<
>

A one-day fightback to do England proud

Coach Fletcher - putting a squad togetherPhoto Reuters

England's cricketers can rest some tired limbs on the long-haul flight from Mumbai to Auckland knowing that they have done their country proud on the latest leg of their global merry-go-round.

The passion and commitment they showed in Delhi and Mumbai, to win consecutive cliffhangers by two and five runs respectively, is the firmest indication so far that they can compete with the best in South Africa a year from now.

"For the first time in the one-day arena on this trip I suddenly felt comfortable that we had all the pieces there and we're now putting the puzzle together," said the England coach, Duncan Fletcher.

"We have the right individuals and with one or two additions here and there I think the future looks quite bright for England in one-day cricket. That's important, because I don't think that direction has been there for some time.

"One of the most important things to happen to us in this series was to win the last two games, tight games - if we'd lost even one of those games it would have been very hard to pull it back.

"Having won those two, the guys can now be confident in their ability.

"It has really shown them that they have the ability to hold any situation and to come back and do what we did was an incredible achievement, and England should be very proud of the guys who performed for their country."

As the team has bonded, so some of the newer arrivals in the squad have grown in stature. Matthew Hoggard and Paul Collingwood earlier in the one-day series, and Andrew Flintoff, who is the most improved player in the England camp.

After press criticism of his lifestyle just over a year ago, Flintoff embarked on a drive for mental and physical fitness that has suddenly made him the epitome of England's steely desire. Some might argue that desire can be overstated at the fall of a wicket. The frequent "sending off" of the batsman is a trait to be curbed in the wider interests of the game. That apart, he has made impressive progress.

"Anyone who is involved in sport who is prepared to work at their game will see it come right, and Freddie's seen that now," Fletcher said.

"He's been really working hard in the gym and he's really working hard at his game, and he's now a really good example for other people out there who live in their comfort zones.

"We've been quite stern with him where we've left him out for a bit and told him he had to come to our party because we weren't coming to his party.

"The thing I have most enjoyed about Freddie is that he accepted that policy and he agreed to everything we said on our terms.

"Some people show potential early and others show it later and it's nice to see a guy who has repaid us for keeping faith with him.

"People must realise that he's a really nice guy. He's genuine in that he wants to do well for England and for Nasser and myself and that's very important."

Flintoff himself described the Mumbai match as one of the best he had ever played in.

"Taking my shirt off and running around like that wasn't rehearsed. It was completely instinctive and nothing to do with football. I'm not a big football fan - the footballers who've done it are probably carrying a few less pounds than me anyway," said Flintoff.

"It's something I'll probably live to regret because I'm sure I'll get a lot of stick for it, so it's just as well we're going to New Zealand rather than going home.

"When I walked out to bat we were in a position where we just needed to consolidate. But Darren Gough helped me add a few, and after the position we were in I don't think 255 was such a bad score.

"I don't think we ever gave up hope when Ganguly was in and going well. After the way we took the last game, I think there was always a belief that we could perhaps do it again."

A belief that will serve England well as they prepare for their next one-day series, which starts on Wednesday fortnight at Christchurch against the excellent New Zealand team.