England are coming. In a warm-up match that was as perfect as a three minute egg everything went right yesterday for the team which in five days will begin their attempt to reclaim the Ashes.
Their bowlers bowled, their batsmen batted again and most of them did so swimmingly. Of course, they will never have it so easy against Australia (though if they do it will mean the tourists are really going downhill) and Warwickshire turned up for an exhibition match more than a Test.
But wickets are wickets and runs are runs. Of the former, Jimmy Anderson took five, Monty Panesar three and Andrew Flintoff two. Of the latter, in the afternoon, Andrew Strauss scored 61, Ravi Bopara 88no and Paul Collingwood grafted grittily away for 21no, all without ever getting their timing quite right, thus prompting an obvious observation about England after the revelations of the last few days. Is this sort of failure in time-keeping a disciplinary offence? England finished 373 ahead.
Kevin Pietersen came and went for the second time, steering carelessly to second slip, but it hardly seemed to matter. If such conclusions can be a hostage to fortune, Pietersen tends to save the innings that matter for the matches that matter.
The bowling looked pretty nifty. Anderson swung the ball both ways, Flintoff worked up a head of steam that probably took him upwards of 90mph and Panesar turned the ball appreciably. As the new leader of England's attack from who so much is suddenly expected, Anderson struck in the day's fifth over when he moved one away to take the edge of Jonathan Trott's bat.
With due respect to Tim Ambrose, the swinging ball that squeezed through his defences might have done for more illustrious wicketkeeper-batsmen. And with similar deference to Anderson, whose star has been rising inexorably since he spent his winter trying to flog life from the dead horses which passed for cricket pitches in the Caribbean, it was slightly more heartening for England to see that both Flintoff and Panesar were in good order.
Flintoff had Tony Frost leg before and then produced a brute of a lifter to Jim Troughton. When he chased a leg-side drive off his own bowling and outstripped Alastair Cook in reaching the ball he might have been showing off a bit, but he was also proving a point.
Panesar, who as usual provoked cheers as soon as he came on, span the ball sharply. He mopped up the tail before and after lunch. England had fielders round the bat throughout, four slips and a gully to the seamers, short leg and silly point for the spinners.
Warwickshire did little more than go through the motions and if there was nothing in it for them, it all rather pointed up the difference between international and county players. In the dressing room, England were making plans for tougher assignments by watching England Lions against the Australians on TV.
"We have kept an eye on it and in fact we have computers in the dressing room with info from previous games they've played so we can have a look at their batsman and bowlers as well as watch them," Anderson said. "We're trying to get an idea about what we are going to do next Wednesday.
"I think we just want to get started really because the hype has been going on for so long now." And so say all of us.
Five days to go:
It's probably not what England fans want to hear, but Graeme Swann admits that he can be a bit of a pillock. "I've got streaks of idiocy," he says.Reuse content