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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 15:14 GMT

England's cricket captain answers

As England prepares for the First Test against South Africa, captain Nasser Hussain's answer a selection of your questions.

Stephen Thurley, Singapore: The West Indies' next generation are now watching/playing basketball rather than cricket. How can cricket grab back the limelight and attract back future generations besieged by money and advertising contracts.

Nasser Hussain: The situation in the West Indies is very different to our own. But certainly all the England players recognise that cricket does face increasing competition from other sports. The introduction of day/night One-Day Internationals for the first time next summer is just one way in which the game in this country is reaching out to new audiences. The advent of two divisions has also been good for the game and made for more competitive and exciting games - especially at the end of the season.

Mark Greenwood, Australia: I am English born (1960) but moved to Australia when I was 12. I played cricket for my English Grammar school and my Australian High school plus club cricket on the weekend. The big difference I noticed in the coaching between England & Australia is that in Australia they teach you tactics and strategy very early on coupled with the philosophy that there are no prizes for second best. Whereas my English coaching was based on enjoy yourself and you will get a trophy anyway. I returned to the UK for 12 months to work last year and my discussions with people indicate that this has not changed.

Do you believe the School system (Cricket is for private schools in the main in the UK whereas every school in Australia has it as a sport) and attitude of second is good enough is impacting on your younger players readiness to compete in what for other countries is a very competitive sport with success highly valued?

Nasser Hussain: You're wrong to suggest that cricket is primarily a 'private schools' sport in the main in this country. The number of children playing the game in state Primary and Secondary schools here is around 1.6 million - compared with 200,000 children in independent schools. We do need to develop players who have the mental toughness needed to succeed in Test cricket but this is an aspect of the game which all our development squads from Under 15 level right through to the 'A' and senior side work very hard on.

Outside the professional game, there's plenty of tough cricket being played in the new ECB Premier Leagues. My brother Mel plays for Fives and Heronians who won the Essex Premier League last season and the standard of cricket is very competitive.

Gordon Christiansen, England: Is winning the SA tour more important than "blooding" new players who will win test matches in the future?

Nasser Hussain: I see this tour as very similar to my own first tour to the West Indies in 1989-90. Then, as now, we were very much the underdogs and had a number of young and inexperienced players in the party such as Alec Stewart, Gus Fraser and myself. In the event, we surprised a few people with how well we played and were very unlucky to lose the series. It would be nice if we could do so again - and hopefully this time win the series.

Francis Anderson, UK: What do you feel can be done to encourage more ethnic minorities into County Cricket and playing for England? I'm thinking especially of the Indian/Pakistani & Caribbean communities that have a real passion for cricket?

Nasser Hussain: The World Cup was a tremendous advertisement for the game and showed the passion for cricket that exists within the ethnic minority communities here. There are already around 25 black and Asian cricketers in the County game and I'm sure that their numbers will continue to grow. On that theme, I recently helped launch a new scheme jointly run by the ECB with the Lord's Taverners which aims to develop cricket in four inner city areas and I know the organisers are keen to expand the scheme to other parts of the country

Laura Berrill, England: Nasser, don't you think that the archaic selection process - a board run by middle class, middle aged men should be revamped? What about looking at all the talent out there on the public and school pitches? Kids from less fortunate backgrounds who love the game and have real talent. Why not set up some kind of talent-spotting committee which can override the selectors' choices which to me seem rather restricted to grammar/public schools and universities. No disrespect as I went to a private school, but football is a game for the masses - everyone - why not cricket?!

Nasser Hussain: You're absolutely right to say that we need to be developing the talent which undoubtedly exists in school playing fields up and down the country. But the England selectors certainly aren't biased in favour of players with a private education. I think you'll find that a clear majority of players in the Test squad for South Africa were state-educated.

Mark Wickenden, England: What impact did England's premature exit from this year's World Cup, in front of an expectant home nation, have on the confidence of the team as a whole?

Nasser Hussain: Going out of the tournament before the Super Six stage was a bitterly disappointing blow and I'm not going to offer any excuses for our performance. It hasn't affected our confidence as a team and we're all hugely excited about the challenges that lie ahead in South Africa.

Jim Howe, England: What is being done in the build up to boost the morale of the players and is there anything new that will be done to keep the players focussed/entertained between test matches/warm up games. In the past we have heard of players staying up late/drinking etc, are the players going to do any charity/outreach work in South Africa?

Nasser Hussain: All the players got together at Loughborough for our medicals and fitness testing a fortnight before the tour and that provided an opportunity for the players to meet each other and Duncan Fletcher for the first time. We'll be concentrating on cricket primarily as you would expect this winter, but I will be getting out my clubs for the players' golf day later on in the tour. And we can always rely on Mark Butcher to give us a tune on his guitar - if we're at a loose end of an evening.

