Cricket: Reluctant tourist's nightmare journey: Glenn Moore in East London reports on how England A's opening batsman Mark Lathwell is learning to cope with failure after a dismal run

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The Independent Online
THERE was a moment towards the end of Sunday's play at Bloemfontein that summed up Mark Lathwell's fortunes on England A's South African tour. The chunky Somerset opener, never the most agile of fielders, was straining after an on-drive. As it approached the boundary he dived desperately, reached the ball - and slid over the rope with it.

Two hours later, with Lathwell beginning to bat as well as he has for five weeks, he was bowled behind his legs in the day's final over.

On most tours, even successful ones, someone has a nightmare. On this one it is Lathwell. An early century in a 'social' one-day match was followed by 83 in his opening first-class innings but since then he has made 154 runs at an average of 14.

Given his dismal end to last season, it means he has scored one century and one half-century in 31 first-class innings since June. Even Ian Botham might have briefly doubted himself after a run like that and Lathwell, a quiet, reserved individual, has nothing like Botham's confidence. As his batting, as extrovert as he is introvert, is highly dependent on his mood, Lathwell's form is perilously vulnerable.

After a week of avoiding interviews Lathwell, who would rather face Curtly Ambrose with a new ball than a reporter with a notepad, faced up to questions nervously but openly yesterday, as if relieved to get his feelings into the open.

'Things have not gone the way I hoped on tour but one thing I am learning is how to cope with failure,' he said. 'I have had bad runs before but nothing quite like this. You can usually go quite some time without making runs feeling sure something is round the corner but it has got to the stage where you hope, rather than think, that will happen.

'This has got me down more than anything I have experienced. I have begun to think 'where are the next runs coming from', particularly after the last game when I felt as good as for a long time, then got bowled behind my legs.'

The sages talk of his poor foot movement, others that he should drop down the order. But Lathwell wants to continue opening and he said: 'I have never been a great mover of my feet. At the moment my problem is confidence, not technique. I have never had a lot of confidence, I just went out and played.'

Failure has exacerbated his predisposition to homesickness. Brought up in Devon, Lathwell, who was 22 on 26 December, is happier playing darts in the local pub than the hotels-and-airport life of a contemporary international cricketer.

'Touring is part of the job, something you have to do if you are going to get on but I don't really enjoying being away from home a long time, I am not a great traveller. I do miss home. I bought a house with my girlfriend six days before coming out.'

However, he has, despite his poor form, been an increasingly involved member of the party, often the affectionate subject of jokes about his prodigious appetite. 'He has slotted in socially very well,' the team's coach, Phil Neale, said. 'He is sharp and can be quite funny.'

Early impressions of Lathwell suggested he was a man promoted by his talent beyond his ambition. But it is wrong to assume his undemonstrative nature and reluctance to proclaim himself ready for Test cricket signals a shortage of desire.

His Somerset colleagues testify to his ambition and his determination to continue playing his way shows a stubbornness and self-belief that in time he will succeed.

It is to be hoped he does, though, as he admits, when he is out of form he looks like a farmyard slogger, when he is in good nick his is a gloriously uninhibited talent.

'I did not feel confident in myself when I played the two Tests in the summer,' Lathwell said. 'I had only played about eight months of first-class cricket and had not proved to myself that I was ready. I need to cross that line of not being quite sure whether I will score runs against a team, to knowing I will.

'In a way I was relieved not to be picked for the West Indies. I want to get back to Test cricket but it needs to be after a more extended period of doing well than it was before.'

(Photograph omitted)