Cricket: Time for home run

Nick Knight looks forward to a final flourish before a welcome break
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These are strange hours on tour. There are important games left, a one-day series to be won. But equally we are only days away from going home. It is natural for our thoughts to turn there, to family and friends whom we have not seen since November.

It has been easier for some than others. Maybe it depends on the state of your life. Those with young families and new additions to that family like Graham Thorpe and Jack Russell must sometimes find it hard. This is not a lament, merely an observation on the peculiar circumstances of a long cricket tour.

But they don't alter the fact that we are a team, a unit here to do a job representing our country. Not a day's play goes by when we don't realise how fortunate we are to be doing what we do. It is and should be a source of pride.

There have been well- documented disappointments on this tour. England have won two Test matches. We know it ought to have been four. But it has turned out well in the past fortnight - a good time with the end in sight - and that surely is a tribute to the team spirit. When things were refusing to go our way in Zimbabwe we were downhearted but never resigned. We have stuck together. We found fresh legs in New Zealand.

A large part of the credit has to go to the captain, Mike Atherton. Struggling for form on the first leg, he came through the darkness into the light, and. throughout he kept his head up.

All this, of course, has coincided with a period of pretty indifferent form for me. I know I'm not in form. Look at the figures. The team is always the important thing but it's human for the individual to want do well himself. Without wishing to sound immodest I know I'm important in the field but that without accompanying runs isn't enough. Earlier in the winter a couple of other batsmen were out of form. They fought their way back. Each time you go to the crease you put past failures behind you. This, you think, is a new start.

The end of the tour is a new start in its way too. The series of one- day internationals which started on Wednesday could hardly be more different from the Test matches. This is not only the shortened form of the game, it's the occasion. We have never seen anything like it in England. At times in the opening day-night match it was easier to imagine that you were at a rock concert than a cricket match.

But it's all extremely exciting, the crowd are perpetually involved. Every opportunity is taken to generate excitement, at the fall of a wicket or during a drinks break. It makes for a fervent atmosphere. Most of the crowd here naturally were rooting for New Zealand and down on the boundary edge they can throw some jibes in your direction. It is part of the event.

Most of the other members of the team have been walking out to the strains of a song personally chosen by them. Oasis numbers have been popular and Robert Croft opted for "Delilah" by his countryman Tom Jones. Unfortunately, I don't have a ditty as an opening batsman. Two of us go out but there can be only one tune played. Since the other opener is the captain, I am songless. However, just in case you need to know, I decided I would select something appropriate to the occasion. "Night Fever" it is then.

Oddly, while the full houses in the one-day internationals make you focus on the game the lack of them in the Test matches does not have the opposite effect. There were some pretty small attendances in the series here and in Zimbabwe - though there was always a contingent of supporters from England who backed us superbly - but you know the significance of the occasion. You get on with it. It's merely different stepping into the cauldron of noise that is one-day international cricket here.

It would be wonderful to get some runs, to end my trip on a high note as it began. But whatever happens, I've learned a lot here about myself and the game. It can only be good for the future. Having said which, I'm looking forward to next month and a complete break. All of us are - and that is nothing to do with any lack of dedication. It will cut down the phone bills.