the first time today and tournament pitch consultant Andy Roberts, a former West Indies fast bowler, says it will probably be the opposite of the slow, low grinder Bangladesh won on in Guyana. ‘‘The wicket in Barbados has been playing fairly well in the practice games,’’ he said. ‘‘There have been lots of runs. The bounce and carry has been good.’’

Meanwhile, the England and Wales Cricket Board is to run a trial in this season’s Friends Provident Trophy allowing captains to refer umpiring decisions to the television official. The trial is being conducted in conjunction with the International Cricket Council and will apply to televised matches in the 50-over competition.

Only the captain of the fielding side or the batsman involved will be able to refer decisions upstairs, with each team allowed only two unsuccessful referrals per innings.

Alan Fordham, the ECB’s first class operations manager, conceded discussions with umpires on whether to run the trial had received only a ‘‘50-50 split’’ of those in favour. But he said the ECB was right to be ‘‘dynamic’’ in finding out whether there is a future for increased reliance on technology in the game.

The idea of the trial is to cut down on the number of honest mistakes made by the umpires without encouraging fielders to appeal for any half chance.

■RUGBY UNION Premier Rugby, the representative group of England’s leading clubs, has written to International Rugby Board chairman Syd Millar requesting a meeting with all parties involved in the Heineken Cup stand-off.

Millar this week lambasted the English and French clubs for their ‘‘absolutely disgraceful’’ decision to withdraw from both tiers of European competition next season in a row over voting and shareholding rights. But he also confirmed the importance of club rugby in the fabric of the world game and called for rapprochement in order to save the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup.

Premier Rugby responded yesterday by writing to Millar requesting a meeting between the IRB, the English and French unions and the respective club bodies. ‘‘Now is not a time for accusation. It should be a time for urgent discussion on how to resolve differences, and should involve all the parties,’’ said chief executive Mark McCafferty.

Leicester Tigers prop Marcos Ayerza has been suspended for three weeks for striking an opponent and will miss the Heineken Cup semi-final against Llanelli Scarlets on April 21. The Argentine international was found guilty of striking Stade Français flanker Remy Martin during Leicester’s victory over the French side in their quarter-final at Welford Road on April 1.

■BOXING Joe Calzaghe broke his left hand during his victory over Peter Manfredo to retain his WBO super middleweight title on Saturday. Calzaghe broke a bone in the third round just before referee Terry O’Connor stopped the fight.

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