Battle begins to join ranks of Fletcher's army

After England's remarkable Ashes series victory, impressing the management and gatecrashing the squad in 2007 is a hard task, writes Angus Fraser
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The Independent Online

Having claimed cricket's biggest prize, and while enjoying the fame, respect and fortune that comes with winning the "little urn", these cricketers will be determined not to let go of the position they have worked so hard for. And rightly so.

The 12 cricketers used by England this summer have age on their side. Vaughan and Ashley Giles are the only two players to pass 30, yet both will be hoping to remain part of the set-up for at least three or four years. The remaining 10 members of England's victorious squad will be looking to play international cricket into the next decade.

There is bound to be the odd injury, but those ambitious young men who are hoping to push for a place in the current team need to do more than simply score runs and take wickets. They need to impress Duncan Fletcher, the England coach.

Fletcher has become the most influential man in English cricket. It is he who dictates what England's cricketers do, and it is he who carries the strongest voice when the selectors sit down to pick their teams. And his position will only have strengthened following England's Ashes success.

Fletcher has not got everything right - Yorkshire's Anthony McGrath and Northamptonshire's Usman Afzaal were never likely to be Test cricketers - but who does? However, on the vast majority of occasions his judgement has proved to be correct.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the top of England's batting order. Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss and Vaughan had each shown potential during the early stages of their careers, but there was nothing to suggest that they would go on to average more in Test cricket than they did in the first-class game.

It is rare to see a player average more in Test cricket than first-class because by nature the opposition are of a higher quality. Yet Fletcher saw something in each of these players that made him believe they could succeed at the highest level.

Of the three, Trescothick's is the most remarkable story. Trescothick made his first-class debut at the age of 18 in 1993. He had talent but he was constantly moving up and down the order and his career had stalled. But, at the end of the 1999 season, and just before he took charge of the England team, Fletcher was watching his Glamorgan side play Somerset at Taunton.

England were about to announce their winter tour squads, including that of the A team, and Fletcher had a say in those team selections. Michael Powell, a talented young batsmen from Glamorgan, had been pencilled in to the A team squad. But all this changed when Fletcher watched Trescothick bat, and witnessed Powell struggle to cope with the pace and bounce of Andrew Caddick. Trescothick scored 167 and replaced Powell in the squad, and the following summer he made his Test debut. Since then he has never been dropped.

And once Fletcher has identified his players he then uses his excellent cricket brain to develop them. Every England batsman who has worked with Fletcher speaks highly of him - he leaves the bowling to Troy Cooley.

The ability to score runs and take wickets is obviously important in catching Fletcher's eye, but he looks at the whole package. He wants his cricketers to be committed, open-minded, unselfish and loyal.

Under Fletcher England have developed a wonderful team spirit. Central contracts have helped, in that players now feel they primarily belong to the England team, but the fact that the team gets on so well is largely down to the nature of the cricketers Fletcher allows in the dressing room.

This is why there would have been an element of risk attached to the selection of Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen is a different beast to any of those in the England side. He is a larger than life character who loves the limelight. He is outspoken and he cannot wait to air his views on television or radio.

Fletcher is the opposite. He gains no pleasure from talking to the media. He enjoys keeping them at arm's length, so that what takes place in the dressing room remains private.

Injury can strike at any time and Fletcher will be attempting to ensure that England have six or seven high quality players who are capable of acting as cover before the Ashes are defended in 15 months time. Kent's Robert Key, Owais Shah and Ed Joyce of Middlesex, and Essex's Alastair Cook are the batsmen who will be considered for England's pre-Christmas tour of Pakistan. None of the four may get in but each will be hoping to travel to Australia.

Replacing Andrew Flintoff is impossible, but Surrey's Rikki Clarke remains the next best allrounder. Sussex's Matthew Prior and Nottinghamshire's Chris Read will compete for Geraint Jones' spot behind the stumps and there are a number of potentially good fast-bowlers playing county cricket.

Chris Tremlett and James Anderson have been in England squads this summer, and Sajid Mahmood, the Lancashire paceman, is still an exciting prospect. Liam Plunkett is young and fast and he has taken 44 wickets for Durham.

Spin is the only area where England look light. Ashley Giles is by far the best slow-bowler in the country and England need to find at least one more spinner for their winter tours of Pakistan and India.

Gareth Batty replaced Giles when England played Bangladesh in May but he is under pressure from Graeme Swann, Sean Udal, Alex Loudon and Monty Panesar.

England expects... trio who could be Ashes material

RIKKI CLARKE

County: Surrey.
Age: 23.
Height: 6ft 4in.
The next best all-rounder after Andrew Flintoff

SAJID MAHMOOD

County: Lancashire.
Age: 23.
Height: 6ft 4in.
Bolton-born paceman is an exciting prospect

GRAEME SWANN

County: Notts.
Age: 26.
Height: 6ft 0in.
Challenging Gareth Batty in the spin stakes

Three who proved Fletcher right

Duncan Fletcher's ability to identify potential is shown by England's top order averages before and after their debuts:

M E Trescothick: Before: 4,170@ 29.37 After: 5,206 @ 45.26

A J Strauss: Before: 5,438 @ 41.88 After: 1,716 @ 50.47

M P Vaughan: Before: 5,840 @ 34.76 After: 4,513 @ 43.81

Fraser's Ashes squad 2006-7

M P Vaughan (c)

M E Trescothick

A J Strauss

I R Bell

K P Pietersen

A Flintoff

G O Jones

A F Giles

M J Hoggard

S J Harmison

S P Jones

E C Joyce

M J Prior

J M Anderson

A G R Loudon

C T Tremlett

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