England's crocks took another encouraging stride towards proving their fitness and form for the World Cup here yesterday when they played a leading role in gaining Nasser Hussain's side a comfortable win in their final warm-up game before the tournament begins on Sunday.
Although England's eight-wicket win over Border was dominated by an accomplished 81 from Nick Knight and his brutal century opening partnership with Marcus Trescothick – they both scored at a run a ball – it will have been the performances of Craig White, Ashley Giles and Stephen Harmison which gave the England dressing-room greatest cause for optimism. Following another week when events off the field have taken attention away from those on it, Hussain will be feeling pretty content and optimistic about the direction in which his side are moving.
In front of a small, indifferent crowd, who created a relaxed atmosphere, in conditions far removed from those England will encounter when the World Cup gets into a higher gear, White, Giles and Harmison were allowed to ease their way gently back into cricket. Following spells out injured, this was just the work-out they required and each made the most of it. On a sweltering day, all three took useful wickets and bowled virtually their full allocation of overs.
It was White, however, who put in the most impressive performance. The Yorkshire all-rounder has been England's major injury worry in the build -up to the World Cup, but after taking 2 for 27 he now looks ready to play an influential part in the tournament. After four tentative overs against Eastern Province on Tuesday, this was always going to be a big match for White. The selectors have shown patience in waiting for the 33-year-old to recover from the side strain that prematurely ended his tour of Australia and yesterday he showed why they rate him so highly.
In a make-or-break game, White once again looked to ease himself into his spell. A wicket with his second ball helped settle the nerves but as his confidence grew so did the pace at which he bowled. By the end of his 10 overs, which he bowled in one spell, he looked to be back to his best. Nowhere was this illustrated better than with the delivery to dismiss Justin Kreusch. On a slow, low pitch, White managed to produce a ball that was quick and bounced alarmingly to the right-hander, who could only glove a simple catch through to Trescothick, keeping wicket while Alec Stewart rested.
"Today was very encouraging", was White's description of the day. "In my first couple of overs I tried to gradually get into it but after that I felt as good as I have for a long time. I was at 85-90 per cent and it came out well, so that was encouraging. At the moment it feels good. It might feel a bit stiff in the morning but that's expected."
White received support from Harmison and Giles, who took three good wickets apiece in the middle of the innings. Giles added three catches to a productive day's work that should see him get the nod over Ian Blackwell when the serious cricket starts. Paul Collingwood's fielding was outstanding in the gully and altogether England looked a happy, confident outfit.
England's only worry, after last night's decision by the International Cricket Council not to relocate their fixture against Zimbabwe, is when these more testing matches will start. If England's match in Harare on 13 February fails to take place, the squad will have a 10-day break without competitive cricket before their second game against the Netherlands on 16 February.
During this period, nets could be the only method of practice. There is only so much of this type of practice one can do before it becomes tedious and detrimental and there could be a danger of the good work put in and the confidence achieved over the last week being wasted.
East London Scoreboard
Border won toss
M L Bruyns c Giles b Anderson 0
M M Matika c Giles b Flintof 9
S C Pope c Vaughan b Giles 89
L L Gamiet c and b White 14
*P C Strydom lbw b Harmison 22
C B Sugden lbw b Harmison 0
J P Kreusch c Trescothick b White 1
ÝA Sodumo b Giles 36
T Henderson lbw b Giles 5
L Graham c Giles b Harmison 15
B K Sekonyane not out 0
Extras (lb3 w6 nb2) 11
Total (46.4 overs) 202
Fall: 1-9 2-13 3-41 4-87 5-87 6-90 7-171 8-180 9-196.
Bowling: Anderson 8-2-34-1; Flintoff 6-0-35-1; White 10-3-27-2; Harmison 9.4-1-43-3; Giles 9-0-38-3 ; Blackwell 4-0-22-0.
ÝM E Trescothick c Matika b Graham 58
N V Knight not out 81
M P Vaughan c Sodumo b Henderson 29
*N Hussain not out 9
Extras (lb1 w9 nb6) 16
Total (for 2, 37.3 overs) 203
Fall: 1-100 2-141.
Did not bat: P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, C White, I D Blackwell, A F Giles, J M Anderson, S J Harmison.
Bowling: Henderson 8-1-25-1; Sekonyane 4-0-42-0; Graham 7-0-45-1; Kreusch 6-0-28-0; Strydom 7.3-0-27-0; Gamiet 4-0-31-0; Matika 1-0-4-0.
Umpires: Nadeem Ghauri and C Pickett.
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