Nasser controls the popular vote

England captain plays down the traumas of his own form to emphasise the achievements of coach and team
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The Independent Online

This is a new England. It is an England where pride has replaced shame, where confidence has overtaken uncertainty, where hard work has done for the soft option. Mostly, of course, it is an England where winning has supplanted losing. After that, all the other stuff is easy.

This is a new England. It is an England where pride has replaced shame, where confidence has overtaken uncertainty, where hard work has done for the soft option. Mostly, of course, it is an England where winning has supplanted losing. After that, all the other stuff is easy.

Not that easy was what came to mind as England's triumphant summer was brought to its dramatic conclusion at The Oval and the massed ranks of cricket supporters, the like of whom it was feared had ceased to exist, thronged across the ground to acclaim their heroes. The team's captain, Nasser Hussain, sank to his knees and it was not ecstasy but pained relief which lined his suddenly tired face.

Hussain managed to drag himself up to the dressing-room and there he sat briefly in a corner and put his head in his hands. This was the moment for which he had waited, the biggest moment of his career, bigger than all his Test hundreds, bigger than his first international selection, all his recalls since, his elevation to the leadership. And the captain was depleted to the point of exhaustion. Maybe he was thinking about what was to come next - Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia - and realised, truly, that he ain't seen nothin' yet.

Not long afterwards he faced the Press, an ordeal which he has always handled well. He was no less obliging this time, though he curtailed questions on his own dreadful batting form, wishing to concentrate on his team. But he did not try to disguise his torment, why he had thought about nothing else for two months but how to beat West Indies for the first time in 31 years ("to be honest I hadn't realised it was that long") and that he must in some way divide his responsibilities better to ensure his batting does not continue to suffer.

His meagre haul of 148 runs in 13 Test innings is a run threatening to break undesirable records but it appears not to have affected the supporters' view of him. A poll has been running all week on the England and Wales Cricket Board web site which asks readers to nominate the man of the series against West Indies.

More than 60,000 votes have been cast. The opening bowlers, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick have garnered a similar number of nominations, 5,082 to 6,172. Michael Atherton, his deeds in the Fifth Test still fresh, is second with 21,183 votes. But in first place lies Hussain with 21,221 crosses against his name.

There may be an element of sympathy here, but it is also a reflection of the electorate's thanks. Little more than a year ago, Hussain was booed as he stood on the balcony at The Oval and said, mysteriously, that he was proud of his team. The lot that had just surrendered to New Zealand.

But Hussain, the coach, Duncan Fletcher and the remodelled side have delivered this summer. They have won two Test series, sponsored by Cornhill for the last time, and the inaugural NatWest one-day triangular tournament. It has quickly imbued a deep mutual respect. In the aftermath of The Oval, Gough said that he had been surprised how they had gelled and added that Hussain "is by far the best captain I have played under". Hussain said that Fletcher "is easily the best coach I have been involved with".

Well-meant, possibly justifiable sentiments both, and at this point it was possible to believe that Fletcher might come in and talk of the greatest team he had ever coached. He is much too sensible for that. He heaped praise on his captain and then this calm man said how he, too, had been consumed by the job. He would be playing golf to relax, walk up the fairway to his next shot and by the time he had reached the ball have thought about selecting the right team.

Little more could have been asked of England this summer (Fletcher, still sensible, pointed to their batting) and it would be plain wrong to suggest that they have not made terrific advances and have renewed their self-belief and all the other things teams do when results go their way.

But to try to regain some perspective after the heart-warming scenes in south London it is sensible to consider not only what has gone but also what is to come. Any team wishing to go up the world rankings - and England's only way was up - might have chosen to play at home against Zimbabwe and West Indies.

The first tourists had never been to England before and can hardly have known what to expect in terms of climate, pitches and tradition. They duly froze at Lord's, blinded by all that history in the Long Room presumably, and their improvement at Trent Bridge was all too late.

The second tourists arrived having performed heroically in two taut home series and with a 31-year unbeaten run against England to protect. But they also came with a team weak in a multitude of areas and a record of not having won away for five years, indeed of having lost their last 10 away Test matches. They duly rectified the latter statistic first up at Edgbaston and England were in trouble.

It might have been 2-0 at Lord's and it was within two wickets of being so with England still needing nearly 30 runs. Then, none of the celebrations of the past week would have happened. The Oval would not have been packed on Monday, a new generation would not have found new heroes.

But once England started to perform they found West Indies' soft underbelly. The turning point, said Hussain, was when Caddick "decided to get out of bed at Lord's and bowl out the West Indies for 54". The NatWest Series was a diversion, not always a pleasing one, but winning it showed that England are again taking the one-day stuff as seriously as they should.

So, they go soon to Pakistan and in the new year to Sri Lanka. Next summer, Pakistan reciprocate with an early visit and are followed by the Australians. The euphoria of triumph should not cloud judgement. It is conceivable that England will not win one of these next 13 Tests.

Pakistan next May gives them their best opportunity but not only have they not been to Pakistan for 13 years, they have only ever won one Test there, and that was their first (of 18 in all) 38 years ago. Wasim Akram might have been indulging in gamesmanship when he played down England's chances on Friday but what a lawyer would give to be supported by such a stream of precedent.

England already recognise that the Sri Lankan leg will be tough - "Pakistan will be hard, Sri Lanka will be harder," said Gough - and Fletcher has confirmed that serious work will be undertaken on the playing of spin. It will need to be. The last time England faced Muttiah Muralitharan they might as well have played him in a strait jacket and lead boots and frequently gave the impression of doing so.

With this to come, talk of the Ashes was at best done reluctantly. But it is that, only that, by which the triumph and the euphoria of the last week can be measured. If Hussain can fall to his knees, drained next September and hoist a replica of the tiny urn above his head his team will genuinely have arrived. They will be New England all right.

Duncan Fletcher has an expression which he has picked up from the worldly Phil Tufnell. There is, he says, always a flip side. Celebrate this momentous summer certainly, but understand that within a year Fletcher and his boys may know the flip side better than they can have feared.