England revel in all-round progress

Australia are the number one side in the world because they play cricket to a consistently high level and have a team which contains several players who are capable of winning matches on their own. Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath - if he ever regains full fitness - can each change the course of any game they play in and when Australia are in trouble it is inevitably one of these who produces something special.

Australia are the number one side in the world because they play cricket to a consistently high level and have a team which contains several players who are capable of winning matches on their own. Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath - if he ever regains full fitness - can each change the course of any game they play in and when Australia are in trouble it is inevitably one of these who produces something special.

England do not yet have this number of match-winners, but with each Test match they are becoming a closer resemblance to their arch enemy. During consecutive 3-0 series victories, over the West Indies and New Zealand, England have, on several occasions, looked as though they were about to fold. In the past they would have capitulated but now someone always seems to come along and turns things around.

The most encouraging aspect of this progress is that it has not been the same person who has bailed England out on each of the occasions they have been in trouble.

In the first Test at Lord's, Andrew Strauss scored a wonderful hundred in the first innings and Nasser Hussain won the game in the second. At Headingley Marcus Trescothick's brilliant century took England to within touching distance of New Zealand's first-innings score of 409 and Geraint Jones then took the game away from them. And, on Sunday, at Trent Bridge, Graham Thorpe produced a gem of an innings to deprive the Kiwis of the morale-boosting win they desperately wanted.

Honours with the ball have not been quite as evenly distributed. Stephen Harmison has been the best bowler in this series by some distance. In three Test matches the Durham paceman took 21 wickets at an average of 22 runs each. The next highest wicket-taker was Chris Cairns with 12 but his wickets cost him nearly 32 runs apiece.

Unlike the New Zealand all-rounder, Harmison received support from his colleagues. Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles took 19 wickets between them but both bowlers conceded just over 2.5 runs per over and this allowed England to retain control even when Harmison was out of the attack.

Harmison appears to be improving with every game he plays and he now offers Michael Vaughan consistency as well as a cutting edge. The 25-year-old failed to snare a five-wicket haul against the "Black Caps" but he took three or four wickets in each of the six innings.

Thorpe has taken a large chunk of the credit for England's victory in Nottingham, and quite rightly so, but it was Flintoff and Giles who instigated the Kiwis' downfall on Saturday afternoon. The pair initially prevented New Zealand from batting as they wanted before dismissing them as they attempted to retake control of the game.

The tourists were the equivalent of 159-0 in their second innings when Giles dismissed Mark Richardson and Brendon McCullum in quick succession. And it was this double breakthrough which kicked England's most inspirational cricketer into action.

This is the second series in a row in which Flintoff has averaged more than 50 with the bat and under 30 with the ball. These are the figures of a quality all-rounder but it is the way in which he responds when England are up against it that makes you feel proud of the man.

Against South Africa, at Lord's last summer, and during England's Test match in Colombo, similar back-breaking effort failed to turn the game his side's way, but on this occasion it did. Flintoff was fortunate to be given two lbw decisions by umpire Simon Taufel, but nobody at the ground would begrudge him his success - it was fully deserved.

Giles' success with both bat and ball were much needed. The Warwickshire spinner has taken a lot of flak in recent times, so much that he considered retiring from playing for England. "I have been very down in the last few months," revealed Giles. "Although we have had great success I feel as though I have not really contributed and because of this I keep getting knocked. This comes from the media and the crowds and it can be quite hurtful.

"I take great pride in playing for my country but there comes a time when if you feel no one wants you, you wonder why you do it. If it wasn't for the people around me - my family and my team-mates - who have been fantastic I may just have held my hands up and said 'take it away and let someone else do it'. You accept it when you are abroad but it is hard to take when it comes from your own supporters and you can only get knocked so much before it really starts to hurt."

This defeat finished a very disappointing tour for the Kiwis who arrived in the United Kingdom with the reputation of being a tough, well-led outfit that made the most of its talent. Yet following their whitewash they now move into the NatWest series - which starts when England play New Zealand at Old Trafford on 24 June - desperately trying to earn the respect they were hoping to gain during the Test series.

Mark Richardson, with 369 runs at 61.5, and Stephen Fleming - 308 at 51.33 - had excellent series but the remainder of their batsmen were found wanting. Injury undermined their bowling resources and left their coach, John Bracewell, scratching around the leagues searching for replacements: but it was amateurish to travel here with just 14 players.

GAME-BREAKERS ANGUS FRASER'S MEN OF THE SERIES

STEPHEN HARMISON

By taking 21 wickets in the series the Durham paceman proved that his displays against the West Indies were not a one-off. New Zealand's batsmen could not cope with the 25-year-old's pace and bounce. England must be careful not to over-bowl their match-winner. Harmison bowled 169 overs in three Tests against the Kiwis.

MARCUS TRESCOTHICK

The Somerset opener was back to his best against New Zealand. At Lord's - as captain - he helped settle Andrew Strauss into Test cricket with an excellent 86 and at Headingley, on a difficult pitch, he was majestic. The left-hander's 132 punished the "Black Caps" and laid the foundations for England's victory.

ANDREW STRAUSS

The Middlesex captain scored 112 in his first innings for England and 195 runs in the match. He followed this up with an assured half-century at Headingley. Few England players have taken to Test cricket with such ease and the 27-year-old looks set for a long and distinguished career. Strauss is wasted at short leg as he is an outstanding cover point.

GERAINT JONES

After indifferent performances with the gloves at Lord's and in the first innings at Headingley the Kent wicketkeeper was under pressure when he went out to bat in the second Test. The 27-year-old's dashing century helped win the game for England. It also gave him confidence behind the stumps and his keeping at Trent Bridge was excellent.

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