Positive period of evolution

Nick Knight argues that good points have come out of the lost series
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In defeat there was hope. Of course it hurt. The whole England team was hurting at the Oval last Monday afternoon. It is a miserable feeling to lose a Test series. Individually and collectively we knew there were lessons to be learned.

But in the dejection of being beaten 2-0 by a Pakistan side which proved too powerful for England there were positive points. In conducting the inquest it is as important to remember those as any shortcomings.

Take the batting. In a remodelled top six, Nasser Hussain, John Crawley and myself, the recalled members of the team, have all scored our first Test centuries this summer. Hussain and Crawley have demonstrated style and confidence at numbers three and five. They have looked at home there. My average of almost 40 in the series against Pakistan has given me a firm base on which to build.

For these players it has been a period of evolution. The first hundred at any level is important. Now that we have passed that milestone there may well be more. And that trio apart, three more established players made Test hundreds this summer: the captain Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Jack Russell. With runs coming from such a variety of quarters it can only be to the benefit of the side's overall strength.

The critics have been quick to condemn England's bowling. A mere glance might not indicate much cause for optimism but there is an alternative, more upbeat view. Alan Mullally has been a pleasure to have in the team. He has impressed with his willingness and eagerness and in all six Tests this summer has not let England down. He has taken to Test cricket and advanced as the two series have gone by. There is more to come.

Robert Croft looked immediately at home in the Test arena. He was not fazed a jot by the significance of the match and from his first ball found a rhythm. If he was nervous on his debut at the Oval he did not reveal it.

And then there is Dominic Cork. A hero last summer, he has apparently fallen from grace. How fickle are the sporting fates. But Dominic is not to be written off or cast aside. He possesses genuine class. He is a battling, hungry cricketer who wants to bowl. Of one thing followers of England cricket can be sure. Dominic Cork will be back.

This positive assessment of England this summer is not complacency. Everyone in the team knows that Pakistan are a good, well-balanced side with three extremely incisive bowlers. But we know, too, the type of cricket of which England are capable. The morale in the team remains high. The spirit is not low, because the players recognise they have more to offer. The desire and the urgency are intact and the intensity is undiminished.

During lunch and tea intervals attention tends to divert briefly from the important matter in hand and drift towards the county scores. Several of the players on duty at the Oval had left counties in with a chance in the closest run Championship for years. There is natural banter with Hussain, Mullally, Irani and the Surrey contingent all getting involved.

It will be a close call and predictions are difficult. The spread of points at the top means whoever gets lucky with the weather may win the title. There is certainly no reluctance to go back to county cricket after Tests.

Much is made about the amount of cricket played. But the players I know want to play for their counties and their countries. There is a fine line. I believe there are times when international batsmen and bowlers will gain more from a short rest than playing - both physically and mentally.