Bob Willis: Magnificent seven can take England to No1

Embarrassment of riches in the seam department is envy of all Test rivals
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The Independent Online

England have announced that retaining the Ashes is just one step along the road they wish to travel. Winning the series in Sydney and then going on to become the world's No 1 outfit are next on the agenda for the deeply impressive management team of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.

Both targets are achievable, and while I will continue to worry about the burden placed on Strauss's bowlers by the seemingly set-in-stone decision to stick with a four-man attack, the future looks especially bright today because of England's strength in depth in the wicket-taking department.

Strauss and Flower are not going to change tack over picking six specialist batsmen plus wicketkeeper Matt Prior – unless they can discover another all-rounder of the Flintoff or Botham variety. Given that players like those are few and far between, and as I cannot see Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan or Graeme Swann turning into a Test match No6 or 7, the policy of playing four bowlers will continue against Sri Lanka and India next summer.

It would be good to think the selectors might create room for an extra bowler by pushing Prior up the order, especially against a Sri Lanka outfit that will be without Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. I don't want to curb Prior's attacking instincts but batting at No 6 might make him play with a little less abandon. But if it is not going to happen – and bear in mind that the only member of the top six who bowls, Paul Collingwood, now has an uncertain Test future – it's just as well England have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to willing and highly talented workhorses in their bowling stable.

We thought at the start of the Ashes that the selectors had named a good supporting cast of seamers to assist Jimmy Anderson and Broad. Now we know for certain that is the case.

Steve Finn, Chris Tremlett and Bresnan have all shone at different times during the first four Tests. And although he had little opportunity to stake a case, Ajmal Shahzad impressed in a couple of warm-up games. On top of those already named, you can add Graham Onions, who played a big part in the 2009 Ashes victory and hopefully will re-emerge as a real force once he has recovered from injury, giving England seven front-line seamers deserving of regular Test cricket.

Where Australia's bowlers have been woefully inconsistent, England's have done just about everything that could be asked of them – and a bit more most times. Yes, the visitors' batting has been pretty dependable with some huge totals piled up, but to rip through the Aussies so convincingly at Adelaide and Melbourne just confirms how much work those bowlers have put in by way of preparation.

I think 21-year-old Finn is worthy of special mention. He would have been disappointed to miss out at Melbourne but the fact he forced his way on to the trip in front of Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood, then started the series ahead of Tremlett and Bresnan, and became the leading wicket-taker, adds up to a huge feather in his cap.

I've been a big fan since the time I saw him picking up the man-of-the-match award in a 40-over game for Middlesex at Uxbridge three years ago. I thought then "we've got something special here". He is a really intelligent young man who knows exactly what he's about and where he needs to improve.

Despite all that, Finn realises he faces a really tough challenge to get back into the team next summer with Broad recovered from injury, Tremlett having emerged as a major force and only three places available for seamers. That simply underlines how hot the competition is for places.

The great thing, though, is that England have an amazing team ethic and you can see that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, whether or not they are in the side. I'm not saying Flintoff and Steve Harmison were disruptive, but they could bring distractions because both were old-fashioned, individual cricketers who ran hot and cold. As coach, what Flower is looking for is consistency in performance. I'm sure he found England's performance in defeat at Perth an embarrassment and something he would like to iron out of their game. But they are clearly heading in the right direction, a state of affairs for which he deserves great credit.

Duncan Fletcher's preparation was very thorough but Flower goes a step further. He seems to be able to get everything right – even things like talking honestly to the media, which Duncan was never able to do, and getting on with different individuals in a side, which Duncan found very hard. There are a lot of egos to be stroked in any sporting side and Flower does that in a quiet, calm, calculated way.

I've talked to Graham Gooch about what a perfect role model Flower was, as a player, at Essex. Everybody has huge respect for him because he not only averaged 50 in a struggling Zimbabwe side but also had the courage, guts and character to stand up to what was going on in his country and make his feelings public with that black armband protest.

Andy Flower is a very special human being and England will hope to keep him as long as they can.

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