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banner Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 11:04 GMT
England's winter work continues
Harmison and Gough could have parts to play this winter
Harmison and Gough could have parts to play
They may be on a short break now, but England's remaining challenges this winter could be just as tough, says BBC Sport Online's Thrasy Petropoulos.

Nasser Hussain would have dished out a health warning to his players go easy on the brandy butter this Christmas.

But he is also likely to have constantly reminded them that their winter's work is no more than a third done.

Immediately after New Year, the one-day cricketers, which include up to nine of the Test squad, will be straight back into training for back-to-back series against India and New Zealand.

And shortly after that, the remaining Test players will be back on the plane and heading for New Zealand where a three-match series awaits them in late February and March.

Stewart's drawback is that he represents the past
Stewart's drawback is that he represents the past

Hussain will have left all the tourists in no doubt that the hardest task could be about to present itself.

On home soil, India will be a different proposition in the one-day arena to that encountered during the Tests.

And recently, New Zealand pushed Australia to the very limit, with most observers reckoning that on points they came out ahead in their drawn Test series.

Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher will have no option but to be ruthless in the fine-tuning of both squads.

In New Zealand, where England are likely to find pitches of far greater bounce than most will remember, there will be no need for a third spinner, meaning that Martyn Ball is almost certain to be discarded.

In his place will step a fast bowler, most probably Durham's Steve Harmison, whose pace and awkward bounce have impressed Rod Marsh at the Academy in Adelaide.

And Andrew Caddick, despite withdrawing from the India Test squad, is likely to keep his place for New Zealand. Robert Croft, on the other hand, may well pay for his caution by finding himself surplus to requirements.

Caddick, who also returns for the one-day matches, will give England an additional attacking dimension with the ball.

Andy Caddick returns to boost the seaming department
Caddick returns to boost the seaming department

And it is to be hoped that will prompt Hussain to dispense with his leg-theory that aims to deny runs in the hope for wickets.

Against India, and Sachin Tendulkar in particular, it was a justified, if unsavoury, bowling tactic.

But Virender Sehwag's intent to attack during his 66 in the third Test, despite the bowlers' negative line, proved that the ploy is not unbreakable.

If New Zealand come out all guns blazing, as they did against Australia, and England have as their only answer to bowl outside leg stump, then they will probably lose the Test series.

They may also lose the credibility of many other Test-playing nations.

Hussain insisted it was designed specifically to address the mismatch between his inexperienced bowling attack and the genius of Tendulkar.

But the tactic prompted widespread criticism - some of it vitriolic - from former players and other observers.

Much more than a Test series will therefore be at stake in New Zealand, just as the two one-day series that precede it will have a relevance that goes far beyond the results.

First on the agenda will be an attempt to take the momentum of Zimbabwe, where all five one-day matches were won at a canter, and to make further progress in the search for the optimum World Cup squad.

Ian Bell is an exciting prospect for England
Ian Bell is an exciting prospect for England

Encouragingly, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick will return, and there is scope to replace Graham Thorpe, who is yet to decide whether he will make either the one-day or Test tour, with another batsman.

Alec Stewart has indicated that he is willing to be considered, partly because he has seen James Foster make a credible case for his retention after a nervous start.

But the more daring choice would be to elevate Ian Bell for the Test series and, possibly, Mark Butcher for the one-dayers.

More would, therefore, be learned of Bell, who has the look of a Test cricketer in the making, and Butcher whose confidence and range of strokes have never been more impressive.

One thing is certain: after the leisurely time spent in Zimbabwe, the one-day matches, particularly in India, will be a truer Test of what progress England have made this winter.

Grounds will be filled to capacity and the noise for the fielders will be at times almost unbearable.

The true Indian experience may yet lie ahead.

England cricket captain Nasser Hussain
"The most important thing is winning"
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