Hussain focuses on building up England's spirit

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The Independent Online

If England's cricketers had a fresh attack of the wobbles following yesterday's plane crash in New York, their captain, Nasser Hussain was not admitting it. On the eve of the squad's tour to India, Hussain said he was not there to comment on world security and terrorism. Instead he insisted, he wanted to focus his players' minds on the greatest challenge in cricket – "beating India in India."

Such a goal will require enormous concentration from the players, a difficult task with the unprecedented levels of security under way in India following unrest in the region over the United States-led strikes in Afghanistan.

According to Mayank Khandwala, the joint secretary of the Maharashtra Cricket Association, who will oversee England's first warm-up match in Mumbai: "Security will be tighter than usual because of the scenario world-wide. A security ring will be placed around the team when it arrives and they will be escorted to their hotel."

A spokesman for the British Deputy High Commissioner has indicated that they are happy with the arrangements and the co-operation received from Indian officials at all levels. Measures set to be taken include armed guards outside hotel rooms and security officers to accompany players who want to venture outside their hotels. In addition, the England and Wales Cricket Board have also employed two security officers to travel with the team throughout the tour.

If these are sensible, albeit costly precautions, some of the other arrangements smack of pettiness. At Wankhede stadium, where England play their first warm-up game on 18 November, spectators will not be allowed in with mobile phones, bottles, handbags, radios or cigarette lighters. Any food brought in will have to be carried in a transparent packet. A big turn-out is not expected.

For the Madras-born Hussain, the tour is symbolic, irrespective of the security blanket that will keep cricket-mad India at bay. "It is my greatest challenge as a player and a captain," he said in the team's Heathrow hotel yesterday, 18 hours before England set off for Bombay.

"Obviously there are family connections [Hussain's father Joe, played first-class cricket for Madras], but as England captain I'm looking forward to taking a young side away."

Since 1985, only South Africa and Pakistan have won a Test series in India, its bare dusty pitches normally a graveyard for cricketers used to grassy surfaces. Hussain, missing three key players in Darren Gough, Alec Stewart and Andy Caddick, is under no illusions despite last winter's historic victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

"It's going to be bloody hard. They beat Australia nine months ago," said Hussain. "But it's exactly the challenge I need at this stage of my career and hopefully all the boys will feel the same."

The captain's recipe for success is to build team spirit, though that will not be easy while security measures remain a daily issue. Being surrounded by grim-faced policemen as sirens blast a path for the team bus through traffic, is probably not the best preparation to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar.

"We realise that questions will still be asked about various issues, but the ones we've got to answer are out there on the pitch. Questions like how are we going to play spin and how to bowl at Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman.

"The only way we are going to accomplish that is to get our heads down, talk with the coach, get our game plan right, apply a bit of pressure and stay in the game as we did last winter. If we can do all that, when it comes to the nitty- gritty at the end of the Test, we'll be in with a shout."

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