Ashes 2009: So what are the chances of a genuine contest next time?

The whitewash is now history, the Australians will look a very different outfit in 30 months' time. England should avoid the temptation to follow suit - as long as Flintoff's ankle can stand the strain
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The Independent Online

Useless, pathetic, feeble, wretched, abject, gutless, prideless, disgrace, embarrassment, humiliating. All have been much used over the past couple of days about England's defence of the Ashes. At times in the series these words have been apt, at others a trifle harsh, but uttered they have often been.

Yet it is all history now. England and English cricket need to get over the defeat quickly. Australia did after 2005 and look where they are now.

Planning for the 2009 Ashes must begin now. Recent and future retirements will ensure Australia arrive in England with a far different side. But should England's be changed too? Should the selectors put a black line through the names of those who failed here?

If they do, it would be knee-jerk and irresponsible. With the exception of Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones, the England squad contained the best 16 players in the country. Whether they were as fit as they should have been is another matter.

I would expect the team who walk out at Lord's for the First Ashes Test of 2009 to contain many of the forlorn faces at Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday afternoon. They will not be captained by Andrew Flintoff, though. He is many things, most of them positive, but he is not a captain, and England are a better side when he can concentrate solely on his cricket.

Ideally Vaughan will lead, but the problem is his dodgy knee - England will play 25 to 30 Test matches in the next two-and-a- half years. I believe Andrew Strauss will be the England captain well before the 2009 Ashes. He is the natural successor to Vaughan and he should have led the team here.

Strauss will open with Alastair Cook, but both need to work at the aspects of their games that were found out here. Cook has a wonderful temperament but he plants his front foot when playing forward and then moves his bat towards the ball. Australia's bowlers exposed the fault by angling the ball across him on a good length.

Strauss's temperament is good too, but it has let him down. Perhaps it was the absence of Tres-cothick that made him want to try to take the game to Australia, but having completed the hard work he kept getting himself out. He reached double figures in nine of his 10 innings but never made 50.

Ian Bell remains at three and the irrepressible Kevin Pietersen should bat at four unless, of course, he gets left with the tail and asks to bat at three. Both had good tours and their games continue to develop. Pietersen must also work at his bowling, for he turns the ball as much as many specialist spinners.

Paul Collingwood continues to answer his critics but I have my doubts as to whether he will still be around in 30 months' time. I hope he is, because his attitude and work ethic set the perfect example for the younger players. If he falters, though, Middlesex's Ed Joyce could come in.

Flintoff. Aargghh, Flintoff! English cricket needs him to remain fit, but will he? His ankle injury is of genuine concern, and there is a chance that it could end his Test career in the near future. If he does not bowl he does not get in the side, so England fans need to keep everything crossed because there is no natural replacement. Rikki Clarke threatens to mature, but as a cricketer his voice has yet to break.

England need to find a new wicketkeeper because I fear the Test careers of Geraint Jones and Chris Read are over. Matthew Prior at Sussex is probably the best batsman among England's junior glovemen, and Worcestershire's Steve Davies is the bright young thing, but I would go for Essex's James Foster. He is an impressive young man, a good keeper and he can bat.

Monty Panesar, we must fervently hope, will be an even better spin bowler by 2009, and that leaves us with the fast bowling, the most contentious area of the team. With the exception of Matthew Hoggard who, at 32, should still have enough in the tank, England have some thinking to do.

I expect the patience with Stephen Harmison to have evaporated by then, so England need to find two seamers to join Hoggard and Flintoff.

There are plenty with potential but a couple need to push ahead of the pack. It would be great to see Jones make it, but his knee makes it extremely doubtful. James Anderson, Sajid Mahmood, Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Ryan Sidebottom are all capable of bowling high-quality mini spells, but you need to be able to bowl 20 good overs a day.

As well as being an outstanding prospect, Broad is the best batsman of this group so, with careful handling - coaches, please let his game develop naturally and do not change his bowling action - he will be there. If Tremlett stays fit and gets a bit of dog in him he could be a real handful, but I will go for a fit and rejuvenated Anderson. It could be a team with a very good chance of regaining the Ashes.

ONE TO WATCH

Adil Rashid Yorkshire, 18

England's Shane Warne? A leg spinner who can score runs at No 8, unearthed by Australian guru Terry Jenner. He took 6 for 67 on his first-class debut and 8 for 157 for the Under-19s against India, also scoring 114.

Andrew Tong

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