Although England produced some clumsy cricket in their first match against Zimbabwe, and have had some distinctly uncomfortable moments against South Africa, the one-day side have made encouraging progress in the last three weeks, culminating in their overwhelming victory in the NatWest Series final. With four years to go, it has left them with enough "bankers" to form the nucleus of their squad for the next World Cup in the West Indies in 2007.
Michael Vaughan has taken easily to the captaincy. He has a natural authority that he has no need to underline with tantrums or histrionics. He obviously has the respect of his players, and there is a quiet competence about all that he does, allied to a shrewd tactical knowledge of the game. Unlike a number of contemporary captains, he does not feel the need constantly to be looking over his shoulder. He listens to advice, he looks after the young, new players and is firmly in charge of his own ship.
He was lucky to find Marcus Trescothick in withering form early on. Vikram Solanki played one tremendous innings, against South Africa at The Oval, and had a good final, but needs to do more to become an automatic choice. His shot-selection early in an innings is not always the best.
The jury is still out on Anthony McGrath. He had a good Test series against Zimbabwe, which may not mean too much. He made some useful contributionsin the one-day games, yet one cannot escape the impression that he is a little short of both class and imagination at this level.
If Ian Bell, Jim Troughton - who still has work to do with his batting - or one of the other young batsmen hit their straps, McGrath is always going to be vulnerable, although his bowling could possibly come to his aid. Another "banker" must be Chris Read, who has kept beautifully, including five catches in the final. He is only the second England keeper to achieve such a haul - Alec Stewart took six against Zimbabwe at Old Trafford in 2000 - and has shown great character with the bat. The Test side awaits him. One hopes, too, the selectors will keep faith with Rikki Clarke who, as he showed briefly with the bat at Edgbaston last Tuesday, is probably the classiest of the youngsters.
Another huge gain from these one-day games has been the form of Andrew Flintoff, who with each outing seems to become more mature. His bowling, just a shade back of a length, is exactly what the doctor ordered for this type of cricket. His catching has been brilliant, too.
It is his batting that has progressed so noticeably, though. He has still a way to go, but he has shown that he is learning the art of building an innings, and also has improved his shot-selection. Above all, he does not now feel that it is beholden upon him to hit every ball out of the ground.
The fast bowling is looking in better shape, too. James Anderson is manna from heaven. A 21-year-old with colossal talent, a late outswinger and the ability to bowl wicket-taking balls more often than most is an unbelievable asset. All he needs is the experience that will limit the number of bad balls.
Darren Gough, who will not be around in four years' time, has done an excellent job and produced his own masterclass in the final. Richard Johnson has made important contributions and must stay. Then there are Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard waiting in the wings, to say nothing of Simon Jones when he is fit. The one need is for another spinner. Ashley Giles, for all his enthusiasm and two wickets in the final, has not quite cut the mustard.
In the last three weeks England certainly made progress towards a more-than-reputable side for the next World Cup.Reuse content