Nasser Hussain has found a convenient way of ignoring the fact that England have lost their last 11 one-day internationals: he has declared a fresh start and a fresh strategy. Hussain tried to toss those defeats into the dustbin of history and said that, from now on, England's limited-overs team will work more purposefully at nets and demonstrate such attributes as teamwork, fitness, attitude and clear thinking.
He will begin today by offering four players James Foster, Jeremy Snape, Matthew Hoggard and James Kirtley their debut in one-day international cricket in the first of the five-match series against Zimbabwe. England have chosen the same team which beat Zimbabwe A by 138 runs in the lone practice match on Monday, although Paul Grayson has been added to the squad in case a second spinner is required.
Hussain also made it clear that any players not currently in Zimbabwe Darren Gough and Alec Stewart, who chose not to tour this winter, and the resting Andrew Caddick are the obvious examples must "buy into" this new regime if they wish to return to the one-day team.
The impetus for this stated different approach comes as much from coach Duncan Fletcher as from the captain and is geared towards producing a team capable of competing at the 2003 World Cup. At the moment, England's form and their difficult draw for the tournament in a group also including Australia, Pakistan, India and Zimbabwe suggests they will struggle to improve on their woeful performances in the previous two tournaments.
Hussain explained: "The 11 losses are not weighing on my mind because we're drawing a line under them. Most of these players including me didn't play in many of those games and so we're trying to create a new culture. It means improved fitness, attitude, fielding and a better understanding of one-day cricket. All the great one-day sides have plans and are also flexible. Teams such as Australia, Gloucestershire and Surrey have a terrific team spirit and are not worried about slagging each other off in public. They talk openly about the game and that's something I want to generate.
"The wheels have started to come off in one-day cricket, so someone had to get some plans and bring together a group of lads with good team spirit. We've selected several new faces because we believe they are fine cricketers and we want them to express themselves.
"But we want a situation where other players can be introduced and old ones re-introduced. So, if the likes of Gough and Caddick come back, they can see the improved fitness and standard of fielding and want to buy into it.
"At nets out here, every player will be constantly working at his game and working for each other. They won't be sitting around resting between their stints batting and bowling like has been normal in the past. We're not here for a holiday. It's a perfect opportunity to practise and work on our cricket skills. But talk is cheap, of course, and a lot of this is nothing more than drivel if we don't put it into practice and start winning."
Apart from some indifferent net facilities, Hussain has been delighted at the way his team have tackled the opening few days here. And England's players have not seen any evidence of the problems afflicting this country they have not strayed from the hotel, the ground and a few selected restaurants.
Zimbabwe have themselves lost seven one-day internationals on the trot and have just been thrashed 3-0 by South Africa. Their captain and leading quick bowler, Heath Streak, will be missing today because of a back problem and all-rounder Guy Whittall leads the side. But Zimbabwe are determined opponents and no major Test-playing nation has a worse record against them than England.
Hussain says the pitches at the Harare Sports Club where the first three of the five-match series are to be played will be slow and low. He expects small totals and what he describes as turgid cricket. But, as far as England are concerned, it does not matter how turgid the spectacle as long as Hussain's new start begins with a victory.
ENGLAND (v Zimbabwe, first one-day game, Harare, today) (From): M E Trescothick, N V Knight, N Hussain (capt), G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, A Flintoff, B C Hollioake, J N Snape, J S Foster (wkt), R J Kirtley, M J Hoggard, P Grayson.