Hussain departs for India and New Zealand but with South Africa in mind
Hussain - England need a World Cup plan
As he prepared to depart on the second leg of the winter tour to India and New Zealand on a trip that will include 11 one-day internationals, England captain Nasser Hussain acknowledged that the ultimate destination is the World Cup in South Africa in 2003. Furthermore, he admitted that England's showing in the last two tournaments has not been good enough and, if that record is to be improved in 2003, he and Duncan Fletcher have got to devise a strategy and put it to the test so that the team is properly prepared for the challenges it will face.
After commenting once again that England do not play enough one-day internationals to compete on level terms with the best in this type of cricket, Hussain said: "The sides that have done well in World Cups have had a plan. Australia had a plan in England of playing virtually Test cricket with attacking fields with normal bowlers.
"New Zealand might not have won the World Cup but they have gone in with a plan whereby every player knows exactly what his role is in the side. Obviously the game changes, the wickets change and situations change, and when it does, the players alter their roles accordingly."
Then came the damning assessment of the last two campaigns. "We've gone into them in a shambolic manner where we didn't know what our best eleven was or even our best thirteen. We've learned from other sides, but half way through the tournament.
"We have got to be proactive rather than reacting to what the successful sides are doing. You can't do that half way through a world cup because you're out of it. We've got to start setting the trends and let other sides say that's a good idea, rather than us thinking something is a good idea so we'll try that now."
Hussain is clear about the aims of this trip. "We need to continue the sort of mentality and team spirit that this group of lads created in Zimbabwe. We went about things slightly differently with great emphasis put on the work ethic in nets and fielding. It's most important that we continue that.
"The problem with one-day cricket is that there's always a gap when Duncan and myself are not with the boys and now we have the chance to be with them for a couple of months to work at what is a very important part of cricket."
During this period there will be the chance to win matches, but also an opportunity to build towards the 2003 World Cup. For Hussain, both aspects are crucial. "Winning is the most important thing. As we saw in Zimbabwe, there are bonuses from winning and playing good cricket. In a place like India where it's going to be organised chaos with the crowds and fanatical support, we will have to make sure we stick together as a unit."
By the end of this series of one-day matches - six against India and five in New Zealand - England's approach to one-day cricket and the World Cup plan will be clear. The captain does not really regard this as a time for drastic experimentation, with either tactics or the team.
"You can't experiment too much in one-day cricket because there are certain rules and guidelines in place. It's a pretty basic game and you have to keep it simple by splitting up the games. There are the first 15 overs, the middle period and the last ten. In those particular areas we can try things out, but from game to game it's pretty much the same plan.
"It's a balance between working out what is best to win a one-off game and what's best for a year's time and the World Cup. In the next year, we've got to make sure we put everything in place to cover all eventualities.
"This will be the nucleus of the side that goes to the World Cup because we haven't got enough cricket to start messing around. The best sides going into world cups in previous years have had two things. They've been regular sides and they've had a plan. We've got to give people enough time to get ready for the World Cup and we've got to start developing plans. We've got to get things sorted out now, and not in six months' time."
There is a clear route from this tour to the World Cup, because India are in England's qualifying group. Hussain takes notice of the fact that it will be different playing against the same opposition in India and in South Africa, but these are still vital matches.
"If we can compete well in this series, and that, as a very young and inexperienced side, is what we are trying to do, and we can get some kind of psychological hold on them, that will be important. We have already beaten Zimbabwe well, and they're in our group. If we can beat India, that will be just as important."
There might have been a feeling in English cricket in the past that the emphasis has been on the Test rather than one-day game. No longer. Hussain is adamant that, starting right now, England have winning the World Cup as their goal.
"The World Cup is something that we have not done very well in. It's over a year away, but we've got to start putting the record straight. It's a very, very important tournament and it's not something that you just go into without a plan and we've got to start putting out plans into place tomorrow."
With the injured Craig White missing the Indian leg of the tour, 15 players leave from Heathrow on an exciting journey. Those who make the most of their opportunities in India know that it could be the first step on a journey to the World Cup in South Africa next year.