Cricket: England spirit filters through

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PICKING up the phone and dialling South Africa must be an absolute delight for Keith Fletcher. The England manager speaks to Phil Neale, his A team counterpart, every other day and, after the year Fletcher has endured with the seniors, the tourists' success must be a great relief.

Eight wins out of eight is impressive at any level and rarely, if ever, can an England touring team have started so well. Certainly not a previous A team. This side have already won as many matches as on the four prior tours combined.

The captain Hugh Morris, who is on his third A tour, said: 'We have always had talented individuals on tour; it is the way we have gelled together that has been a big difference. We have performed as a team.'

The spirit is not unlike that Morris has inculcated at Glamorgan, where he also has a small squad in which everyone contributes. Despite just three completed innings all the batsmen on tour have made at least one first-class half-century and most of the bowlers have taken at least 10 wickets.

Two who have been prevented from doing so because of injuries, Martin McCague and Martin Bicknell, are now fit and will definitely play in the four-day match against Natal starting on New Year's Day.

The team fly from the drought-stricken cape to rainy Durban today. They arrive in a city that nervously awaits New Year's Eve after an incident this week in which a 15-year- old girl was shot and wounded on the beach when a man who had had his wallet snatched fired into a crowd.

The police presence on the beach front - where England's hotel stands - has been trebled with the police chief appealing to beach-goers not to take firearms with them.

It is incidents like this - and being searched for guns when entering bars - that remind England that they are in a country where murder is commonplace. In Natal, for instance, 24 people were killed in political violence on Christmas Day alone.

When England began the tour by visiting Alexandra, the event passed so quietly it appeared peace had returned to the notorious black township. Not so. This week police patrols were stopped in Alexandra because they had become too dangerous - five policemen have been killed in two weeks. It is not just the winning that makes this an extraordinary tour.