Angus Fraser: The greatest test for England now is to focus on future
Monday 24 August 2009
Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower will have sat down together in a quiet corner last night with a glass of something special and deservedly reflected on a job well done.
Strauss and Flower, England's captain and coach, have invested a huge amount of time, energy and emotion in this captivating Ashes series and the team's victory will continue to provide England's sports-mad but success-starved public with a huge amount of joy.
As a result of England's triumph, there will be millions of people and hundreds of companies who will be prepared to pay a significant sum of money to hear how the pair and their players planned and executed a remarkable, unexpected yet thoroughly-deserved triumph. For the players who have taken part in the series there is the potential to cash in.
For Strauss and Flower, the management of this situation potentially provides an even bigger challenge than defeating Ricky Ponting's side in the first place. It is fair to say the England cricket team, in cricketing terms, did not capitalise on its success in 2005. Yes, several members of Michael Vaughan's side became extremely wealthy on the back of the triumph but, it has to be said, it ultimately came at the expense of the quality of cricket the team played.
England's 2005 victory came as a result of two years hard work by Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the coach. During that period, the pair took control of the thoughts and focus of the players under their control and channelled them on to the team and what they could give to it to make it successful. When the players came together to celebrate it was entirely natural. They genuinely enjoyed each other's company and success and wanted to share in it.
The open-top bus ride around London and the gongs which followed changed everything and, no matter how hard Vaughan and Fletcher tried, the sensation never returned to that side. From that moment on, and in an attempt to capitalise on their achievement, the focus of many players turned 180 degrees. Instead of looking in and contemplating what they could give to the side, individuals began to look outwards, wondering what they could take from it. The result of the distraction was England winning just one of the five Test series that followed the 2005 Ashes. The shortcomings of the team were highlighted in humiliating fashion 18 months later when Andrew Flintoff's side were walloped 5-0 in Australia.
Six members of the 2005 Ashes winning side have survived to play in this series – Strauss, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Stephen Harmison – and it is to be hoped they have learnt from their previous experiences and can guide the current squad away from the path they went down.
The arrival of the Indian Premier League and the potential setting-up of other lucrative Twenty20 tournaments means keeping the side focused will be a tougher task for Strauss and Flower than it was for Vaughan and Fletcher, but in them England have two men who know what is important in life and possess the right principles.
The pair will celebrate in style but neither will be satisfied with what they have achieved . Each will be aware the team is not yet where they want it to be. This has been an intriguing series but its quality has been nowhere near as high as that of 2005 when Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Marcus Trescothick, Simon Jones and Vaughan were strutting their stuff. Had either England or Australia played like this against South Africa or India they would have been comprehensively beaten.
Strauss' experiences in the past four years should stand him in good stead for the challenges that lie ahead. The nature of the England captain means that he would have been one of the least affected by the fallout of 2005, yet his career during the period has been far from incident-free.
Strauss has had to endure being wrongly overlooked as England captain on two occasions. He has had to deal with being dropped, re-selected and then play several career-saving innings. Strauss' character has allowed him to overcome these trials and he will not tolerate players who become distracted and fail to pull their weight. Flower is a man with a similar outlook on life, and it is why the pair seem comfortable in each other's company.
The responsibility for setting the right example should come from the top – the England and Wales Cricket Board. The ECB's dealings with Sir Allen Stanford, the disgraced Texan billionaire, highlighted their eagerness to cash in on an opportunity. Like the players, it is to be hoped they have learnt from their mistakes, too.
Backlash Down Under: Australian press and commentators react to defeat
*"The Australian selectors have faced serious issues right through the series and they have not been solid. The selectors need to be made answerable at the end of this campaign." Former Australian opener Michael Slater
*"Not only did they [the selectors] handcuff Ponting at The Oval with four pacemen on a palpably dry pitch, but they also, once again, resorted to the failed ploy of expecting part-time spinners to do a specialist task." Ian Chappell
*"Forget all that nonsense about criticising Ponting's captaincy. He remains unequivocally the best player to lead the team." Malcolm Conn, Herald Sun
*"I really don't think that England deserve to win this year. This is hard for me to acknowledge, since I'm South African, and it's in my blood to hate anything Australian." Frost on www.cricket- blog.com
*"We've scored eight tons versus England's two. He [Ponting] must go as a captain – the only captain to lose the Ashes with the invincibles will become the only captain to lose two Ashes." virtualGaz on www.cricket-blog.com
*"England don't deserve to win the Ashes. They haven't scored enough centuries. Day one of the final Test said it all. England won the toss. They picked the best side while Australia may have got their side wrong. The bowlers performed modestly in the first session. England got the start they wanted. Australia were rattled. The wicket was flat. The ball was swinging a bit but hardly venomously. Ricky Ponting was chewing his nails and looked agitated. And still no English batsman could take control. Sorry but that's not good enough." Robert Craddock, Herald Sun
*"Andrew Flintoff had to produce something magnificent in his final Test, you just knew, and when he threw down the stumps to dismiss Australian skipper Ricky Ponting to end a defiant innings, the Oval faithful had their moment." Jamie Pandaram, The Age
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