One bad day, but a lot more good ones ahead

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The Independent Online

There is a hard time ahead for England. Pakistan are one of the best sides in the world at any form of the game, most of our players are unfamiliar with the conditions, we are still emerging as a side.

There is a hard time ahead for England. Pakistan are one of the best sides in the world at any form of the game, most of our players are unfamiliar with the conditions, we are still emerging as a side.

But let nobody doubt the improvement. We land in Karachi tomorrow absolutely intent on making some points. There is a huge element of goodwill to this tour, the first undertaken by a full England side since 1987. We are aware of what has happened before, and that it should not happen again. We haven't dwelt on this, but it is an aspect that will not be forgotten.

To win, England will have to play at the top of their game. But make no mistake, we are a side who have made strides forward, who believe we can go places.

That fact has not been diminished by the loss to South Africa in the quarter-finals of the ICC Knockout in Nairobi last week. There might have been a temptation among some observers to write us off, to suggest that it eradicated the importance of the victories in the summer. Nonsense.

True, there is no point here in defending England's performance. We were poor, we deserved what we got, which was speedy elimination from the second most important one-day tournament. No second chance, no excuses.

Four or five batsmen hit balls straight to fielders, which is unimaginable and unrepeatable. Faced with defending a meagre total of 182 when we probably required a minimum of 240, we had to take early wickets, and lots of them. We failed to do so. I bowled at 87mph, as fast as I can, in an attempt to dislodge batsmen. It didn't work. The pitch was having none of it.

It is a truism of one-day cricket that there are three ways to go: you win big, you lose big or the whole affair is nerve-tinglingly tight. Personally, from the point of view of a steady heartbeat I prefer either of the first two. England on Tuesday went the second way. It didn't need to be said in the dressing-room afterwards, and wasn't. We were awful and we knew it.

Elimination, however, does not call for another session of national hand-wringing or of belittling this side. We have made progress, we are a tighter unit. It was, therefore, welcome news to learn that our coach, Duncan Fletcher, had been given an extension to his contract together with Phil Neale, the operations manager, Dean Conway, the physiotherapist, and Nigel Stockill, the physiologist.

The set-up led by Fletcher is outstanding. Things run smoothly, the players feel they are allowed an input because that is precisely what happens. It is up to us to respond to that, and I feel sure we shall. The faith shown in Fletcher et al is conclusive evidence that the England and Wales Cricket Board do not get everything wrong, so there.

There cannot be too many exhibitions like that in the Gymkhana Stadium, but it did not undo all the good work that had gone before. The victories against Zimbabwe and West Indies last summer counted for a lot, but we know we have to build on them now. Incidentally, maybe it should not be forgotten that South Africa are a an extremely strong,efficient side.

All right, all right, I hear you cry, they're not unbeatable. Look what India did to them. Enough for now. We have to adjust quickly to the climate, pitches and way of life in Pakistan and to do our ambassadorial bit. The anticipation is as great as at the start of any tour, maybe greater because of the length of time since we last went there.

I am writing these words in Nairobi, where the past couple of days without immediate competitive cricket have allowed us more free time than we might have liked. In the event I had to take it easy. A cut on one of the toes on my left foot has turned slightly septic. It is sore, especially when it lands in the delivery stride. But it's the age-old fact: there is always something dodgy somewhere on a seam bowler's body.

A group of players went to the Seychelles and most of us visited the nearby elephant orphanage. The team sponsors, Vodafone, have adopted an elephant and some of us are doing likewise. Darren Gough decided to opt instead for a rhinoceros as part of his benefit year in 2001.

You will know, of course, that one of Goughy's nicknames, though recently acquired, is Rhino, and while it is not yet of common currency - he will always be Goughy - the man himself has rather taken to it. You may also remember Goughy's reasoning for why he was labelled with Rhino, but it bears repeating. "It's because," he said, "I'm as strong as an ox."

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