Onwards and upwards for clinical England
Posted in England v West Indies 2009
England detractors are not usually hard to come by, but you would be hard pressed to find many people willing to criticise Andrew Strauss and company after they swept West Indies aside at the Riverside.
Their innings-and-83-run triumph represented a second comprehensive victory in as many weeks, and ensured the Wisden Trophy would be returning to these shores after barely two months in West Indies’ possession.
As impressive as England were in administering a 10-wicket thumping at Lord’s, they demonstrated even greater ruthlessness at Chester-le-Street.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how England could have played better over the last five days.
Whether it be Alastair Cook’s magnificent 160 - his highest Test score - a third successive hundred from Ravi Bopara, or the rapid and substantial contributions from Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior, England did little wrong with the bat after they won the toss.
The pitch was far from spiteful, yet James Anderson utilised the overhead conditions superbly en route to a five-wicket haul in the first innings and nine victims in the match.
His mastery of the swinging ball on the final day was a joy to behold, and all the signs are that he is the man around whom the England attack will be built for years to come.
Equally encouraging is the continued development of Stuart Broad, who enhanced his fast-growing reputation with three key wickets during a thrillingly hostile spell on the fourth afternoon which quickened the pulse of both Ramnaresh Sarwan and the watching public.
On a surface rather less helpful than at Lord’s, Graham Onions proved he possesses the tools required to succeed at the highest level - pace, bounce, lateral movement and a steely temperament - while Tim Bresnan, after waiting until the final afternoon for his maiden Test wicket, claimed 3-45.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann also weighed in with the ball and in the slip cordon, and it was a measure of the completeness of England’s display that even the two substitute fielders on day five, Scott Borthwick and Karl Turner, shared three catches between them.
You may notice that the only name missing off this list is that of the captain, but Strauss’ failure with the bat - he made 26 - was offset by the fact he took three smart catches at first slip and timed his declaration to perfection.
Having come in for criticism in the Caribbean for what some regarded as overly conservative cricket, Strauss made light of the loss of a full day to rain to orchestrate an overwhelmingly convincing victory with almost two sessions to spare today.
Admittedly, early-season conditions were weighted firmly in England’s favour. The attitude of the opposition has and will continue to be called into question. And the technique of the majority of the tourists was woefully short of that required of international cricketers.
These are useful reference points for those tempted to make outlandish Ashes predictions on the back of two Test wins against a side ranked above only Bangladesh and New Zealand by the International Cricket Council.
However, such caveats should not detract too much from the efficiency as well as panache shown by England over the last fortnight, and performances of that calibre will make them a formidable test for any side - including Australia.
Andy Flower, in his first series since being appointed team director on a permanent basis, may have witnessed two largely faultless displays, but his ethos of constant improvement - echoed by Strauss after today’s denouement - should ensure there is little resting on laurels as the most hectic of international summers gathers pace.
Flower’s immediate task is to maintain the momentum built up this month and carry that forward into the NatWest Series against West Indies, which starts on Thursday, followed by the World Twenty20 and the Ashes.
It is a formidable task but, on the evidence of the past two weeks, England are certainly heading in the right direction.