What a joy to be in England now summer's here

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Middlesex had four pre-season matches arranged, which were to be immediately followed by four Benson & Hedges Cup group matches. Not a ball was bowled, so consequently not a ball was faced.

Middlesex had four pre-season matches arranged, which were to be immediately followed by four Benson & Hedges Cup group matches. Not a ball was bowled, so consequently not a ball was faced.

It was with this kind of preparation that the side came to face Kent last week in their final B&H match. Played four, no result four. We had to win the fifth. The target was, as they say in dressing-room parlance, eminently gettable, but we failed.

Of the batsmen, only one man looked at ease and that was Justin Langer, fresh from a winter of high achievement with Australia. He appeared as though he had never had a bat out of his hand, partly because that has been all but the case.

On the other hand, I had not had an innings in the middle since last September, and was swiftly undone by one from Mark Ealham, the sort of bowler who can be deadly in these early-season conditions. The upshot of all this was that Middlesex went out of the competition without genuinely having an opportunity to progress.

Nobody can legislate for the wettest April since 1931 - which was presumably the wettest since Noah was in his pomp - but it is now conceivable that, if I were to be picked for the First Test match against Zimbabwe on 18 May, I will have had just that one senior innings against Kent.

As it is, there will be the opportunity for only one four-day match, which is scheduled for a very wet Lord's this week. Apart from that, the county have a couple of National League matches today and tomorrow. With seven Test matches to be played in all summers from now on, starting the first in the middle of May will be essential. The question of the fixture list, no matter whether there are floods or pestilence, could perhaps be addressed. Players must be able to turn up for a Test in some sort of rhythm.

It looks as though with England training camps, the tourists in any given year will probably have more games than the players in the host team. It is not too difficult to work out the potential advantage that might give.

To try to rediscover what it is like facing a bowler 22 yards away with boundaries on all sides, I played at Northampton late last week in a second-team match. I made 20-odd and then a few less by missing a straight one, but at least it was time in the middle.

Middlesex, who took a full squad minus Langer, Angus Fraser and Phil Tufnell, won well enough. There were some good performances. But there is no question that to do better than last year the squad will have to dig deep. Those who have been in and around the team for a few years and have now been capped, must find greater levels of consistency, must contribute more often in different situations. If, that is, we ever get to play properly again.

The lack of cricket, naturally, has focused more attention - as though it was short of it - on the match-rigging scandal which was sparked off by the sensational admissions of Hansie Cronje that he took cash from a bookmaker. In the weeks since, all sorts of claims have been made about all sorts of players and matches.

There has been plenty of time to mull this over in the dressing rooms of England, where the game has also been afflicted by the so-called Chris Lewis Connection. I've known Lewis since we were boys in Middlesex age-group sides. He's got to get on now and concentrate on playing his own game.

As a group, players can only have faith in the England and Wales Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council to sort out the apparent mess. The whispers have become shouts, but they still are unsupported by concrete evidence. At their meeting this week the ICC have to find a way forward or the game will be undermined.

Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the ECB, has my unwavering support. He says the right things, does the right things and looks to be what the game needs, a man who will grasp the nettle.

I believe the ICC will now act, I believe the game will rise above the happenings of the past few weeks. It must, for it cannot proceed in an orderly fashion otherwise. How-ever they decide to progress, no stone must be left unturned.

Nobody believes for a moment that England players have been involved in anything untoward. It simply beggars belief, but we must be a tad wary. Three weeks ago, suggesting that Cronje had been involved would have brought forth hoots of derision. And now there is a break in the clouds. Excuse me while I go out for a bat.

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