PAUL NIXON is on course to be named England's World Cup wicketkeeper after making his mark with the bat in the Commonwealth Bank Series.
Ironically, his 49 against New Zealand in Perth yesterday, his first significant score since a surprise call-up to the one-day squad, came in what was already a lost cause.
The 36-year-old was also afforded more than a modicum of luck as he averted the embarrassment of England giving up another bonus point to the Kiwis in the triangular tournament.
With only two matches of the group stages remaining, starting against Australia tomorrow, Nixon is in the box seat for a ticket to the Caribbean.
Rival Chris Read has not had a look-in during the first six ODIs, having started the winter as England's No1 gloveman, and his chances of finishing it in the same manner are thinning.
"I've kept beautifully all trip," said Nixon. "I've felt really good with the gloves.
"The wickets are good to keep on out here, but I'd definitely under-performed with the bat to my standards and I'm pleased to get a few on the board.
"Duncan Fletcher told me to go out and get the bonus point nullified and that, mathematically, keeps us alive, so that was first and foremost.
"Every innings is a huge innings when you play for England and it was nice for me to restore a bit of faith in the reason they picked me - for my batting as well as for my keeping.
"Obviously, we've all under- performed with the bat on the tour and there is still a lot of cricket to go.
"A lot of guys are desperate to be involved in the World Cup at some stage and every player wants to go and justify selection.
"We can score runs at the death, we've got some powerful guys who can hit the ball out of the ground, hit great areas and start finishing a few games, but collectively we've got to come together."
Nixon's affection for the reverse sweep drove the Black Caps to distraction in the 58-run defeat at the WACA, which leaves England needing to win both their remaining matches - against the Australians in Sydney on Friday and New Zealand in Brisbane on Tuesday - to have a realistic chance of a final spot.
"I think Stephen Fleming is right up there with the top captains and I think people do a bit more homework in international cricket. Some of the fields that are set close your areas off much quicker," said Nixon, who also demonstrated an ability to go aerial with two sixes.
"Bowlers stick to their plans for longer and people just have a bit more discipline in international cricket.
"They bowl their lengths and it is very difficult to hit straight if their lengths are good on a turning pitch."
England are likely to make changes to their bowling attack for the penultimate group game.
Jon Lewis (Achilles) may not be risked while James Anderson (back) is returning home to rest his injury before the World Cup.
Sajid Mahmood is yet to play in the series and Chris Tremlett is the most vulnerable after a spray of wides at the WACA amid a general lack of venom.
Skipper Michael Vaughan also misses the game as he is still struggling with his hamstring injury.