I'm back in the party mood – now for a place in the team

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The Independent Online

It's good to be back. But it's strange. This is a new team with new players. It is a team for the future. Looking round at the young faces of England's one-day squad I know that I am nearer the end than the beginning. You begin to wonder where and when it will all end for you. These are young men who cannot wait for it to start.

It's good to be back. But it's strange. This is a new team with new players. It is a team for the future. Looking round at the young faces of England's one-day squad I know that I am nearer the end than the beginning. You begin to wonder where and when it will all end for you. These are young men who cannot wait for it to start.

The next 14 months, as Nasser Hussain has said, are immense for England cricketers. They could be the most significant of my career, taking in, all being well, an Ashes series and a World Cup all but back to back. It doesn't come tougher, or more inviting.

All being well, of course, because I am not guaranteed a place in the side.

Never was, naturally, but at least I was in it. Somebody had to take my place. Since last summer I have been out of it, having missed the one-day tour to Zimbabwe while the selectors gave fresh players a chance, and the first leg of this tour of India for security reasons.

When I made the decision not to come here with the Test squad last November it was the hardest and most important of my life. You may be wondering by now what I am doing here. I never expected to be. But I was told that the security risk had diminished and the nature of the war in Afghanistan had changed. It is not lost on me that India and Pakistan are now at loggerheads. We await the outcome of that. But I am out here now.

There were moments during the Test series when I had some regrets. I cannot lie about that. But they were only fleeting ones. When England took the field I wanted to be out there with them, but then I would dwell on why I had pulled out. The family, as I said then and say now, came first. They were desperately concerned. It all turned out all right, but I was never sure that it would.

The rest has actually re-enthused me, if I can put it like that. Rests do that for fast bowlers. But equally there were moments when I projected into the future and retirement.

For now I have the little problem of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly to worry about. I am working on the basis that I will be back in the side, although it is not a stone-cold certainty. It has been said that there cannot be room for Darren Gough, Matthew Hoggard and myself in the same side, so a ticklish selectorial decision awaits. I can offer what I have offered before in one-day internationals: control. That is, the ability to keep an end quiet and perhaps pick up a wicket or two. I can only trust it is enough.

But a word for Hoggard. What a bowler he is becoming. It is good that there is competition for places. As Gough was saying only yesterday, he and I have been doing it for long enough. He was also saying that there is still something left in our partnership. There is. And we both know we have something to prove after our experiences against Australia in the summer.

India has been pretty much as you would have expected in normal circumstances: pandemonium. Their love of the game, and the one-day game especially, is a wonder to behold. There were more people at our practice session at Calcutta Cricket and Football Club yesterday than there are at most county matches at home.

I wasn't there, but I'm told that Nasser's press conference in our hotel was attended by hundreds of reporters, all of them in a small room, all of them with questions to ask. I thought Pakistan and Sri Lanka were crazy about cricket, but this is a new dimension.

I can only repeat that I have always wanted to play in this country. I will never play a Test here now and I know that as the years go by I will have missed something. The team did wonderfully well without me, however. It is now up to me to show them what they have been missing.

All being well – that phrase again – I can still bowl. I've had half-a-dozen indoor net sessions recently. It all seemed to be in working order. You just need to get that length right again. Against Sachin Tendulkar, any length may not be right. But against him, as against everybody else, if you bowl in the place you intend to bowl having worked out a plan, you can do no more.

The thought of walking out at Eden Gardens in front of 100,000 – some with tickets – on Saturday would stir any cricketing soul. When I get out there, if I get out there, I'll be at home again.

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