England's preparations for the World Cup, which starts today in Bangladesh, appear to be the antithesis of those that resulted in Andrew Strauss' side memorably retaining the Ashes.
Prior to and once in Australia, England's planning and preparation was virtually faultless. The players were fit, healthy and strong, the tactics had been decided upon and the vision and focus of the entire squad was clear.
The same cannot be said about the team that will play against the Netherlands in Nagpur on Tuesday. The blame for the apparent uncertainty should not be placed with Strauss or the coach Andy Flower. The Ashes and the nine-match limited-overs series against Australia that followed took its toll on the players with several picking up injuries and most of the others being held together with Tubigrip. In the pre-tournament warm-up match against Canada England struggled to get 11 fit players on to the park.
It will offer little consolation to Strauss and Flower but, even despite these setbacks, this England squad is in better shape than the one which attempted to win cricket's premier limited-over tournament in 1999. In my 10-year international career I played in only one World Cup, that which took place in England, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland and Wales in 1999 – and it was a complete and utter shambles.
The weather in May and June was cold, wet and miserable, the opening ceremony (if you could call it that) at Lord's was a damp squib with about six fireworks and a few balloons the sum total of the efforts made and England, the hosts, failed to get beyond the first stage of the tournament. Zimbabwe went through ahead of us; in fact, we were knocked out before our official World Cup song had even been released. Our tournament ended against India at Edgbaston when Javagal Srinath feng shui-ed Alan Mullally (rearranged his furniture). I was stood at the non-striker's end when Mullally's stumps were sent flying and 20,000 elated Indian supporters went crazy. The moment signified the end of my international career – it was the last time I wore an England shirt.
It was devastating at the time but thinking about it now the whole escapade makes me chuckle because there was so many distractions, so much going on prior to the tournament and we were so bad. Like Strauss' side we had just played in the Ashes, where we had had our backsides kicked. A triangular one-day series in Australia followed, where we lost to the hosts in the final.
Our World Cup preparations began in earnest with a training camp in Pakistan, which was followed by a triangular one-day tournament involving India and Pakistan in Sharjah. The trips were well meaning but, even now, it is difficult to work out how the 45 degree heat and slow, low pitches in Lahore and Dubai were ever going to prepare us for cold, wet seamer-friendly conditions in England in May.
It was while we were in Lahore that the players' contract dispute with the England and Wales Cricket Board erupted. With the squad selected and the fees agreed between the captain, Alec Stewart, and the ECB our contracts were presented to us. It is fair to say, they did not go down very well.
There were two issues for the players: payment to those who did not play in tournament and bonuses should we win it. For a player selected in every game the deal wasn't too bad – around £40,000. But a player who failed to play in a game would receive only around £6,000 for almost eight weeks work. As a squad we also felt the team bonus for winning the World Cup should be greater than £100,000. Not that that became an issue.
The attitude of the players towards the ECB did not improve when, in Pakistan, we were told that the official responsible for dealing with the players would not take a phone call because he was cutting the lawn. The stand-off that followed was unpleasant with members of the squad threatening to boycott events and not play in warm-up games. The views of some players were so naive they were ridiculous. They had no idea of how the public and media would react to what they were threatening to do, failing to realise this was a row we were never likely to win.
The ECB, under the Chairmanship of Lord MacLaurin, knew this and held its ground. My view was that, even though I was extremely disappointed with the attitude of the ECB towards its players, I wanted to play in the World Cup and I was either going to do it properly – attend and play in everything – or not play at all.
Negotiations continued but the deal hardly changed. In the short term and financially the ECB won but in the longer term, because the team's trust in the Board had disappeared, the players came out smiling. Out of the conflict came central contracts, deals that have resulted in England players quite rightly earning substantial sums of money. Understandably, the affair affected the squad's attitude towards the tournament. Everyone worked incredibly hard but deep down there was a lack of unity and togetherness.
From a cricketing point of view errors were made, too. On the eve of the tournament, and unbeknown to most of the squad, the gameplan changed dramatically. Nick Knight, even though he had opened the batting for England in 28 of the previous 29 one-dayers and was one of our best one-day batsmen, was dropped and Nasser Hussain, a modest one-day performer, was selected in his place. Knight had been struggling for runs but, even so, the move left many of us scratching our heads.
Despite these setbacks we started the tournament reasonably well, winning our opening two games against Sri Lanka and Kenya. In the next two we then made a complete hash of our net run-rate, the vehicle that ultimately sent Zimbabwe through and England crashing out of our own World Cup.
Against South Africa we lost by 122 runs. The bigger crime, however, was batting for only 41 of our full 50 overs. Had we batted the full allocation and scored a further 20 runs we would have gone through to the next round. In the next game against Zimbabwe we committed a similar crime, this time dawdling whilst chasing down a modest total. It took England, three wickets down chasing 167, five overs to score the final 10 runs.
By the time we reached Edgbaston and the match against India we had to win to guarantee a place in the next round. We failed to achieve the goal and when Zimbabwe surprisingly defeated South Africa at Chelmsford our fate was sealed. We had left our own party before it had even got going.
Within minutes of our defeat to India and with the dressing room resembling a morgue I received a phone call from Middlesex asking me whether I could play for them in a 45-over game against Sussex at Lord's the following day.
Permission was granted and off I trundled down the M40 with my World Cup dreams in tatters and my England career over. While Dave Stewart of Eurythmics was singing about "heroes" and "joining the festival" in our soon-to-be-released World Cup anthem, England's finest one-day cricketers were copping flak from irate county members in sparsely populated corners of the country.