Heather, England: Where are we going wrong lately? To be bottom of the world rankings is just not acceptable. How do you rate our chances for the South African tour this winter? Will we be praying for rain again?

Nasser Hussain: We're definitely not praying for rain. We want to show the South African team and their public that England should not be taken lightly - despite what the unofficial rankings say. Certainly if we can play as well as we did in the latter half of the 1998 series against South Africa, then we have every chance of doing well.

Guy Hayward, The Netherlands: Don't you wish you and your team got more support from the media when things are going badly?

Nasser Hussain: It's not the media's job to act as cheerleaders for the team. We expect to get criticized when we perform poorly - it goes with the territory. But it would be nice if they could bring a better sense of perspective to bear on our results. At the moment, when we win we're hailed as world-beaters and when we lose the opposite applies. I hope to see a little more realism in the coverage this winter.

Marcus J Szemruk, UK: What do you see as the main problem encountering English cricket at present, which is leading to its proven downfall. And, what is the MCC doing to rectify this?

Nasser Hussain: I think it's widely recognised by most people within the game that we need to improve the quality of our pitches at First Class level if we are to develop more high quality Test players. I know that's something that the ECB is looking to address over the close season.

C. Coleridge Cole, Hong Kong: How are you going to try and impose the necessary discipline and patience that is so needed in the English batting line up which we lack yet other Test nations seemed to have perfected beyond our control?

Nasser Hussain: Together with Duncan Fletcher, I'll be doing everything I can to get the best out of our batsmen this winter - right through from one to eleven. Discipline and patience is an important part of batting and we'll be encouraging all the players to stay focused and bat for as long as possible.

Waseem Iqbal, England: Why was Mark Ramprakash dropped from the Test team? When in the tests against NZ he managed to save you from yet another humiliating defeat, where even you didn't perform to your expectations. As well as the fact that he has a good touring record, i.e. WI?

Nasser Hussain: We have batted poorly as a unit - especially in the first innings of recent matches and the selectors felt that we needed to re-think our batting line-up for this winter's tour. Mark was unlucky to miss out but he is a fine player and one who remains very much in the selectors' thoughts.

Winston, Singapore: What have been the highlights of your career so far, both on and off the field?

Nasser Hussain: My 207 against Australia at Edgbaston in 1997 and beating South Africa in the Test series in England last year.

Matthew Howarth, UK: How will you raise England morale after this summer's debacle ?

Nasser Hussain: I'm sure I'll be reminding the players that when we perform to our best, we're capable of giving any team in the world a game. Our performance in Melbourne last winter showed that to be the case. We're all aware that we need to be more consistent as a side and recapture the form that we showed against South Africa in 98.

Laurence Wormald, England: What England player of the last 15 years would you most like to have available for the current team?

Nasser Hussain: Ian Botham

Nazim Uddin, England: Nasser, do you find the talk/emphasis of your Asian/Muslim heritage a bit of a distraction? Or do you think it serves a positive purpose?

Nasser Hussain: I am proud first and foremost to be an England cricketer and I love my country with a passion. I certainly don't find talk of my Asian background a distraction - I'm more than happy to be seen as a role model for other British Asian youngsters who aspire to playing for England.

Gideon Abrams, England: My question is two fold: Firstly, why is it that there seems to be a lack of passion and pride by all except a handful of players out on the pitch, where many people would give their right arm to play for their country. Secondly, whenever England have a good day and get themselves into a match wining position, their is no cutting edge and we are unable to finish off opponents. It's about time some of the deadwood is jettisoned (Fraser, Caddick, Stewart, etc) and proud youngsters are bedded in for the next world cup!

Nasser Hussain: On your first point, there's certainly no lack of pride and passion in our dressing room. Inevitably some players are more demonstrative on the field than others. But we all share a burning desire to be part of a successful England side.

We are bedding in new players for this winter's tour - seven of the squad are aged 25 or under. But young players benefit from having experienced players around them and that's why we've retained a nucleus of seasoned Test players such as Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart for this winter's tour.

Haps Jhinger, UK: As England have been in the doldrums for the last 10-12 years, why is it that the same reasons are blamed and same solutions have been suggested since then.

Nasser Hussain: I think some lessons have been learned over the last decade and progress is being made. To take one example, the introduction of central contracts for England players from next season - will hopefully lead to the creation of a more settled national side and give players the rest periods they need if they are to perform to the top of their ability.

Brian Bugle, UK: Who do you see as the key players in the England squad? And which South African players do you fear most?

Nasser Hussain: I see Mike Atherton, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick as our key players in this series. We don't fear anyone within the South African squad but I see Jacques Kallis as a key player for them in the all-rounder role.

M Maples, Australia: Putting you on the spot - who is the best batsman in the world and who is the best bowler?

Nasser Hussain: Sachin Tendulkar (bat) and Saqlain Mushtaq (bowler)

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