Cricket: Gooch demands a kick start from tourists

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ENGLAND MUST get off to a flying start on their forthcoming Ashes trip to Australia, according to their tour manager, Graham Gooch.

England have made a bad start on recent tours and the Ashes have stayed in Australia, and Gooch was clear about what needs to be done as England prepared to fly out yesterday morning.

"Test cricket is a hard game," he said. "The last two Ashes tours did not start well and it's difficult to drag a series back from that. In the last series four years ago we came back and almost won in Sydney and then went on to win in Adelaide. We went into the last Test 2-1 down with a possibility of levelling the series but it was too late.

"We have got to play well in the first Test. We had a chance to win the opening game in 1990 but Australia held their character together and won the match. That shows it is vital to stamp your authority early on. It is something we haven't done recently but must do now."

The England captain, Alec Stewart, will once more perform his triple task of skippering the side, keeping wicket and being one of the side's front-line batsmen.

England won this summer's series against South Africa - although losing the one-off Test to Sri Lanka - and Stewart is looking for his players to improve on those performances.

"We had a good summer and we beat South Africa well," he said "Australia are the best side in the world at the moment and they've had the better of us in the last four series. It's time we turned that around and brought the Ashes back.

"Against Australia we have got to be on top of our game and try to improve on our performances of this summer. If we do improve, we are going the right direction."

It is not yet clear whether Australia will have Shane Warne available early in the series following a shoulder problem. If Warne is absent, as seems likely, Australia will still be able to call on Stuart MacGill, who replaced Warne on the current Australian tour to Pakistan and has proved an extremely capable deputy.

"Until we get out there we don't know if Shane Warne will play," Stewart said. "But I want him to be fit because I want to beat Australia with him in the team."

Gooch added: "I haven't seen a lot of MacGill. He's had to fill considerable sized shoes in replacing Warne and he's done a good job. Pakistan is not the easiest place to bowl against their batsmen because they play spin well. To be successful there is a good effort.

"Australia have - in the past - fielded to spinners and they could play both Warne and MacGill together, and we look forward to the challenge."