England World Cup campaign begins

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The Independent Online

England's build-up to the World Cup begins today in Lahore, with a double net session followed by two practice matches later in the week. The team will be in Calcutta next Sunday for the opening ceremony and, three days later, they launch the tournament by facing New Zealand at Ahmedabad.

Although no senior England squad has visited Pakistan since the tempestuous tour of 1987 when Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana had their amazing row, most of the players are familiar with the sights and sounds of life on the subcontinent through trips to India.

Teams are always guarded by armed soldiers and, with safety a key issue in this World Cup, security should be tighter than ever. "I keep tripping over a soldier's 303 rifle when I open my hotel room door so I think security is pretty good here," Ray Illingworth, the team manager, said.

England are 8-1 long shots to win the World Cup and, on that basis, expected to do no better than reach the quarter-finals. "At those odds we must be the best bet in the competition," Illingworth said. "I don't think there is any problem with the mood or confidence of the squad after South Africa.

"Part of the difficulty there was that people were coming and going towards the end of the tour and we were trying different tactics. But here we've got a close-knit group of 14 players and we shall be working pretty hard over the next week."

Illingworth is convinced that Graeme Hick is the key to England's success. "I think Graeme could be the outstanding player of the tournament," he said. "I believe he's batting better than ever before."