England hunt for attitude to avoid Hussain's curse
England are a poor one-day side but, remarkably, they have produced worse. Much to my horror I found out that I played in one such team between October 1989 and May 1990, when Graham Gooch's side went 10 matches without a win. Two of the games against the West Indies were abandoned as no results, but it is hard to believe we would have beaten a team with the likes of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh.
But our inadequacies were surpassed by Nasser Hussain's team, who lost 11 consecutive games between October 2000 and June 2001. Four members of the set-up will be on show today when England play Pakistan at Lord's in the second of five NatWest series games. Duncan Fletcher was the England coach during 2000, while Marcus Trescothick, Paul Collingwood and Darren Gough played in the majority of the matches. Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles did too and they could all return for the World Cup, which begins in the West Indies in six months' time.
The rain in Cardiff saved Andrew Strauss's side from an eighth consecutive limited-overs defeat on Wednesday, but the gulf in class between Pakistan and England suggests that the home team's winless streak is set to surpass that of Hussain's side. If England are to avoid this unwanted record they need to win one of their four matches against Pakistan and, on current form, that will be a difficult task.
The debate on why England struggle in one-day games will continue until the team begin playing a brand of cricket that can compete with their opponents. Yes, England are without six players - Vaughan, Giles, Flintoff, James Anderson, Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones - but results were hardly spectacular when they were fit.
The biggest problem facing the England one-day side is their attitude. It was the same in 1989. The England team I played in tried as hard as the current one to win one-day games, but before yesterday's research I did not even know that the side I played in had performed so badly. It is an oversight that suggests one-day cricket does not mean that much.
The approach of the current set-up seems the same. Harmison may well be suffering with a sore back, but why do so many of his injuries occur at the end of a Test series, when the one-day games are about to begin? And why are England set to take Flintoff to the Champions Trophy solely as a batsman? Most England fans are happy for the selectors to place a greater emphasis on Test cricket, but it makes one-day tournaments like the current one chastening experiences.
One player with plenty to play for over the next eight days is Rikki Clarke. The Surrey all-rounder is the only English qualified cricketer with the potential to fill the void left by an injured Flintoff, but the 24-year-old's inability to make progress has been one of the selectors' main frustrations.
Clarke made his first appearance for England in more than two years in Cardiff and he feels that his recall is a result of his maturing. "I feel I am a better player now than two years ago," Clarke said. "We all get a little bit wiser as we get older and I now feel that I know my game a lot better than before. In the past I used to play for Surrey chasing an England place and show people what I could do. When batting I'd be chasing runs before facing a ball, and wickets before I'd found a decent length.
"But in the last couple of years I have tried to take a step back. I have spent a lot of time talking with Alan and Mark Butcher [the Surrey coach and captain]. They told me to concentrate on playing cricket and forget England, and I have done that. It seems to have worked for me." Clarke has scored 970 runs at an average of 65 in the County Championship but his bowling (18 wickets at 41) will need to improve if he is to push for a regular place.
England will look at the pitch before deciding who out of Clarke and Michael Yardy will play. Pakistan have no reasons to change their side - if only the same could be said for England.
Possible teams: England: A J Strauss (c), M E Trescothick, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, J W M Dalrymple, R Clarke, C M W Read, S I Mahmood, D Gough, S C J Broad.
Pakistan: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif.
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