London: England captain Nasser Hussain insisted on Monday his side was not fearful of taking on world champions Australia later this year despite its appalling record in Ashes contests.
"This is the most positive England side I've captained," Hussain told reporters here at The Oval on Monday after a last day washout had ensured a drawn fourth Test against India and a series squared at one apiece. England has not beaten Australia since 1986-87 and on Tuesday its selectors will announce the touring party, which they hope will end that losing sequence. "Australians are the world champions. They are the best side in the world. They hammered South Africa and they've hammered everyone else," Hussain admitted. "But England is a good side so why not go there (Australia) with confidence?" However, throughout its home series against both Sri Lanka and India, England was plagued by injuries to its fast bowlers. Spearhead Darren Gough did not play in any of the seven Tests and fellow quicks Andrew Caddick, Alex Tudor, Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones, as well as all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, were all sidelined at various times through injury. "We've got to get our bowling attack fit," said Hussain. "And it's not just a case of getting them fit. Gough, for example, has hardly played any cricket." His comments were endorsed by India skipper Saurav Ganguly, whose side beat Australia back on home soil 18 months ago, "England do have a chance but its fast bowlers have to be fit for five Tests. "Darren Gough's fitness is very important," Ganguly added. Hussain said he was due to have one last meeting with coach Duncan Fletcher and chairman of selectors David Graveney about the composition of the party. "I don't know how many we will take. We've just got a list of names at the moment. "It's not like a tour of the West Indies where you take 16 and that's it. Our Academy (primarily designed to bring on future Test players) will be in Australia and it's up to the management how they want to utilise that." Earlier Monday, Graveney said England's fitness worries could lead to an unusual team announcement at Lord's. "Probably for the first time, the team will be announced subject to fitness," Graveney explained. "Andy Flintoff has had a (groin) operation - he'll be in the team - but somebody like Simon Jones may or may not be in the team." Another major concern for England is the mental well being of key middle-order batsman Graham Thorpe. After England's 170 run first Test win at Lord's in July, Surrey left-hander Thorpe took an indefinite absence from all cricket. That was due to problems in his private life caused by the break-up of his marriage and arguments over access arrangements to his two young children. But Thorpe recently said he was ready to face the Australians and has put his case for inclusion to the England management. "Graham has had a very, very difficult time. I was impressed with the way he talked, but again, it's for all four of us (Hussain, Fletcher, Graveney and Thorpe) to decide," Graveney explained. But before England go to Australia in October, Hussain's men fly out on Thursday to Sri Lanka for the ICC Champions Trophy One-day tournament. And the England skipper pleaded with his country's administrators to draw up a schedule that gave his side decent rest periods in between their international engagements. "Some sides seem to have three months off, we've got two days. It's something I would urge the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) to look at." Hussain also pleaded with his bosses to extend the contract of England coach Duncan Fletcher, which is due to expire in September 2003. Since former Zimbabwe captain Fletcher was appointed in 1999 after a stint as coach of English county Glamorgan, England has won six series out of 12 with three drawn and three lost. "I hope the ECB extend Duncan Fletcher's contract. He's the singular reason we are playing well and have been successful," said Hussain. "He's the finest coach I've ever played under."
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