England pass the tactical test with flying colours - Cricket - Sport - The Independent

England pass the tactical test with flying colours

Ashes dreams were realised yesterday but the hard work for Strauss's men started many months ago

Nothing illustrated the culture of Andrew Strauss's England more than the immediate aftermath. Barely had the trophy engraver's figurative ink dried on the Ashes urn than the captain was looking forward to next week and next month and next year.

It is the mark of all great sides or those who would become great sides that they are striving always to become better while their time is at hand. But Strauss made no great claims for his team as winners are wont to do in the instant glow of victory when, for a brief moment, anything seems possible. Frequently, they find it difficult to stop short of suggesting that world domination – in everything, that is – is a realistic target.

Of course, England aim to be the No 1 cricket team in the world and Strauss suggested both that it was possible and was a little way off yet. He also made two separate and significant points touching on what is always a dilemma for the game at home. On the one hand, as he said, winning the Ashes had always been the Holy Grail for English sides, but on the other, as he added a few moments later, English cricket is not just about winning the Ashes.

Had this victory – if victory it becomes in Sydney next week – taken place four years ago, or eight years ago, or 12 years ago it would have been a cricketing version of landing on the moon. This has not exactly been a day trip to Bangor, but more an excursion up Everest.

Then Australia had players who come along once a lifetime and they had several of them. As a great cast always bears repeating they were, in no particular order, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, all gone, and, crucially Ricky Ponting himself. The stature of cricketer available to Australia today is not in that league; indeed, on the evidence of the past four weeks it is several leagues below.

But this is to give a bad name to the art of quibbling. England have been stupendous for most of this campaign, for which they prepared meticulously. They did so in assessing the tactics they would need to prevail on Australian pitches and in selecting the players they would need to carry out those tactics. In batting, bowling and fielding they calculated a way they needed to play and for the most they played like it.

To Strauss must go immense congratulations. Those who were at Lord's a little under two years ago to see him anointed as England captain assumed he had also taken delivery of a poisoned chalice. But he seemed at ease in the role from the start. There was something about him that day, something that said he was ready to lead.

Later on, he said that he intended to make players personally responsible for their parts in the team. This has worked to perfection. Players have stood up to be counted partly because Strauss (and Andy Flower, the coach) have made such play of the responsibility of the individual in a team game. It is a simple dictum, as old as the game itself, but it is not always observed.

Several players in this team say privately that Strauss is the best captain they have ever had, which is an easy assertion to make when you are winning but it is what led to the winning that counts. Many so-called experts have pointed to Strauss's lack of tactical acumen as a shortcoming to his captaincy.

This misses the point that Strauss is willing to let carefully plotted strategies work their way through. It may be born partly from the contemporary method of planning victory, looking at hour upon hour of film to spot weaknesses everywhere, whether in opponents or your own team, but he is calmly aware that sooner or later a way should be found through.

If he is not an instinctive cricket captain, he has a serenity in his demeanour (in defiance of the booming voice) which persuades others of his fitness for office. That, as Michael Vaughan, another accomplished captain who owes nothing to England, has often averred, is what matters. If players think you are a leader they follow. In the dark moments there is no greater weapon at a captain's disposal.

England possess no great players at present. They have those capable of greatness. Kevin Pietersen comes closest, but the manner in which Jonathan Trott has begun his international career also begins to suggest that his figures will demand consideration for greatness. Jimmy Anderson bowls great balls and, if he is not a truly great bowler, he has given lie to the notion that there was nothing but misery for him Down Under.

It would be possible to go through the whole team: no great players, plenty of capable ones willing to learn and keep learning. But England really have played for each other. It is why they were able to assimilate as comfortably as bread assimilates butter the two fast bowlers who did not start the series.

Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan (as well as Ajmal Shahzad, who has not yet played) were told by Flower that it was unlikely that England could go through the series with an unchanged team. Perhaps it was stating the bloomin' obvious but players, like all of us, need to be told occasionally that they are not surplus to requirements. Tremlett and Bresnan came into the team seamlessly. In his two matches in the series Tremlett has taken 13 wickets at an average of 19.0; Bresnan came in at Melbourne and took 6 for 75 as if to the manner born.

If the bowlers have been manful throughout, it is significant that in both the Tests won so far England made more than 500 in the first innings. Two of their batsmen, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, average more than 100; two more, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, above 50. In the draw and the loss they made under 300 and under 200 in the first innings. That is so often where Tests can be won and lost and it is 82 years since England last twice passed 500 in the first innings in Australia (when they did it three times).

This above all is what should concentrate their minds for Sydney. Win there and it really will seem like the Holy Grail. Win there, and why, they can start to think of beating India.

How the urn was retained

Planning

Sounds simple, doesn't it? But then why have so many English tourists been so roundly thumped in this country for the past generation? Partly, it is because Australia had a sequence of genuinely remarkable cricketers but partly it was because England were cowed by them. This time England came here with plots for every occasion, coming out of their ears. The upshot was that they felt they could adapt to almost every occasion, and what might have been a cataclysmic blip in Perth apart, they have.



Squad depth

The theory of picking a squad to win the Ashes is always more robust than the practice. Too often, players not in the initial XI are not ready when their turn eventually comes. But as in 1970-71 and 1986-87 – when England also prevailed – the support bowlers have proved eminently capable. Both Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan have shown themselves to be proper Test match bowlers in this series. It may not necessarily last going forward, but their intelligent bowling has counted for much in the past five days.



Fielding

When a couple of tough chances went begging yesterday morning – with the line all but crossed – it came as a surprise. England have caught splendidly in this series, making tricky little blighters seem like dollies. Their ground fielding has been, by a distance, the best ever by an England side anywhere, perhaps a breakout from their Twenty20 victory last May. Allied to the magnificent wicketkeeping of Matt Prior – a missed stumping on the third afternoon his only genuine blemish of the series – it has made a fundamental difference.



Ricky Ponting

The feeling still persists that if Ponting had somehow contrived a way to make runs, Australia might still have competed. But he did not and they did not. Ponting may not be quite the player he was, but England were on his case instantly, aware that he pushes hard at the ball early on and is not a natural leaver. It paid handsome dividends and the effect on Australia, with vice-captain Michael Clarke all over the place, was catastrophic. Only the experienced Mike Hussey was able to compensate.



Support

While it has not done England much good for the past quarter of a century in most foreign parts, there is no question that the team are genuinely uplifted by the support. They are not paying mere lip service to it and it goes beyond the Barmy Army, which is much too self-satisfied. There are more conventional England supporters all over Melbourne, as there will be in Sydney next week – as there have been all over – and they make the team feel loved, wanted and anxious to please. It matters.



Woeful selection

By Australia, that is. While England's panel can give themselves pats on the back all round – even if captain Andrew Strauss had to fall into their laps before they deemed him worthy of the job – Australia have gone searching for a team for the future while trying to win in the present. They have selected two unknown spinners, one of whom has yet to make the final XI, and two batsmen patently not yet fit for purpose. With the others underperforming it has made for ghastly viewing.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week