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Specialists restore health of one-day team

By Matthew Fleming

22 December 1997

DECEMBER has been a truly spectacular month and I still cannot believe it. The events of the last 10 days in particular, and the Champions' Trophy in Sharjah, have been beyond my wildest dreams.

I play for Kent, the perennial runners-up, but now I've got my hands on a winner's medal for England - an irony not lost on county colleagues, Mark Ealham, Dean Headley and myself. Having spent three long weeks explaining to Robert Croft, of champions Glamorgan, how the three of us played for the best team in the country, it was the least we deserved.

The tour started in Pakistan. Our training camp in Lahore was a credit to the Pakistan Cricket Board, who could not have been more welcoming, efficient or helpful. We practised at the picturesque Gymkhana Ground. We were frequently reminded of the West Indies' last Test match there, the three Vs, Valcott, Vorrell and Veekes!

The team played two practice matches against Pakistan A at the Gaddafi Stadium, the impressive location for last year's World Cup final, and won them both. We even had time for a day off in Lahore. What a city! I spent eight days there and I still don't know on which side of the road they drive. Our time in Pakistan was worthwhile, great fun and contributed enormously to the success and spirit of the team. I certainly wouldn't send my mother-in-law there - I'd rather use the ticket myself.

The more serious business started as soon as we arrived in Dubai. While no one actually said it to our faces, we were initially left with the impression that not a great deal was expected of us. ``Good old England,'' they said, ``sending a specialist one-day team just to make up the numbers.''

Obviously we could not have hoped to beat Pakistan, the pre-tournament favourites, or India, who had recently played so well against Sri Lanka, but we were expecting an interesting game against the West Indies.

The England team for Sharjah were so positive, the individuals had such self-belief and confidence in every member of the squad that it never entered our heads that we were there to do anything other than win. We knew we were relatively rusty and lacking match practice and that we were considered outsiders but the tougher the conditions the truer the team spirit engendered.

In each of the three round-robin matches, our temperament, desire to win and ability to dig ourselves out of trouble were tested to the limit. Our bowling and fielding came under enormous pressure from the Indians and Pakistanis and our batting from the West Indies.

England were led and managed with imagination, professionalism and a relaxed confidence. This enabled each individual to express himself without losing the disciplined edge that set us apart. This wasn't a 'normal' Sharjah tournament; the West Indians beat the Indians without a quick bowler taking a single wicket to ensure an Asian-free final, a first in the competition's history.

This was the final from hell as far as the sponsors were concerned. Going into it unbeaten ensured we were the favourites, which brought pressure of a different kind, yet we never underestimated the West Indians. Losing the toss and fielding meant we knew we were up against it. The West Indian total of 235 was not reflective of a poor bowling or fielding display, in fact we were efficient with the ball and outstanding in the field. It was more an indication of a much-improved batting performance by them.

A great deal has been written about our successful chase and subsequent victory. Graham Thorpe showed why he is world-ranked No 2 and if it had not been me with him it would have been Dougie Brown, Robert Croft or Dean Headley.

We did not win a single individual award, best batsman, bowler or fielder, but we won the trophy, the ultimate prize for the best team. We left Dubai proud of our performance but knowing we had merely completed the first step in the long process of becoming world champions.

We are by no means the finished article, but we have, I believe, justified the selectors' faith in naming a specialist one-day squad and we can now look forward to the future with real confidence.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:15