England in West Indies 2003-04 March 7, 2004

Now it's good-boy nets for England

After England polished off the Vice-Chancellor's XI with a day to spare, they got down to business at the nets in Sabina Park today, watched by Freddie Auld

After England's early win against the University of West Indies Vice-Chancellor's XI yesterday, there was no day off preening by the pool or swanning round the golf course, but a two-hour practice session at Sabina Park instead.

"These guys are true professionals," proclaimed Steve, part of England's Jamaican security team, who were all present and correct, proudly sporting their official England baseball caps. "They're always training, I've never seen a team train so hard. They're also a great bunch of guys. Vaughany, Graham, Nasser and Butch - great guys."

After I enquired if the four-man security squadron went everywhere with the team, even for a few beers after hours, Steve smiled and said, "Yes sir. We went to Quad, a nightclub, last week, there till 3am." At that point, his boss, Arthur, piped up in that impenetrable Jamaican patois - about all I made out was the word "journalist". After which Steve quickly added, in pukka English, "But that was after the Jamaica match had ended, and not all the team were there".

Anyway, back to the cricket. "It's a difficult one to call," Steve pondered. "We're West Indian, but we want to see the England guys do well. It sure will be close, though." One of the others then chimed in: "We all want to see Simon Jones - Jamaicans love fast bowling."

As we looked out from the pavilion to the sun-kissed pitch, the England players kicked off their session with a game of football, followed by catching practice, and then some good-boy nets. "Vaughan's a great player," Steve said, as he hoisted Gareth Batty out of the net. "But Lara is the king. You'll never see a better player in your time."

Wary of yet another sermon about how good Lara is, I strolled around the ground looking at the empty stands. It certainly felt like the calm before the storm. The groundstaff were erecting a temporary stand between the imposing George Headley Stand and the Kingston Cricket Club pavilion. And, to the left, others were putting up a ridiculously cheesy hoarding of some of the more celebrated members of the West Indian team pointing forwards over the caption "We gonna lick dem".

In the nets, the England squad were working up a sweat, and all eyes were on Mark Butcher. With his ankle heavily strapped, he and Marcus Trescothick got the nets going - and the balls flying. Butcher smeared Rikki Clarke out of the net, over the East Stand and onto the road outside. The news filtered through that Andrew Strauss's flight has been delayed. Maybe he shouldn't bother coming at all.

Freddie Auld, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, will be following the England team in Jamaica and Trinidad.