Pure cricket diet bad for England's health

Tour founders on lack of an escape route
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The Independent Online

The Montgomery biscuit factory in Sahiwal holds special memories for those England cricketers who toured Pakistan in 1987-88. The four or five nights the team spent at the hostel between the First and Second Tests may not have been the most pleasant of their careers, but they certainly provided the squad with the final word when modern players begin moaning about their accommodation.

The dormitories Mike Gatting's team inhabited were bare and the grey-sheeted camp beds they slept on had seen better days. There were three or four players to a room and the scratching which interrupted their sleep came from the creatures they feared - rats.

Thankfully visits to Pakistan are now a far more pleasurable experience. The cricket, as England continue to find out, is tough, but the facilities now on offer compare favourably to those in any corner of the globe.

England have made no excuses for the way they have performed during their two-month tour. They created some of their own problems - the coming and going of players, for example - but others, such as injuries to key players, were out of their control.

"This tour has been the hardest I've been on," Paul Collingwood said, sat by the side of a swimming pool at the Islamabad Marriott hotel. "Bangladesh was fairly difficult, but the cricket was not as tough. That has been exceptionally hard here and we have been beaten, which makes it worse.

But I have been pleasantly surprised by the hotels, the organisation and the facilities. I pictured a repeat of Bangladesh as the worst-case scenario, but it hasn't been an issue."

Collingwood has been involved in England's last four winter tours. He is one of the doughtier cricketers in the squad but even he has struggled to deal with the lifestyle a visit to the subcontinent brings. "The biggest problem has been the lack of things to do during the breaks between games," he said. "It makes it hard for you to get away from the cricket and relax. You are reluctant to leave the hotel and there is nowhere really to go and socialise, to let your hair down and have a few beers. It means you cannot get away from things and most of us have sat in our bedrooms watching DVDs, playing on our PlayStations or just having a bit of a crack." Collingwood, however, denies any suggestions that this has led to a siege mentality.

On tours of Australia, South Africa or the Caribbean, where there are countless ways of wasting an afternoon or evening, players often see very little of each other away from the cricket. In many ways this is healthy, although the team ethos can at times become fragmented.

In Asia, however, where players find it much harder, if not impossible, to go out and do their own thing, the team can become a tighter, closer unit. But even this can cause problems. Collingwood insists that there have been no incidents on the tour, but he admits there are times when you need your own space - difficult to find "when you are living on each others doorsteps 24/7".

The huge security presence has not encouraged the team to venture far away from their hotels but it has not restricted what individuals can do. "We have never felt threatened," Collingwood said. "The security is obviously around, but we can go out whenever we want. It is not a case of us saying 'we are not going to go out because there are going to be 30,000 policemen following us'. It is up to us whether or not we want to go out. It is just that there are not many places to go.

"We also tend to play safe on the food front. Illness is an issue but we have not had any real problems. We went out in Lahore a couple of times. We went to an excellent restaurant overlooking the Badshahi Mosque, which can hold up to 100,000 people. I am glad I went to see it but you don't really think about that until you have done it.

"I'd be telling lies if I didn't say the players are looking forward to getting home, but it is the same on every tour. We have learnt a number of things here and hopefully they will help us in India next year."