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England ready for final push; CRICKET: SPOTLIGHT ON THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE.

Byline: MYLES HODGSON

ENGLAND begin the final leg of their international winter schedule tomorrow with their one-day specialists now fully aware of the demands and difficulties of playing high-intensity cricket in Sri Lanka.

Although the five newcomers who flew in for the one-day series will have experienced the heat and humidity during the last week of practice, the 51-run victory over a Board President's XI would have been their first real test in the conditions.

They emerged victorious from their trial by the elements, but the fielding was shaky at times as the energy-sapping humidity took its toll while they suffered a batting collapse of eight wickets for 61 runs in 14.4 overs.

Even players with greater experience of Sri Lanka suffered, with Michael Vaughan relieved of his fielding duties after batting for 33 overs to fall just three short of his maiden century for England while Graeme Hick also had time off the field having hit a brilliant century.

"The guys who haven't been here since the start have probably realised just how hot it is out there and how hard a full day's cricket is," stressed Hick.

"I think everyone was feeling a bit heavy-legged towards the end and that's going to be something that's very taxing over the next week, especially with only a day's rest in between matches.

"It's got a bit hotter since the first couple of weeks we were here. You tend to rush around a bit more than you do in a Test match anyway and you sweat a lot, it's very uncomfortable and you're absolutely soaked after a while.

"It will be very testing, there will be a lot more noise to come and I'm sure the intensity of the one-day internationals will lift everybody as well - I'm sure if the matches go to the full 50 overs, everybody will be ready for bed by the end of each day."

Uncomfortable or not, they are conditions England will have to conquer if they are to finish off a magnificent winter with victory over a Sri Lankan side who claimed a 76-per-cent success rate in one-day internationals last year, better than any other team in world cricket.

The series begins tomorrow with the inaugural international match at the newly-built Dambulla Stadium before moving back to Colombo for a day-night contest at the Premadasa Stadium and is concluded with a return to the scene of their final Test triumph next Tuesday.

At least they enter the series knowing Hick, dropped for the last Test in favour of Vaughan, has used the disappointment positively and punished the President's XI with an 86-ball century which included seven sixes and three other boundaries.

Vaughan also looked impressive having been called into the squad at late notice, but other members of the squad seemed to lack match practice with Nick Knight scoring only one and Andrew Flintoff hitting a scratchy 18.

That could prove costly in the final analysis with seven batsmen battling it out for a minimum of five and a maximum of six places tomorrow as England consider their best options for combating the attacking brand of Sri Lankan cricket.

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WARNING: Graeme Hick
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:530
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