Slowly, inexorably the A word is beginning to creep into the conversation. It is as if it were a cricketing form of Tourette's syndrome. Much as England know that talk of the Ashes should be banned and is probably unacceptable in public, they simply cannot help it.
There is the Wisden Trophy to be annexed with the second Test beginning at Chester-le -Street tomorrow and there is a one-day series immediately following it, and then there is the World Twenty20. But, as Paul Collingwood confided yesterday, one eye and half a mind are on the Ashes. "It has been a difficult winter with certain issues that have gone on," he said. "But from the way we bounced back – certainly from the Jamaica Test – I don't think you could have asked the side to do it any better.
"There's been a real progression, the players feel that and we realise this is the last Test match before the Ashes. We can't get away from the fact that it is and we want to put a big performance in and win this trophy back. It hurt us when we got beaten by the West Indies out there and we want to get it back."
If England were overwhelming favourites to retain the Wisden gong in the Caribbean – and somehow conspired to lose – the odds about West Indies holding on to it for any more than 70 days should be longer than Southend Pier. England's main concern will be concentrating fully on the task in hand, rather than dwelling on the enormous challenge lying ahead. Equally, the Ashes are not about to go away. "The new management team has been fantastic," Collingwood said. "Andy Flower took over under difficult circumstances in the West Indies and he's led from the front. [Andrew] Strauss should take a lot of credit and has been very focused on what needs to be done. He's got the right people into the team in terms of personnel and everything they've done so far has been exceptional.
"We just want to keep progressing all the time and get into a position where we can win those Ashes. Winning is one of the major things that gives you the confidence and momentum to go into a series like that."
So win in the next few days, England must. The Riverside pitch is much more trustworthy these days, though these things are relative. There was only one total above 400 there last summer and at this time of year there will encouragement for the bowlers. "I expect it to swing and seam, though it'll be pretty flat," Collingwood said.
The main threat to West Indies' left-handers may still be the off-spin of Graeme Swann, as Shivnarine Chanderpaul acknowledged. Chanderpaul was dismissed twice by Swann in the 10-wicket defeat at Lord's last week while facing just three balls from him. "He's got all of us out so far, so we have to make sure we go out and find a way to deal with it," he said. He doesn't give it a lot of air – one or two times, he flighted it a bit. But he's pretty much an attacking bowler. We just have to be on our guard for him."
Chanderpaul's dismissals for 0 and 4 at Lord's cost him his No 1 spot in the world batting rankings. To regain it swiftly will require a special innings, which is all that will do for the West Indies.
*Keith Bradshaw, the chief executive of MCC, has resigned as a director of the England and Wales Cricket Board. He has frequently been at odds with the ECB over its running of the game, especially the introduction of a second domestic Twenty20 competition next year.Reuse content