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Fletcher had Twenty20 vision

Investec Test Series
Duncan Fletcher/Michael Vaughan

© Getty Images

Coach Duncan Fletcher was convinced England could pull off Ashes glory after just one meeting with Australia this summer.

It may only have been the quick thrash of a NatWest International Twenty20 contest but the manner of the 100-run victory in Southampton on June 13 was enough for Fletcher to believe a first Test series victory over the Australians in nine attempts was on the cards.

Exactly three months later, thousands of fans lined the streets of London to salute the 12 Englishmen who took part in the most epic of series.

Previous England wins over world number ones Australia were sporadic in both forms of the game but the six-wicket success in the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final a year ago hinted that the sides were more evenly matched than at any time in the previous decade.

Jon Lewis

England began the Ashes summer with a Twenty20 win © Getty Images

Reflecting on the developments this summer, Fletcher said: "The most excited I got was after the Twenty20.

“I had been impressed by our Champions Trophy win, we clinically beat them there, there was no luck involved, one side was far better than the other and no side played badly - but we needed that reaffirmed somehow, another win.

"The aggression was the part I liked when we went into that match. We got into their faces, got into their space and it was so well done - it was 'we can win this'.

"Then our one-day win at Bristol followed and we realised we can do something this summer."


Fletcher kept his faith despite defeat at Lord's © Getty Images

Not even the 239-run defeat at Lord's in the opening Test of the npower series dampened Zimbabwean Fletcher's belief.

Others felt a sense of deja vu as England promised to threaten Australian dominance on the eve of a series only to fold and Fletcher admitted: "When we got hammered it was a huge pressure.

"It was a case of working on the players' minds that history was history and the next match was a brand new Test match.

"The problem in the first Test was a mental thing, I never got the feeling that Australia were much better than us, we just played badly.

"Mentally we were not aggressive enough and Glenn McGrath got on a wicket that suited him really well, the only other bowler who could use that wicket that well is Shaun Pollock."

When Fletcher, 56, inherited the job back in 1999, England were officially the worst of the then nine playing Test nations having been booed off after defeat to New Zealand at The Oval.

None of the XI who took part are within the current inner sanctum although the man who suffered the ignominy of leading the side, Nasser Hussain, began the revolution under Fletcher that following winter in South Africa, where players began to bond on nights out and individualism was discouraged in the quest for an improved team environment.

Fletcher, who credits Hussain with improving discipline within the squad, hints that greater professionalism in various areas have been integral to the rise from rock bottom to within eight points of the Australians at the top of the world Test rankings.

Duncan Fletcher

© Getty Images

"The first thing I say is that you win as many games in the changing room as you do out in the field," he said. "The team spirit was lacking when I first joined.

"There were also certain disciplines which were not in place which I would have liked to see - the way preparation for games was done was based on individuals whereas to create a team spirit you prepare as a group.

"Players getting fit was an important part as was controlling the contracted players.

"The other day proved to me that is the right way; that is what I am talking about in May when I am taking players out of cricket.

"Would Freddie Flintoff have been able to bowl those 14 overs on the trot if he had played all his games for Lancashire in between Test matches?

"You have to make sure people have the intensity, fitness and enthusiasm to play a game at the end of the season in a vital Test match and I knew at some stage this would come up."

One thing Fletcher could not prepare for, however, was the fervour which greeted a first Ashes campaign win since 1986-87.

Ashes Parade

"It's been difficult for me to grasp," said Fletcher, who starred in a shock 1983 World Cup win over Australia for Zimbabwe, then part-timers. "I haven't appreciated it as much as the English fans.

"From where I come from beating Australia was the ultimate, so that is not any different. But when you look at the Ashes and how long it took to beat them you realise the enormity of what we have done here.

"The players have been so focused and thought solely about this cricket and winning every game against Australia. That makes you realise it is huge for every cricketer that plays for England."

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