The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sun City ‘break’ helped us bond as a unit
- We are trying not to talk about the Zimbabwe issue until we have to

The Zimbabwe issue has been an ever-present — or mostly present, at least — part of our lives for over a month. Pressure has been building on the squad during that time and it hasn’t been pleasant. I have asked the squad to hold back from making further statements and I’d like to explain why we have decided to do that.

The matter is delicate, to say the least, and there is always the danger that we may say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or be reported to have done. The issue of ‘threatening’ letters being sent to all the players while we were in Sydney was badly overplayed by several people and widely misconstrued.

The truth is, we had moral objections to playing in Zimbabwe well before that happened.

The statement, as you all know by now, asked for an urgent review of the status of the match against Zimbabwe. The team as a whole wanted to know where we stood. Did people want us to play' There didn’t seem much point in representing your country if your country didn’t want you there.

Another reason for not saying anything more about the issue is the value and importance of this tournament. For the 15 men here it is, or could be, the biggest and most prestigious month-and-a-half of our lives.

The whole Zimbabwe question is a major issue for this team and not one of us is taking it lightly in any way. We called for an urgent review and only the first part of that process was completed when the ICC met on Thursday. There are further stages to go and while they are in progress we can and will concentrate on the World Cup and what we might achieve on the field.

And that is exactly what we did for three days at Sun City after arriving in the country. The couple of days’ break we’ve had has been a genuinely positive experience for all of us and I’m sure we’ll benefit as a result.

We lived in each others’ pockets for three days, playing golf, eating lunches and dinners, chatting about life, cricket and the universe and learning how we work as individuals. In a tournament as long as the World Cup, I’m certain that a squad which is strong as a unit and understands how each member thinks will be the winner.

We have had a horribly disruptive winter with injuries almost every week. In an ideal world the World Cup squad would have been settled six months ago, but White, Giles, Flintoff and several others were uncertain of a place just when they were becoming fixtures in the team.

So Sun City was an attempt to catch up with the mental side of preparations — and to have some fun. Playing the famous Gary Player Country Club course in a Ryder Cup-style format was an obvious highlight. The natural division for teams was ‘hookers’ (captained by Giles) against ‘slicers’, a club of which I must admit having membership. And we won!

The classic pairings highlight was the match between Stewart, who barely plays three rounds a year, against Caddick, who firmly believes he belongs on the European Tour. Needless to say, Stewie won the day and set the slicers on course for a famous victory.

Giles’ punishment as losing captain was to be placed in charge of organising the venue for supper.

The need to understand each other’s goals, aims and targets within the specifics of our role in the team cannot be understated and we inevitably chatted cricket throughout most of what we did.

Gatherings like this have been high on Duncan Fletcher’s priority list for two or three years now but the international schedule simply hasn’t permitted that, which is a great shame.

I must say ‘thank you’ to the English and South African media, too, who respected our wishes to remain private for a couple of days.

We may not have been enjoying the comfort of our own homes but we were able to escape for a few days and everyone appreciated that. We were even joined on the course by Darren Clarke, who played with Flintoff and Vaughan. But being neither a hooker nor a slicer, he simply wasn’t in our class. No wonder he doesn’t play cricket.

Now the serious work starts once again. The bats, pads and gloves that we so happily never saw at Sun City will be grabbed again with renewed enthusiasm and belief.

It won’t be easy but we have reminded ourselves often over the last few days, as a team, that we are here to play cricket for England. And we must do everything we can to be at our best.

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