Champions' Trophy: Knight wary of another sting in his tale

One-day specialist has history on his mind as he tries to carry on his late-summer fireworks
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Nick Knight's long wait is almost over. In the quieter moments he must wonder how it will end: the way he craves, or the way that will make him forever the Great One-Day Batsman Who Never Played A World Cup.

Nick Knight's long wait is almost over. In the quieter moments he must wonder how it will end: the way he craves, or the way that will make him forever the Great One-Day Batsman Who Never Played A World Cup.

Knight is the man in possession, the experienced, dashing, run-gathering opener, master improviser, one of the best limited-overs batsmen England have had. That was the case three years ago when the seventh World Cup was played in his own country. He had suffered a glitch in form in the weeks leading up to it but still had a strike rate and an average up there with the best.

On the very eve of the tournament, England dropped him. He was in the squad but never played a game. It appeared unfair and misguided then, and time has done little to improve the rationale of the decision.

The eighth World Cup, in South Africa, is next spring. Knight has long been restored to his rightful place but there is a suspicion, faint but real, that he is under threat once more. Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan have formed a prolific and seemingly enduring Test opening partnership, goes one argument, so let them get on with it in the one-dayers. Added to which, Knight had an indifferent run in the NatWest series in the summer. Surely history cannot be repeated?

"I have got to the point in my career – and this isn't meant to sound arrogant – where I realise that the only person who can affect where I want to get to is me,'' he said, by way of showing that the awful possibility has occurred. "I didn't play well in the triangular tournament this year, and I can't get away from that, but in the months before that I was scoring runs in the manner the team wanted.

"I'm not concerned by that poor series. You can't write it off, you want to do well for the team but you have to keep perspective, otherwise you end up on a massive high, but the next minute you think you're crap and having a nervous breakdown. In one-day batting, particularly as an opener, you can have a run of four or five low scores, a run-out, a dodgy wicket, a good ball, being not quite on top of your game one match, and you find you've barely scored anything. It happened in India last winter, when I made three low scores on the trot but then hit a 70 and a 100.''

Knight is here in Sri Lanka with the England team who play their first match in the ICC Champions' Trophy on Wednesday. The NatWest tournament apart (141 runs in six completed innings, highest score 31) there are substantial reasons for supposing he will make it through to the World Cup this time. He professes to be fit after a late-season groin scare, he has now adjusted to the laser treatment on his right eye which may yet make him the brilliant fielder and catcher he once was. But the main reason for hope is that for two months he has been in the best of form.

Knight finished the English season with a batting average of 95. In his final innings he batted all day with a runner while Warwickshire denied victory to Surrey. He made 133 before he was out near the close, bowled by Ian Ward, the Surrey opening batsman who was taking his first first-class wicket.

In the Knight household they may recall Ward's name: had the batsman remained not out he would have finished with an average above 100 for the season, to join names such as Bradman, Boycott and Gooch.

"I had no rhythm going in to the NatWest,'' he said. "I was making some county runs but I was out of synch somehow. Every run was being chiselled out and I was racking my brain to think what was wrong. I don't want to give the impression that I've waved a magic wand, but I think I've found a more effective method, not a change in technique exactly but an upgrading.

"I had a 10-day break after the one-day final against India and I looked at all of the videos and concluded that I could make things simpler. Without going into all the technicalities, instead of going back and forward in three movements, which was throwing me off balance, I'm going forward in one movement. It's worked so far and I'm a better player now than I have ever been.''

Knight is much too amenable quite to say so, but he resents the one-day specialist label. He insists he is still ready for another Test call but surely knows that it will not come. He has played 17 Tests in several bursts but 83 one-dayers at an average of 40, sustained while the game has changed.

"I played my entire career with the 15-over rule, so there's still the need to take advantage of that, but it's the way you do it. I'm more orthodox than I used to be. I don't have a run down the wicket as much as I used to. Partly, this is because other sides find out about you, wicket-keepers stand up more, for instance, and you have to find some other way of scoring. I'm sweeping and reverse-sweeping now where I never did before. Once teams know you do that they might put a fielder there to stop that shot, but it opens a gap elsewhere.''

He and Trescothick are both left-handers but they play in different ways in different areas. They have formed a telepathic understanding, largely by the old-fashioned method of chatting at the bar, and can time a single impeccably. They also like batting with each other.

Knight is in vibrant mood and form. He knows that some of the other senior players are tired from a long summer of internationals. "I wish I was in their position, sure, but it's up to the likes of me to help them.''

But everything that happens here in Colombo is merely a step on the way to South Africa. "I still think back to 1999. I don't want to go through that again. It's for me to lose," he said. Knight would not deserve that.