Down Under with new zeal

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The Independent Online
THERE is renewed confidence and optimism in the England team. The win against the New Zealand Select XI was both efficient and vibrant. Had it not been for rain interruptions the side would have won inside three days. Considering also that the opposition ranks contained five of the New Zealand 12 for the first Test it has been an excellent start to the second leg of the winter tour.

The first leg has gone now. This is a new campaign. The pitches we have encountered so far have been more familiar, not unlike those to which we are accustomed in England, perhaps slightly quicker. What was especially heartening about last week's victory and again yesterday was that the batsmen and bowlers found form together.

Twice we dismissed the select side cheaply, the first time with some probing seam bowling and then with Phil Tufnell taking five for 58 in the second innings. Tuffers looked to be getting some turn as the match wore on, an extremely helpful sign. He had a good tour to New Zealand five years ago and his 11 wickets in the first Test were instrumental in a victory which launched a successful series. It could be that he likes it here. Yesterday's first day saw us take advantage of the conditions in Hamilton. That is exactly what was required.

England's batting here has been effective as well. Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain both played with vast assurance as they have all winter. I still feel in pretty good form and was only irked to get out again caught behind glancing down the leg side.

This is a peculiar type of dismissal, not something that has affected me before. But this was the third time in recent innings that it has happened. Stewart, who was batting at the other end, said I was not falling over in making the shot so my balance would seem to be correct. I'm aware of what's happening, however, and am taking steps to make sure it will not recur. Cutting out the stroke is one option but I would do that with reluctance because it scores runs and should do so safely.

We will spend much of our team meetings in the next few days dissecting the New Zealand side. Having sight of some of them early on should help to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. All in all we should know more about them than the Zimbabweans. My experience of them is not as wide as that of some of the players who have been around longer, but I recall three players from the series between Young England and Young New Zealand in 1989 - with good reason.

New Zealand were 1-0 up in the series after a win at Scarborough and a draw at Canterbury. In the third match I was appointed captain when Mark Ramprakash withdrew and made 160, my only hundred for England Young Cricketers. We got ourselves into a position to win the match, and were 255 ahead on first innings. But Blair Pocock, with a century and Adam Parore and Chris Cairns with half centuries guided New Zealand to a hard- fought draw. They are all in the present Test squad and we could do without a repeat performance this series.

Young England's side then also contained three players on this winter's tour - Knight, Darren Gough and Dominic Cork. The last-named has been typically invigorating since his arrival for this part of the trip. He stamped his committed style on proceedings immediately, bowled with aggression and appealed with his usual vigour. He got the outswinger working regularly and dangerously close to the stumps and yesterday gave us an immediate boost with early wickets which can be so crucial. When you are fielding in the slips with Cork bowling you always feel you are in the game.

He proved pretty competitive and adept at go-kart racing too. Ten of us tried our hands at it when our fitness coach Dean Riddle came across a circuit in Palmerston North. Cork and the physiotherapist Wayne Morton tore round the track. I should say, by the way, that it was perfectly safe.