Cricket: Hussain prepares to rebuild with a clean sheet

After watching a dismal display at Old Trafford, England's cricket captain is ready for tough decisions
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The Independent Online
THREE TESTS is not long into a captaincy before plans A, B and C are torn up, but that is what Nasser Hussain has promised. Following England's poor performances in the last two Tests against New Zealand, the public mood for change is widespread. According to the captain, the feeling is mutual, and he claims no one, not even his friends, are safe. "When you start with a blank piece of paper," he reasoned, "it is amazing what you can end up with."

Nursing a finger broken in the second Test, Hussain had the opportunity to see his team play at Old Trafford without the myopia brought on by close involvement. It did not make for pretty viewing, something the England captain, along with the new team coach Duncan Fletcher, has vowed to try to put right. They do not have long and the pair, alongside the rest of the selection panel, assemble tomorrow for a preliminary meeting to discuss the squad for the final Test.

"I'm very aware that people see the need for change after the disappointment of the World Cup," said Hussain. "It is something that I have thought through over the last couple of weeks and I will do so again over the next day or so.

"I don't believe in simply replacing this team with another 11 players. Ideally, you would like to have established players in a side and fill in the spaces around them with talented youngsters. However, my gut feeling is that it is getting towards the time to start looking towards the future."

Words are easy and yet we are so used to fudge and euphemism from those who run cricket that when an England captain speaks openly we tend to listen. "I want to go out there thinking this is the side I wanted," he said, suggesting that he has so far been outvoted on one or two players. Although he wouldn't be drawn, you get the impression that even the likes of Graham Thorpe, Alec Stewart and Mark Ramprakash aren't bomb proof. As for his stand-in as captain, Mark Butcher, the pressure to replace him with either Darren Maddy or Michael Vaughan is looking inescapable.

New solutions to old problems are fine in theory, but one of the problems that befalls selectors is the near impossibility of knowing just how good young talent is and, in particular, which one out of 10 similar achievers in domestic cricket is most likely to flourish on the international stage. It is this combination of skill and tenacity that tends to be lacking when English players step up to the world stage.

When I was a member of the Essex dressing-room, I knew the young Hussain had what it took to succeed as a Test player and, given a half-decent side, as a captain. Many, including those running Test cricket, did not, but then they did not change next to him for six years.

Without such proximity, and with the current state of county cricket a poor indicator of excellence, it is difficult for onlookers, especially selectors, however well informed their choices might be, to get things right. It all boils down to judgement and when Hussain says he wants a network of people he can phone in order to "get the right players in", they must be people he trusts to be objective. They must also be close enough to see the underbellies, as well as the glossy coats, of those players they wish to consider.

If that is something to set in place for the future, the immediate concern is to pick a side for The Oval that appeases public disquiet by bringing in new faces while trying to win the series. It is a balancing act that could take some time to master.

"It is more courageous to take a side and work with it than to start with a completely new team," said Hussain, hinting that change will probably be slight rather than tectonic.

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