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England rediscover winning feeling

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

Andrew Strauss

England's victory over West Indies at Lord's was their first in Tests since August

England began the Ashes summer as they mean to carry on. Their 10-wicket demolition of West Indies at Lord’s could only have been more emphatic had they not been required to bat again.

As it was, openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook only required 6.1 overs to knock off the 32 the hosts needed to take their first step of towards this summer’s multiple goals.

Top of that list is unquestionably regaining the Ashes urn, surrendered during the 2006/07 series Down Under. But before the most famous cricketing duel reopens at Cardiff in July, England must lay significant groundwork.

Winning back the Wisden Trophy, which West Indies captured in March, is a must. Yesterday’s victory went at least half way to achieving that.

It also ended England’s increasingly frustrating winless run in Tests, which stretched back to last August. Critics would argue the consolation victory against South Africa in Kevin Pietersen’s first Test as captain was hollow.

To that end, yesterday’s triumph came 11 months on from England’s last Test success when a series was at stake, against New Zealand at Trent Bridge to seal a 2-0 win.

Either way, the winless Test winter was harder to endure for the some of the near misses: surrendering a strong position to lose to India in Chennai and failure to finish off West Indies’ batsmen in Antigua and Trinidad spring to mind.

Graeme Swann, Graham Onions & Tim Bresnan

Man of the match Graeme Swann and Graham Onions were instrumental in England's 10-wicket victory, while Onion's fellow debutant Tim Bresnan will hope for other opportunities

Therefore England can take great heart from capturing 20 wickets in five sessions at Lord’s, albeit in conditions friendly to their four-man seam attack.

Perhaps the most encouraging element of this is the recent emergence of the bowlers largely responsible.

Remarkably, a spinner, Graeme Swann, was man of the match in May. It is easy to forget he only made his Test bow at Chennai in December.

One of this week’s debutants, Graham Onions, established himself as an international wicket-taking threat with seven wickets at Lord’s, including 5-38 in the first innings.

Swann and Onions were the chief executioners in West Indies’ paltry first-innings 152, but were given a dose of realism in the second.

Their three-wicket burst before lunch yesterday, including Swann's dismissal of joint world number two Test batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul for the second time in the match, brought together Brendan Nash and Denesh Ramdin.

The six-wicket pair dug in and, helped by each being dropped, formed a 143-run alliance. That gave debutants Onions and Tim Bresnan a taste of the other side of Test cricket.

And it was left to a fellow relative newcomer, Stuart Broad, to make the crucial breakthrough that heralded the beginning of the end for West Indies.

Denesh Ramdin & Ravi Bopara

Ravi Bopara's rapid rise to stardom mirrors that of Kevin Pietersen ahead of the 2005 Ashes

Another rookie, Ravi Bopara, who also was thrown the ball during Nash and Ramdin’s occupation, was a further success story. His responsible 143, a second century in as many Test innings, set up a match-winning total.

Parallels could be drawn between Bopara’s rise and that of Kevin Pietersen in 2005. Pietersen announced himself with three one-day centuries for England in his native South Africa early that year.

Although he was not selected in the early summer series against Bangladesh, Pietersen’s first five Tests will live long in the memory.

What odds Bopara playing an Ashes-winning knock this year, similar to Pietersen’s epic 158 at the Brit Oval?

Before this England fan becomes too nostalgic, it is worth remembering the contrasting build-up to that Ashes series to the last 12 months.

Michael Vaughan’s side swept all before them in 2004, defeating West Indies home and away, plus New Zealand in between on home soil. A 2-1 win in South Africa then built crucial momentum ahead of the 2005 Ashes triumph.

This time it is Australia who have won 2-1 in South Africa, avenging defeat by the same scoreline at home over Christmas and New Year.

Meanwhile, England have not won a Test series for 11 months. So what hope for the ultimate prize this summer?

It may be too early to tell, but another victory over West Indies at the Riverside will set them up nicely for the months ahead.

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