Hussain seeks inspiration from Wilkinson triumph

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The Independent Online

Nasser Hussain believes English cricket needs to unearth a Jonny Wilkinson if Michael Vaughan's side are to emulate the national rugby team and become world champions.

The former England captain had mixed feelings as he watched Martin Johnson lift rugby's biggest prize. The joy of seeing England win and how it affected a nation was tinged with a sense of "if only". Hussain's feelings were not of envy but disappointment. Disappointment that his side were not able to do the same during their cricket World Cup in March this year.

"I am very pleased for them," Hussain said. "I hope they get the biggest reception possible when they come home and their success gives sport in England a real kick-start. What they have achieved is a lesson to us all. If you put plans in place, let a great coach do the things he wants and get a superstar in your team like Wilkinson, you can make a good side into a great one."

Before their 10-wicket defeat in Dambulla, England were officially rated as the third best side in the world in Test and one-day cricket. And while Hussain feels these rankings are a fair reflection of the cricket England have played recently he was also cautious about the future.

"I think we have come a long way," he said. "But there are two things you need to throw into the equation. We are now coming towards the end of an era in terms of personnel. We have lost a lot of players and it is now a younger side. And although we lie third in the world, the game in Dambulla showed we still have a long way to go.

"The other thing, and I have no mistake it is the one thing any sport in England needs, and that is a superstar. They can turn any side around, especially in cricket if they are in the bowling department. It sounds obvious but if we can get a bloke who is capable of taking 400-500 Test wickets he will just lift the standard of the team. And this is where the rugby side are fortunate. They have got one in Wilkinson.

"You look at Australia without [Shane] Warne and Sri Lanka with Muttiah Muralitharan. We just need to find a genius from somewhere."

And it is how well Hussain and his fellow batsmen play Muralitharan during the next four weeks that will decide the outcome of this three-Test series. Heavy rain continues to hamper the tourists' preparations and England will be hoping for three full days of cricket in their match against Sri Lanka 'A' which starts tomorrow.

Before their final two one-day matches were abandoned without a ball being bowled England were looking to rest Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Chris Read, three players who have played in nearly every game since the squad left for Bangladesh seven weeks ago. However, a lack of cricket and quality practice facilities may have changed the minds of some players and selectors.

It is problems like these, and the unique nature of the pitches, which make winning in Sri Lanka a huge challenge.

"Sri Lanka is the hardest place in the world to play cricket," Hussain said. "Winning here last time around was our best win by a long way. It will be harder for Michael [Vaughan] because of his attack. In [Darren] Gough, [Andy] Caddick and Craig White I had a lot of experience. They were bowlers I could go over to and ask to bowl differently in each session. Michael has young lads who have to learn on their feet.

"Batting is also tough," he added. "With the heat and probably the best bowler in the world [Muralitharan] at you from one end all the time, runs are hard to come by. There is no harder job for a batsman than facing Muralitharan when you first go in to bat. There are catchers all around you and he turns the ball both ways. We will have to be bloody good to beat them.

"We received a lot of credit for coming back from one-nil down to win the series here two years ago, but there are two things that stand out in people's memory and they are the two things I did not put right whilst I was England captain - World Cups and Australia. The rugby boys were very fortunate, they got them both in one afternoon."