Fearless, aggressive, controlled. But can they do it in Tests?

England have changed. They are different. They bristle with intent. Now take the game to Australia and retain the Ashes

Nothing that is happening between England and Australia in June will have any bearing on the Ashes in November. Nothing and everything, that is.

They are different forms of the game in different countries with, in large part, different players. They demand different skills and have wildly different significance. The comparison, therefore, is odious.

Except there are exceptions. Do not suppose for a moment that every Australian who might be a fringe candidate, say Doug Bollinger, is not fearing with every half-volley he bowls that the selectors might have seen enough. Or that those who have done everything in the game and have straddled it with genius as well as grit, say Ricky Ponting, do not fleetingly suspect with every false, minutely flawed stroke that their time might be up.

Or, in England's case, that a young thruster, Craig Kieswetter say, is not calculating that a compelling performance here and there will mean he receives the Test nod (and that the incumbent Matt Prior is not pondering along similar lines). Or that a batsman who is out of the one-day side, say Jonathan Trott, is not watching, say, Eoin Morgan, and thinking something along the lines of: "Cor lumme."

So there are repercussions, and they may be deep in individual cases. But generally when the players and coaches denounce the influence of this strangely fascinating one-day series on the Ashes they are talking psychologically. That if England repel Australia by 5-0, or if Australia mount a comeback to win 3-2, starting at Old Trafford in the third match today, it will not matter a jot come the first ball at the Gabba on 25 November.

By and large this may be so. Ponting, as he did four years ago, is plotting his revenge. The Ashes is his goal, his mission, and while he would like to win this NatWest Series, the truth is that everything else can go hang. Andrew Strauss, the captain of England, will sing the same song, that it is one thing winning now but by Brisbane it will have been forgotten.

However, the manner in which England are playing is discernibly, deliberately different. It is this that may profoundly affect how they pitch up in Australia and what happens thereafter. England these days are bristling with intent. There is a robust, athletic, aggressive element to their cricket which sets them apart. They have a presence about them.

Not so long ago England's fielders would show they meant business by throwing the ball in hard, extremely hard, from wherever on the field they happened to be. So that if the ball trickled out to mid-off, for instance, and there was no danger of a run or any intention to take one, the fielder would propel the ball back to the wicketkeeper, occasionally within inches of the batsman's head, to show that this was a serious business. Unfortunately, it was usually unaccompanied by all the other elements that go to make a proficient side: accuracy, pace, resolve, hitting the stumps when it mattered.

Under Strauss and Andy Flower, the coach, England have changed. Their fielding now fairly bristles with genuine purpose. And the same applies to their batting and to their bowling. It is not about being gung-ho, going in with bats blazing and letting slip the forces of bowling hell, but there is a purposeful, hard-eyed method based on controlled attack, bellig-erent strokeplay and rapid, roughing-up bouncers, rather than attrition.

England must decide whether this is the way to retain the Ashes, whether in Australia over the course of 25 days of the most intense cricket this winter they can see off Australia by taking the game to them. Or if the best way is to wait patiently, to sit in as it were, hope to see cracks in the opposition armoury and then pounce (this is how England won two memorable series in the sub-continent a few years ago, in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, under the great captain Nasser Hussain).

On the ill-fated tour to Australia four years ago, the whitewash, if not the outcome itself, depended on a session of batting at Adelaide after England had made 551 for 6 declared in their first innings. On the fifth day, with a draw all but theirs for the taking, England froze, became strokeless and inert and bewildered. True, Shane Warne was staring into their eyes at the time while bowling 32 overs for 49 runs but England were, as Mrs Margaret Thatcher used to have it, frit.

Strauss and Flower have spent their tenure refining their calculatedly bold approach in one-day cricket. It came to a head during a meeting in Johannesburg as they arrived for the Champions Trophy last September.

They had travelled on the back of a 6-1 defeat by Australia. As Australia (perversely) are now finding, if you start losing at one-day cricket you can keep losing, but there was clearly something else about England, a diffidence in the face of the opposition's assertiveness, which multiplied their difficulties. That has vanished.

Their senior professional, Paul Collingwood, now England's leading one-day run-scorer, recognises the difference. "We've been very controlled," he said. "When I talk about aggression I didn't mean verbals or anything like that. It means standing up to the Aussies. And not just them either. It means standing up to all the best teams. You have to go hard at opponents and we are doing that now.

"We have always talked about playing fearless cricket ever since I came into the team in 2001 but you have to have the game to be able to do that. If you go too far and are reckless you can end up getting 300 one game and then being bowled out for 60 the next. So you have to be a little careful and remain in control."

What England can and must do is bring this to their Test cricket. It will mean having the confidence, when necessary, to go into a match with five batsmen because they feel they require five bowlers, of whatever hue, to garner 20 opposition wickets. It will mean, probably, finding a place in their side for the staggering Morgan, untested and unfulfilled so far in his two Test matches.

It will mean having the wicket- keeper, Prior, batting at No 6, never forgetting that is how the Ashes were annexed last summer. It will mean entrusting Tim Bresnan to bat at No 7 and bowl as the third seamer, while remembering how disastrous playing an unproven batsman at seven (Stuart Broad) proved to be in the Fourth Test in Leeds last year.

It will mean playing Steve Finn as a fast bowler who has that something extra, the X-factor. It will mean making audacious and harsh selection decis-ions. But it may also mean the Ashes.

Be bold or boring in Brisbane?

All that England do in any form of the game from here to November is with the Ashes in mind.

Every team who are fielded have the Ashes at their heart. There was no more apposite example of that than when Eoin Morgan composed his stunning century in the opening match of the NatWest Series at Southampton. It was just another one-day match at a provincial, if charming, ground on a high summer midweek evening. They come and they go. But it was as if Morgan was persuading the selectors finally that there could be only one way to go from now on.

And when Steve Finn carried on some drinks while performing 12th-man duties in Cardiff, that concentrated the mind. Finn is currently undergoing body-strengthening drills, as Stuart Broad did during his recent rest.

They may need a squad rather than a team in Australia, and be prepared to change their method. They may be tempted to play safe in the First Test in Brisbane. But the counter to that is to pick a team who will make Australia afraid of losing (and remembering that England have come from behind to win in Australia before).

Here is the team England might pick if they are being audacious: Strauss, Cook, Pietersen, Bell, Morgan, Prior, Bresnan, Swann, Broad, Anderson, Finn. That would entail omitting Collingwood, which is probably wrong – could Bell open instead of Cook? Problems, you see.

And here is a team that will be more cautious: Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior, Swann, Broad, Anderson, Sidebottom. Safe and maybe sorry.

Stephen Brenkley

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album