Positive approach the key for White

There is still one more first-class match before the first Test match at Galle, but judging from the sweltering temperatures here on the south coast of Sri Lanka, England need to chill out rather than warm-up, a tricky process when trying to rekindle the competitive edge they had before Christmas in Pakistan.

There is still one more first-class match before the first Test match at Galle, but judging from the sweltering temperatures here on the south coast of Sri Lanka, England need to chill out rather than warm-up, a tricky process when trying to rekindle the competitive edge they had before Christmas in Pakistan.

One man who appears to have found the right combination is the all-rounder Craig White. In the space of a year, White has gone from a fringe one-day player to an indispensable linchpin, a role he further cemented with telling performances in Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi.

The force is still with him in Sri Lanka. Indeed, his acclimatisation has been so rapid, and his play so assured - in the last game in Colombo he scored 63 and 39 not out in rapid time and took two wickets - that he is barely recognisable as the uncertain cricketer of previous years.

"Confidence was my main problem, but it has grown in this England team," said White yesterday. "I respect Nasser and Duncan highly and the feeling appears to be mutual. Playing in a successful team has helped me relax and be successful as well. Of course it's easy to be confident when you're performing well. The problems begin when you start doubting your ability, a phase I believe I'm over now."

While even experienced campaigners like Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart have appeared ring rusty against Sri Lanka's spinners, White has set about them with gusto. He looks unhindered by the six-week Christmas break and may even be rested for the four-day match against the Board President's X1, which begins tomorrow.

"I've got my own game plan to the spinners. The pitches here will turn and as in Pakistan I'm determined to be positive. When I was within sight of a Test hundred in Lahore, I got out defending for 93. If I get that close again I won't make the same mistake.

"Although we've met some decent spinners so far, Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) will be a different prospect in the Tests. I know he's meant to have a groin injury and it would be nice if he doesn't play. But if he does, I'll treat it as a challenge against one of the best bowlers in the world."

Another factor White attributes his rise to, is fitness. He says his body took a while getting used to Test cricket. Injury can afflict anybody no matter how fit, though tense players appear more prone than most.

By his own admission White is more relaxed, a factor that has undoubtedly helped reduce his injury count.

Since an ill-tempered one-day match between England and Sri Lanka in Adelaide two winters ago, there appears to be some needle between the countries. It arose in the last game when Darren Gough let rip over his dismissal, words that caused the home side's coach to complain to the Sri Lanka Board.

Like it or not, players see on-field banter as part of Test match cricket, with the current world champions - as they are in all other departments of the game - being the Australians. As a Yorkshireman brought up in provincial Australia, this has brought White more than his fair share of verbals.

"I don't know if Sri Lanka are a noisy side but with spinners bowling a lot of the time, I reckon there will be plenty of chirping from the fielders around the bat. You've got to stay mentally strong enough to override that kind of thing. In Bendigo, I was brought up with it and have always enjoyed it when a few words are flying about. It's when I play at my best."

If White is rested for tomorrow's match, he will probably be joined by Gough, who has also been quick to find his rhythm and swing. The pair are likely to be replaced by Matthew Hoggard and Jason Brown, who would join fellow spinners Ashley Giles and Robert Croft. Given that bowlers tire in the conditions here faster than batsmen, England will surely look to play the top six earmarked for the first Test, with just two or three of the first choice attack getting a game.

If they do take this route, it could mean choosing between Michael Vaughan and Graeme Hick beforehand. With Hick in the runs and Vaughan not too far behind him, it is a decision, ideally, that would be better deferred until both have had further visits to the crease.

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