Cricket: How I can still benefit England

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The Independent Online
WHEN I was nine I was picked for a trial for the Middlesex Under- 11 team. I went along full of hope, if not expectation. I scored nought. It was the beginning of a cricketing life of continual lows and highs. There was another low last week when I was omitted from the England party to tour South Africa this winter.

I was very disappointed about it. I do not agree with the decision, but I felt better about it yesterday than I did the day before, and better the day before than I did on Thursday. It is true that I have not been as fluent this summer as previously, but then I have had a run of good seasons since 1994.

Whatever has been said in the days since the side was picked, whether people agree with the decision or are against it, I still have things I want to achieve with England. I have played many consecutive Tests since the last time I was dropped and I feel more secure about the international game. I think I have reflected my ability more than before, and I would be happy to take more responsibility higher up the order and try to make the big scores that the team so desperately need.

When the season ends I shall take a break from cricket before starting to plan for Middlesex's season in January with Mike Gatting and also for the benefit I was awarded by the county last week. But my aim is to come back after that, score runs and merit selectorial attention again.

I still want badly to play for England, to score more runs and to score them more fluently. There will never be any way it will be as easy getting them for England against the likes of the Australian attack as it is for Middlesex against the medium-paced seamers, but there has, I agree, to be a happy medium.

In my recent career I have tried to learn to bat according to circumstances. Whenever I bat in any match I always go out to try to play positively. However if the bowling is tight and early wickets have fallen, then partnerships are the priority. There are five days to Test matches. Time is rarely your enemy, so it is important to use it. England are taking a batch of new and untried players along with the more experienced batsmen who were preferred to me. Good luck to them as they try to forge international careers.

The squad's relative inexperience could be to their advantage. They are not expected to do well, they will start as second favourites, so they might not be under pressure because there will be no weight of expectation. It just might help. There are a few all-rounders in the side for obvious reasons, as the constant search for the right balance goes on. They will come up against all-rounders in South Africa as well.

Other countries seem to have more batsmen who bowl and bowlers who bat. This may be down to the greater time they have to practise and the quality of that practice. Their batsmen are ready for a bowl after a batting net because they are not tired from playing too much. Similarly, their bowlers put a lot into their batting. The quality of the nets helps as well.

The one player in England's party who stands out as one with potential is Andrew Flintoff. His batting has raw edges but he gives the ball a clout, he bowls a heavy ball, and he catches the big catches in the slips. Flintoff could be some player one day soon and now is the time to persevere with his talent and bring it on.

I am left for the final fortnight to concentrate on Middlesex and our bid to make the first division of the County Championship. This has been a difficult season for the club. It is several seasons since we did well and that is no less frustrating for me because I started life in a successful side. There were one-day trophies and Championship titles in my first five years.

Two new coaches in two years have made the challenge of doing well more formidable. I have found the captaincy a bit frustrating and, perversely, the Test series has not helped. It can be difficult coming back and being in and out as captain. You want to play for England but you want to get things done for your county. We will need to win our final matches to stay in with a chance.

Looking across the road a bit, Surrey have no such problems. They have been the best side throughout this season, they deserve the title, though it almost grieves me to say it about my mates at The Oval. We must look to ensure we play them in 2000.