Cork breath of fresh air for England

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The Independent Online

England's weary players arrived here yesterday boosted by a burst of enthusiasm from Dominic Cork, the Derbyshire all-rounder who missed the disastrous Zimbabwe leg of the four-month trip because of the break-up of his marriage.

Cork arrived ahead of the main party, and is optimistic that his knee is on the mend after injury. "I feel very fit and I can't wait to get back on to a cricket pitch," he said. "I've been following a specific programme designed to build up the muscles around my knee and get me as fit as possible.

"I wanted to be in Zimbabwe but unfortunately circumstances did not allow it. I have had my longest break from cricket for a while, however, and I needed rest more than anything.

"I don't think the boys are down or depressed at all," was Cork's summing- up of England's mood. "Obviously they are disappointed by what went on in Zimbabwe but we all know what we've got to do out here."

How they respond to the different challenge in New Zealand, classed jointly alongside England in bottom place among Test cricket's rankings, will almost certainly affect the future of their captain, Michael Atherton. Bookmakers William Hill have already prepared odds on his likely successor - Alec Stewart (3-1), Nasser Hussain (9-2) and Adam Hollioake (5-1) are the leading contenders but Atherton is remaining defiant.

"I've been appointed for the whole of this winter tour and I intend to see it through, hopefully with some success in the second half," he said. "I'm confident of beating New Zealand, you have to be.

"In Test match series we certainly have more good days than bad, but we do have the odd bad session and that is what we are looking to eradicate."

The England captain is refusing to become embroiled in a war of words with the media: "I'm afraid that when things go poorly obviously the side expects some criticism, but the nature of the personal abuse that flies around can get quite hurtful at times which is why it's best not to read the newspapers...the only way to win with the media is to win some cricket matches."

n England Under-19s continued their highly-successful tour of Pakistan by clinching victory in yesterday's second one-day international in Sialkot to seal the series. Restricted to 213 for 5 in their 40 overs after David Nash top-scored with 49, England triumphed by just three runs after dismissing Pakistan for 210 in the final over.