England hit form but Australia lie in wait

Andrew Strauss may be right to believe that winning cricket matches is the ideal preparation for winning more, but if he thinks that a 2-0 whitewash of the West Indies is anything more than a useful warm-up for the Ashes, he need only take a look around his county dressing room.

While Strauss has been captaining England to an admittedly emphatic series win, Australia's Phillip Hughes has been averaging 143.5 for Middlesex, treating the county game as glorified net practice.



The response to England's success in the British media was anything but euphoric, with the England and Wales Cricket Board attracting vitriolic criticism for arranging a series against apparently disinterested opponents.



"What really is the point of this ludicrous two-match series?" wrote Martin Johnson in the Sunday Times. "If you want the game to thrive, you have to give people a contest that actually means something — and, for preference, at a time of year when furry animals have finally come out of hibernation."



And if scheduling a test series in an English May was asking for trouble, staging a test in Chester-Le-Street in northern England, where the average temperature at this time of year is 9.6 degrees, was begging for it.



Attendances, except on Saturday, were dismal, with television cameras showing banks of empty seats and what few spectators there were huddled under blankets.



Then there was the financial cost. England was originally supposed to play Zimbabwe, but when they were stripped of test match status in January, 2006 Sri Lanka was asked to step in. They declined, forcing England to call West Indies, whose fee was already significantly higher than Zimbabwe's.



When England subsequently won the first test inside three days, the ECB was forced to refund 20,000 fans who had tickets for Saturday's play.



Chief Executive David Collier claimed the exercise was useful preparation.



"I think that it would have been wrong not to have any Test matches prior to us playing in an Ashes series," he said. "I think people would have asked why are we giving Australians an advantage when we have played no test match cricket, no four-day cricket."



Collier cited the case of Ravi Bopara, who scored centuries in both tests.



"Would it have been beneficial for him to be thrown straight into an Ashes test match or would it be beneficial for him to have the opportunity of a couple more test matches?" Collier said. "That's a judgment call, we accept that, but we believe that on balance we would have been criticized had we not given people the opportunity."



But was this preparation any better than that offered to Hughes by county bowlers?



Former England captain Michael Atherton didn't think so, describing the West Indian performance as "supine" and captain Chris Gayle hinted at his side's lack of interest when he said, "I wouldn't be so sad if test cricket died."



For motivation alone, Australia will be drastically different. Buoyed by a resounding series win in South Africa that restored them to the top of the World rankings, they will also benefit from the insider knowledge Hughes has gathered during his time at Middlesex according to the ECB's chairman of selectors Geoff Miller.



"It's disappointing," he said. "My role is not to tell the counties how to run their businesses, but, from an England point of view, it does not help our Ashes situation. We are giving (Hughes) the opportunity to use our conditions for the first time."



This was rejected by Middlesex's managing director Angus Fraser, himself a former England bowler.



"I can understand why some people have questioned Middlesex's motives in an Ashes summer, but people need to grow up a bit," he said. "We want a good, competitive Ashes, two good sides playing it and England to win. I don't think giving a 20-year-old half a dozen games in England in April and May is going to have a huge effect. We signed (Hughes) in mid-January before he had been picked for the squad for South Africa where he scored a hundred in each innings of his second Test."



Middlesex's gain may well be England's loss.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)