Bring on the Ashes? Not so fast. England still have work to do

After six straight victories, the Test side are on a high. But there are concerns to address this summer, argues Stephen Brenkley

Cook's fragile form

For England to retain the Ashes this winter it is crucial that they are not forever having to rebuild the innings. The new ball must be seen off more often than not.

At present, neither Andrew Strauss nor Alastair Cook is in prime nick. Strauss scored 53 not out and finished off the Edgbaston Test, but the streaky single with which he did so embodied an innings in which he was dropped three times. Since the end of last summer, Strauss averages 36, the lowest among all England batsmen.

Cook is having a bad run and the time has not come – yet – to ditch all that gritty experience, but 100 runs in seven innings is not what the coach ordered. Since the end of the 2009 Ashes, Cook and Strauss have opened together in 14 innings, in eight of which they have put on 25 or below.

Broad's discipline

This covers a multitude of elements: the discipline of adhering to clearly delineated strategies; the need to continue to do the ordinary things well; the simple requirement to stay within the bounds of reasonable behaviour.

There is no doubting that England merited their win in the second Test at Edgbaston because they were the better team who took greater advantage of the conditions. But it was disappointing to watch their response when Pakistan began to edge their way back into the match on the third afternoon.

This happens in Test matches played over 15 sessions and briefly England were ill-equipped to cope. If they think a rookie Pakistan wicketkeeper playing his maiden Test is a tough cookie (and Zulqarnain Haider was admirable) they ain't seen nothin' yet, baby. Wait for Brisbane in November and they will know what Test match toughness is.

If there was dispiriting lack of resolve (and perhaps respect for their opponents), much of the attention understandably has been devoted to Stuart Broad, who erred once too often when things were not going his way and was subsequently fined half his match fee. Broad has undoubted talent with a fierce will, but this must not descend into uncontrolled petulance, as it did when he threw the ball at Zulqarnain.

The Pietersen factor

It would not be Wednesday today if there were not something about Kevin (or Thursday tomorrow, come to that). His disjointed 80 in England's first innings at Edgbaston was more welcome in terms of aggregate than method. But he saw it through.

There is, however, always something about Kevin. He is now without a county (Hampshire have refused to play him in their team on Twenty20 Finals Day on Saturday, although he is nominally still under contract) and there is no sign of any side rushing to recruit him.

There is also an unsubstantiated notion that Pietersen is not preparing as assiduously as once he did – though England's coach, Andy Flower, has dismissed this. But it could be suggested that he did not make enough attempts to get a game in the gap before the first Test of this series. The lack of a club is a distraction neither Pietersen nor England can properly tolerate.

Out of the swing?

It has been an unalloyed pleasure to watch Jimmy Anderson execute his enviable skills in the first two Tests of the series. He is a master manipulator and the ball with which he dismissed Pakistan's captain, Salman Butt, in the second innings at Edgbaston, starting on leg and removing off stump, was every bit as devilish as Graeme Swann's much heralded wonder ball the next day.

But it was instructive to hear an England follower say on Sunday night: "He will get slaughtered in Australia." And there is the rub. From November onwards, Anderson will be working with conditions where the ball will not swing much for long and where pitches will not grant many favours. He will recall this past fortnight then with the longing of a boy remembering his first love.

Anderson played his 50th Test match in Birmingham. Of those, 31 have been at home in which he has taken 129 wickets at 27.34, 19 have been abroad in which he has 52 at 43.85 and needed seven more overs each to take them. England have sometimes toyed with Pakistan this past fortnight, but it will not always be like that.

Ponting: the nemesis awaits

It is always worth noting that Ricky Ponting is the only Australian captain to have lost the Ashes twice and survived – and equally important that the first time he lost them he regained them by leading his side to a 5-0 triumph.

Captain Ponting is without question under duress. The recent 1-1 draw with Pakistan in this country did him no favours. But he is one of the most obdurate characters in a country full of them, and brimful of talent. England's biggest potential mistake would be to assume that Ponting is over the hill. On his own pitches he may have one more great series in him.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own