Knight adamant on a brighter tomorrow

NatWest Series – Settled players in a settled side the way to produce positives out of the pounding, says opener
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There are those uplifting individuals who can always see the light in the darkness. Take Nick Knight, a cricketer you would always want on your one-day side ­ though England have disagreed. He could be trapped in a blind alley by a bunch of murderous hoodlums and still thank his lucky stars they had forgotten to sharpen their flick knives.

"You've got to take positives constantly," said Knight, a batsman at last restored to his rightful position at the top of the order. "You can't just get a trouncing like that, put your head down, walk out of the dressing room thinking the world's against you, go to the next match and think you're a load of crap. You've got to find positives in all you do and push on." From the low point of 86 all out against Australia, the difficulties of performing this particular trick are clear. But if anybody can push on, it is Knight. He is a cricketer with fizz. As an opener he is a dasher, an improviser, what the shorter game was made for. As a fielder he is spectacular, cajoling, catching, running, throwing.

In his way he embodies England's hitherto haphazard approach to one-day cricket. Knight first appeared five years ago (and in his second and third matches, on consecutive days, made centuries). Partly because of astonishing selectorial dithering, largely because England have always managed to treat the one-day game as the poor relation whom they suffer, try not to engage in conversation and have round to their house as little as possible, he has played a mere 58 matches.

Contemporaries in Australia and Pakistan could probably open cap shops by trebling that. Knight averages 40 ­ more than any compatriot who has played more than 20 times ­ but he is still a one-day babe in arms. This time, he is convinced, it will truly get better. The Test team learnt after a long spell in the wilderness, the one-day boys can do the same.

"More than any other form, one-day cricket is about experience and learning from it," he said. "I actually think we've got a great opportunity now. We've lost four games in this triangular tournament, two close, two in which we were blown away. The two that were particularly disappointing were the ones where we competed. We knew we should have won.

"If one-day cricket is about small margins we were lacking by the crucial one or two per cent. These might be things we've heard before but we've now got to learn quickly from those experiences."

Knight, the most companionable of men, as witnessed by his encouragement of his fellows on the field, was in earnest as he said this. Trouble is, as he hinted, it is not new. England knew they had severe shortcomings to address as long ago as the 1999 World Cup. "That's where we started to realise, it was a bit of a short, sharp reminder." Maybe not that short or sharp. Knight illustrated his point most pertinently by talking of his opening partnership with Marcus Trescothick, which is all of two matches old. True, there has not been much opportunity to launch it before, but there has been some.

Trescothick was given his chance in the side last summer when Knight was injured. Knight then missed the first winter one-day series with another injury and was left out for the first two matches of the Sri Lankan series. He then batted briefly at three.

This leads you to believe that somebody had not been watching. Knight has to open. His vitality and improvisational ability demand it. At last, then, he is with Trescothick. But they are in an embryonic state.

"We've only batted together a few times and opened twice, and run each other out on both occasions. We are just starting an understanding. That takes time. Look at the Aussies. They've batted together as pairs probably hundreds of times all the way down the line. So you see Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan together. They don't need to call at times, turning ones into twos, knowing that one doesn't have to worry about the other getting to the other end.

"You've got to establish what each of you are trying to do because in one-day cricket you've got to be hitting the ball and looking to score runs all the time." The Knight-Tresco axis and others like it will only work by playing regularly together, and if this sounds like a plea for continued selection from players who have failed, it also has abundant substance. England have done with their one-day side what they did for too long with their Test team: chopped and changed, mixed and matched, messed and failed.

"We believe we are good enough to compete," said Knight. "The days of winning one, then losing four and winning another one have got to end. We all want that. I would say we're good enough to compete but you've got to play to do that. There is a balancing act between playing too much and not playing enough, but we have got to play at the moment. Simple as that.

"Apart from learning different situations and how you might react the next time, if you're playing a lot you're also playing against the same guys. You get to know how to bowl at a certain batsman, you hardly need to look at a video, and the batsman knows what he's got to do to contend with a certain bowler. You know how people are scoring runs, how to cut off those runs, but that's the challenge."

According to Knight, England have to play more and develop a squad of 15 players, the bulk of whom will form the core group. ("Of course, I'm not saying there should be no changes, that's ridiculous.") They would in their way be interchangeable, so that key fast bowlers like Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough could be rested with no loss of potency. Perhaps Knight's view was too rosy here: fast bowlers like Gough and Caddick appear once a generation.

By the time of the NatWest Series next summer Knight expects England to have played 16 or 17 more one-day matches. England will play five in Zimbabwe in October as well as series against India and New Zealand in the new year. He thinks this will give them time to bed down before the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

Knight will be a part of those plans, and it should not be thought that his kitbag contains a pair of rose-tinted spectacles. "If we're still losing by the end of the winter, then we really are struggling. We've got to put together a string of victories, otherwise we'll all end up working behind a bar." Even from there he would be serving glasses that were never half-empty.