What have we learnt in the Caribbean?

Ahead of Friday's finale, Stephen Brenkley looks back on a troubled tour to identify the lessons England – and all cricket fans – can take into the blockbuster summer ahead

1. Strauss and Flower make a dynamic duo

From day one, when he took over in circumstances in which he had no desire to take over, Andy Flower has cut an impressive figure. England have gone through a tumultuous period of late and it has been difficult for players and staff.

Flower has developed a strong relationship with Andrew Strauss, who himself demonstrated that he might (perhaps should) have been captain two years ago. They brought to their roles a well-rounded but hard-nosed aspect.

They showed they were unafraid to take tough decisions – for instance, the dropping of Ian Bell and Monty Panesar, two players who still have big futures – and they have stamped their authority on the England squad. Formal interviews for the team director's post are taking place in London next week with a very short shortlist likely to contain no more than four names. A decision will be made before the home series against West Indies begins.

Flower is tough and mature and he knows the game of cricket inside out. He will also lend vital stability at a time when that particular quality has never been more in demand. It is entirely right and proper that England are trawling the world for a coach at present after the last one, Peter Moores, was virtually ushered into the job without interview only for it to end in tears. But the man for the job is under their noses.

2. First match of a series means everything

England have had far too much practice at hitting the ground hobbling. Their failure to win the first match of the Test series for the 14th successive occasion had significant consequences for the rest of the tour.

West Indies' spectacular win in Kingston, when an inspired spell of bowling by Jerome Taylor (which he never came close to repeating) dumped the tourists out for 51, enabled them to dictate terms thereafter. A succession of anodyne pitches meant large numbers of runs and small numbers of wickets, and ultimately a lost series.

It would have been different had England not lost the first Test and it was at last recognised that it could not be entirely coincidence that it keeps happening. Perhaps it is down to failure to prepare properly, to lack of match fitness, to a relaxed mental state – but Flower realised that it could not be allowed to continue.

3. Pietersen and headlines were made for each other

It is a mutual attraction. Kevin Pietersen likes headlines and headlines love him. Occasionally, this has a discombobulating effect on the side.

England either have to learn to live with it or without it. Pietersen's individual preparation and performance are all but faultless but there are increasing signs of impatience and frustration. This story is not over yet by a long chalk.

4. Flintoff should move down the order

It has become something of an arf-arf joke to refer to Andrew Flintoff as the talismanic all-rounder. He is the all-rounder who does not score any runs and does not take any wickets and without whom England win more often than they do with him.

True, Flintoff needs more runs; true, he has to take more wickets. But he remains a warrior-like cricketer who plays with every ounce of his being. When Flintoff plays he spares nothing.

The short-term answer may be to put him at No 7 where there would be less pressure than in the exalted No 6 position and it may help him to play with a less cluttered mind. At present he is uncertain: does he bat properly or simply try to hit the bejaysus out of it?

As a bowler, the captain, whoever he is, has to decide what they want him to be. Since he is clearly not a strike bowler he may as well be used as a containing one, which can bring its own rewards. His accuracy and bounce and occasional reverse swing are not to be underestimated.

One day, it is said, England will have to do without him, but that day has not arrived yet.

5. Two left-handed openers are not perfect

Should we open with two lefties? The obvious answer is that it scarcely matters. Since Strauss and Alastair Cook performed admirably in this series (541 runs and 384 runs in nine Test innings each) they are in for the foreseeable future in any case.

But the nature of their dismissals in the opening match is worth bearing in mind. They have similar fallibilities and one wicket lost to the new ball can swiftly become two. Bowlers do not have to change their line of attack.

Ideally, a right-hand, left-hand combination works. This has not mattered too much in recent years and Strauss' partnership with Marcus Trescothick (both left-handers) was extremely effective. With the Aussies coming to town, however, there may be cause to doubt the strategy by the end of the summer.

6. Harmison may never be the bowler he was

Poor Stephen Harmison gets the blame for far too many of England's failings. Unfortunately, he embodies their consistent inability to take 20 wickets, which is the usual prerequisite to win any Test match.

Since that glorious morning in Kingston in 2004 when he pulverised the West Indies batting the weight of expectation has been on him. Often he has delivered – and his contribution to the 2005 Ashes victory should never be underestimated.

But often he has not and the evidence of this tour was that he may not do so again. For England to have a real chance of coming back on the surfaces provided, given the lack of a magical spinner, they needed Harmison to get something out of them.

He played in only two of the Tests and was rarely threatening. His pace was habitually down in the low eighties, which is not what he is meant to be about. England are certainly less effective without him operating at full tilt but he will need to demonstrate very soon indeed that he is still capable of bowling at 90mph and extracting that vicious bounce or it could be curtains.

7. The one-day strategy needs a rethink

England remain a work in progress – without the progress. Some of the cricket has been sloppy to the point of embarrassment and the new management team must put in place a proper strategy. They are not sure whether to follow the rest of the world or their instincts, and end up doing neither.

8. Prior deserves to wear the gloves

Matt Prior looks as though he could be a genuine No 6 batsman, somebody who knows his way round the crease and understands the team's demands. He would not be an all-time great No 6 but he could grow into a dependable one.

Unfortunately, he is paid to keep wicket well and his inconsistency, sometimes bordering on ineptitude, has not abated. In the final Test he seriously threatened the 75-year-old world byes record.

England, however, should stick with him. They cannot keep changing their keepers and there is nobody discernibly better at the joint role. Prior will take some spectacular catches: he must learn to stay lower longer while up to the stumps, but the next time he shells one mutter under your breath that Alan Knott did not take every single chance.

9. County cricket still produces good players

Step forward Graeme Swann. Always a breath of fresh air as a chap to have around, he demonstrated that he is a clever, thoughtful, skilful cricketer – attributes honed in 10 years of county cricket. He recognises the virtues of sitting in as an off-spin bowler but can also make things happen.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that England can at least contemplate, for the first time in 25 years, using two spinners regularly in Test matches. They may then reject the idea but Swann could yet play the 40 or so Tests predicted for him as a teenager.

10. Fitness is everything

This seems to be a lesson never learnt, this time in the incarnation of Ryan Sidebottom. From day one it was revealed that he had a chronic Achilles tendon injury which needed careful handling.

He played in three of the five matches, including the abandoned match in Antigua, but never looked at the races. His pace was down, his swing was intermittent. And then he went home.

11. Schedules have to be improved

The Test series was just about acceptable, with a proper build-up and the back-to-back nature of the matches is now the norm. England were not ready for the start, but that is their fault.

The long gaps between matches in the one-day series – three lots of five days from Sunday to Friday – made for a strange existence for players. The best way to conduct a one-day series is on a "play, practise, travel" basis.

12. Video referrals are hilarious but irritating

In a couple of decades it may be wondered why there was such a fuss about the umpire review system, otherwise known as referrals. But it does not work at present, which is both hilarious and irritating. It was not so much that the teams had no clue when and what to refer (and they did not) but that often the eventual decision was at best debatable.

Now it is being suggested that umpires, not players, should ask for reviews – but do not think for a moment the players would do anything other than put them under enormous pressure. Trying to reach the correct verdict is obviously in the game's interests but the solution is no nearer.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

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

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
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
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
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
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