Why this England are much more a of team than in my day

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The Independent Online

England had a decent side in the '90s. The decade produced four batsmen who scored more than 5,000 Test runs, two of the best wicket-keepers the country has seen and six bowlers who ended up taking more than 120 Test wickets.

England had a decent side in the '90s. The decade produced four batsmen who scored more than 5,000 Test runs, two of the best wicket-keepers the country has seen and six bowlers who ended up taking more than 120 Test wickets.

Figures like this suggest that England, during this period, should have been one of the strongest teams in the world. But the side I played in - between 1989 and 1999 - were not. Our results were better than the England side of the '80s but we were a disorganised and selfish bunch who appeared to lurch from one crisis to another. We never rose above mid-table mediocrity.

So what is it that Michael Vaughan's team possess that a side containing quality players like Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart, Robin Smith, Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain, Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, Philip Tufnell and myself did not?

England under Vaughan's captaincy, after winning six consecutive Test matches, are on the verge of equalling their longest-ever run of victories. They have also won 12 of their previous 16 Tests. During the '90s our best run was four and we only walked off victorious in 26 of the 107 games we played.

The first thing one notices about this England side is that they are a team. They genuinely appear to enjoy each other's success and there seems nothing they would not do for each other. They are well led and disciplined on and off the pitch, and look like one big happy family.

Unfortunately, we never were. We drifted together every fortnight for a Test match and then for two or three months when we were on tour. But there were too many single-minded and self-interested players for us ever to work as a team. The Mickey Stewart/Graham Gooch partnership of the early '90s was the best I played under but this ended in 1992.

I used to look on in envy at the way the Australians worked together and did things together. If they won they all went out and got drunk together and every member of their side willingly joined in team events - even if he did not particularly enjoy the exercise - because he was prepared to give something to the team.

Sadly, our side did not. During the 1999 World Cup in England one of the Australian team phoned up the liaison manager to ask whether she could arrange for them to go go-karting. "How many of you will be going?" she innocently asked. There was a deathly pause before a reply came back. "All of us. Why?" said a bewildered Aussie voice.

The girl's experience of working with England for two years had taught her that four or five would do this, two or three would do that and the other four or five would do something else. The answer had taken her by surprise.

And this attitude led us to be just as fragmented on the field.

Vaughan's side look smart. They wear the same outfit to the ground each day and either a sun hat or a traditional blue England cap when playing.

We could not even agree on wearing the same hat.

Before the England and Wales Cricket Board was formed in 1997, England players used to be supplied with three different sets of kit. For home Test matches we wore three lions and a crown, for home one-day games it was a single blue lion and when we were abroad it was the colours of the MCC and a cap with St George slaying a dragon.

We used to go out to play in all sorts of different headgear until Lord Maclaurin, the new chairman of the ECB, asked us to wear the same cap. All hell broke lose. Stewart wanted to continue using his white helmet when he was batting and his lucky baseball cap in the field. Hussain was the same and Jack Russell nearly retired when he was told he could no longer wear his tatty old white hat while keeping wicket.

Maclaurin gained little support from Atherton, the England captain - who refused to shave during Test matches - and David Lloyd, the coach, on head wear or attire and the inability of the team's most powerful figures to control this simple task gave them little chance of controlling matters on the field.

Hussain, whose attitude towards these things changed dramatically once he became captain, and Duncan Fletcher, the current England coach, should take enormous credit for adding discipline to the team. The introduction of central contracts helped, because suddenly the players became the employees of the ECB rather than the counties, but this pairing gave England players the kick up the backside they required.

Central contracts also allowed the players to feel closer together and more secure about their future. In the '90s you were only paid if you played and then representing England made an enormous difference to your earnings. It was the only way you could lead a comfortable lifestyle.

This, along with the actions of selectors, who constantly used to chop and change the side in a desperate attempt to find the right formula, meant that players never knew how long they would remain in the side. Players used to turn up fearing that this would be their last game if they failed to perform and it ended up producing a very selfish environment to work in.

The extra money being spent on the England team has helped focus the players' minds. Almost everything they require is catered for and it is this, along with four crackerjack players - Vaughan, Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison - which has turned underachievers into potential record breakers.