No Darren, so now it's up to me

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The Independent Online

There can be no question about it, nobody should be in any doubt. I must take the responsibility for leading the England bowling attack when the Test series against New Zealand starts on Wednesday.

Everybody expects it, I do not intend to let them down. The position is clear. For 25 Tests I shared the new ball with Darren Gough. We had plenty of international experience between us before we formed that partnership and then we grew and blossomed together.

But we broke up – at least temporarily – when neither of us went to India last year. Now – if picked, of course – one of us will be back. All the experience and expectations are with me.

Here in Christchurch, the city where I grew up, I must give England the advantage with the new ball. The possibility is that Matthew Hoggard, another Yorkshireman, will also open the bowling. Matthew knows what he has to do, he knows what Nasser Hussain, the captain, expects of him.

But at some time before the match starts I shall have a word with him to discuss things, try to relax him, and talk over how we might achieve our aims together.

I feel good about this. I am making no wild predictions about what might happen, but I know what I can do. The ball is coming out well. I have got enough bowling behind me now. Two weeks ago, when I wasn't in the one-day side here, I was frustrated and dejected. I needed bowling to get into form but I couldn't get bowling because they wouldn't pick me. Well, since then I've played in the two warm-up matches, in Otago and Christchurch, and taken wickets in both.

In answer to the question that keeps getting put to me, yes, I do know that if the ball is swinging I will have to bowl it at a slightly fuller length than is natural to me. But I am prepared for that adjustment. I am relaxed about it.

The likelihood is that we will play the game on a "drop-in" pitch. It's not surprising, since I saw what was being done to the natural surface at the ground in a Super-12 rugby union match at Lancaster Park – these days known as Jade Stadium – last night.

The last time they played on this portable surface it was low, slow and a draw. But that does not mean the same will happen again. Anything with a bit of bounce and me and England could be in business.

We can win this series all right. I know that to do so, I will have to perform. I have been down this road before, but the more familiar the route the more likelihood there is of reaching the destination. As for Hoggard, who has struggled for wickets recently, a couple early on and he'll be fine. It's what bowlers need.

The batting is looking good, in the form particularly of Michael Vaughan, or Verge. What a fine batsman he is, as I've said before in this space. What an excellent century he made against Canterbury, having overcome his shoulder dislocation. He's not had a lengthy run since he broke into the side two years ago. He deserves one, and he deserves to stay free from injury.

Much has been made this week of the fitness of cricketers, or the apparent lack of it among some who joined the squad for the Tests after the one-day series. I'm saying nothing here to get me into hot water. But it's a simple equation: you are playing international sport, you respect that by being appropriately fit for it. Of course, it should not be forgotten that bowling also gets bowlers fit. I feel fit to burst now.

During the match against Canterbury it was clear there was a ridge at one end – a bit like Lord's I suppose. This rather took our fancy out in the middle, so that we'd go round referring to it in comic-book terms as The Ridge, The Ridge, as though it was coming to get you. Then, much to schoolboyish delight, I hit it, got a wicket and had Craig White in stitches. "The Ridge, The Ridge, The Ridge..." he cried.

We have been waiting for news all week of the new international panel of umpires, due to take up their duties in April. None has been forthcoming. Far be it from me to to suggest my preferences, but the advent of two independent umpires is not before its time.

It is peculiar to be playing a Test series off the back of a long list of one-dayers. Usually, it happens the other way round and the alteration in mode is difficult – they are such different types of game.

We have not performed dazzlingly in the warm-up games and could have done with beating Canterbury yesterday as the pitch grew flatter. But the boys enjoyed the day, we felt we were coming together and nobody should read too much into the outcome.

England are in good heart for this. It won't be easy, the Kiwis are a determined lot, who gave Australia a run for their money and punch above their weight. They beat us in England three years ago, so we owe them. I'm ready.

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