England prepare for the unknown

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The Independent Online

Having completed one easy task and another difficult one, England are preparing to encounter unknown quantities in their World Cup campaign.

Picking the 13 from whom the team will be chosen to play New Zealand in their opening match in Ahmedabad tomorrow was not exactly testing for Ray Illingworth. England's manager merely had to be sure to omit the unfit Robin Smith from the 14-man squad. Not so easy was shepherding his players through a gruelling 16-hour journey from Calcutta.

He should find it at least as testing steering the team through their group matches against the unknown quantities, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands, and the known threats, Pakistan and South Africa.

Tomorrow's opener fits very much into the former category. New Zealand may be in the mainstream of international cricket, but their team has under gone much upheaval lately. Martin Crowe, Ken Rutherford and Mark Greatbatch are gone and the 11 who take the field tomorrow will include such unfamiliar names as Nathan Astle and Craig Spearman, the openers; Lee Germon, who captains the side from behind the stumps; and Robert Kennedy, a young fast bowler. However, they have just beaten Zimbabwe in a home one-day series and have recent experience of Indian conditions from their pre-Christmas tour.

"I think New Zealand will be a decent side, especially on these pitches where their medium-pacers and spinners might be difficult to get away," Illingworth said. "It is up to us to get our game right."

Mike Atherton, the England captain, admits that the number of new faces in the New Zealand line-up poses a potential problem. "They've changed their side quite drastically since we last played them in 1994," he said. "Some of them are only known to us through seeing video recordings."

One who is known, however, is the 24-year-old Astle, who has scored two centuries in 15 one-day internationals. He spent the past two English summers with Farsley in the Bradford League. "He topped 1,000 runs both years and is a good player," Illingworth said.

More familiar is the Kiwi bowling attack, including Chris Cairns, Danny Morrison and Dipak Patel, the former Worcestershire spinner. Then, of course, there is New Zealand's newest recruit, Roger Twose, the former Warwickshire batsman and part-time bowler. A lorry packed with explosives was discovered in a car park in Colombo yesterday, only a mile from the city's World Cup venue, the Premadasa Stadium