Death threats hit everyone hard, says England~~s Knight

Published: Saturday, February 15, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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East London (South Africa): England's much-delayed entrance into the World Cup is due to take place on Sunday when it faces minnow The Netherlands at Buffalo Park. Nasser Hussain's men should have started the tournament against co-host Zimbabwe in Harare on Thursday, but decided in the wake of death threats to boycott the fixture on security grounds. Meanwhile, England opener Nick Knight, one of the team's most consistent One-day performers having scored more than 3,500 runs at an average in excess of 41, admitted the threats had been a severe shock for the entire team. "You receive a letter like that and it's a serious issue. It hit everyone very hard," Knight said. Several days of meetings was not the ideal way to prepare for Sunday's match and, in another move that would have had old-timers shaking their heads, England also spent over two hours with a sports psychologist on Thursday. Adding to England's off-field problems is the left side injury to Craig White, which is set to sideline the all-rounder from Sunday's match. White has a history of side problems and it cut short his pre-World Cup tour of Australia. He is considered by the England management as a key One-day performer and his lively swing bowling would certainly have suited a Buffalo Park pitch which, because of coastal location, is well-known for assisting bowlers, who can move the ball through the air. Veteran wicket-keeper/batsman Alec Stewart has been continuing to receive ice- treatment for a persistent hand condition but is expected to be fit. And, in some good news for England, novice fast bowler Stephen Harmison is over the ankle problems that affected him in Australia while a quick dash back to Durham see his new-born daughter appears to have helped with his homesickness. Ashley Giles' place as England's premier spinner came under threat in Australia from fellow left-armer Ian Blackwell, who appeared to turn the ball more than his rival. However, Blackwell's hard-hitting batting suffered with a run of low scores, once again raising questions about whether any of the several England players with all- round pretensions are the genuine article. The Netherlands, captained by former Somerset paceman Roland Lefebvre bowled India out for just 204 in its opener at Boland Park. The Buffalo Park surface, where the ball can stop on the batsman, is likely to be equally helpful to what the Netherlands' star in Paarl, Tim de Leede, called "military-medium style of bowling". De Leede finished with career-best figures of four for 35 against India and, allied to the enthusiastic fielding, England will do well not to under-estimate the Dutch attack. "Holland are no mugs. They're ready to compete in the World Cup," Knight said. But Lefebvre admitted that the India match had been its best chance of causing an upset. "If ever there was going to be an upset in the World Cup, that was the day," he said. His side's Achilles heel remains its batting - it was dismissed for 136 against India and this is where even an under-prepared England should have the edge on Lefebvre's plucky performers.

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