Hussain's men embark on six-month pilgrimage

They are cricket's equivalent of the Pilgrim Fathers. A mere 380 years separates the start of their voyages into the unknown. Nasser Hussain and his men have, arguably, the more difficult of times ahead of them.

They are cricket's equivalent of the Pilgrim Fathers. A mere 380 years separates the start of their voyages into the unknown. Nasser Hussain and his men have, arguably, the more difficult of times ahead of them.

They have to deal with a three dimensional tour, strung out over almost six months, breaking off in the middle for Christmas and the New Year. The middle leg entails a visit to Pakistan, the first since 1987, while the final section is some tricky months in Sri Lanka.

Yesterday Hussain and his pioneers set out on the first leg of their voyage to Kenya and a potential hiding to nothing in the 11-nation International Cricket Council tournament in Nairobi. England open their programme in what is effectively a mini World Cup with a tie against Bangladesh next week.

After their poor showing in the real thing last year, when they suffered an ignominious exit from the World Cup, there is much for them to prove in the next fortnight or so; but given the history of their previous visit to Pakistan when Mike Gatting and the umpire Shakoor Rana had their infamous run-in - in a three-match series which England lost 1-0 - and also given that England are looking to demonstrate to their fans and the world that the glorious West Indian summer was no flash in the pan, the Sri Lanka leg will also be tough.

Back in 1620 the Mayflower took around 66 days to reach what is now the coast of Massachusetts, an unknown territory to the Pilgrim Fathers; yesterday England's eight-hour trip ended in virgin country.

Even Pakistan will be, only seven of the party have been there in a formal role, for the 1996 World Cup, and although Hussain captained a successful A tour there in 1995, a party which included two of this winter's Test squad, Craig White and Ian Salisbury, none has experienced the intensity of a top-drawer Test series in that cricket-mad country.

"Pakistan is a part of the world where cricket is very much a part of the culture," Hussain explained. "We have not been to Pakistan for 13 years, so this is going to be a new experience. For us it will be like a United States golfer going to St Andrews for the first time. We have to adapt and not moan. I think you have to enjoy the culture of the country you are in."

And not even the triumph over the West Indies counts for much as far as Hussain is concerned. "What happened this summer against the West Indies, apart from the confidence it will have given the players, will have no bearing on this tour.

"In South Africa last winter and at home last summer, fast bowling dominated. We have been playing a lot of swing and seam and this winter will be completely different against the spinners. But I am a firm believer that you become a better player by playing in different countries, and that is what we have to learn to do this winter."

And that is going to begin in Kenya. And Hussain, who claimed he has not picked up a bat since picking up a pair at The Oval in the final Test, admitted: "The tour has come around very quickly. I suppose we could have been in training camp for the next couple of weeks, but we will be in Nairobi, so let's get out there and play."

Rather like the Pilgrim Fathers in the 17th century, Hussain and his band are going to be severely tested at every stage over the next few months, whether they return enlightened and improved is entirely in their hands, or the lap of the gods.

* Allan Donald is to continue his Test career by signing a two-year contract with South Africa. Donald, 33, last played for South Africa in the fourth Test against England in Cape Town over eight months ago.

Comments