Cricket Expert & Columnist
Mind the gap
Mike Atherton says England must not let their momentum drain away between now and July's first Ashes Test.
Last Updated: 16/06/09 1:25pm
There will be some frustration in the England camp that the Ashes aren't starting next week after the demolition of the West Indies.
There are two reasons for that. Firstly, the side has built up some good momentum but the first Test against Australia is still some seven weeks away.
A whole raft of one-day games fill that gap and, as one-day cricket is not their strongest suit, England might just get knocked off their stride a bit.
Secondly, there will be some disruption within the camp when Paul Collingwood takes over the captaincy from Andrew Strauss during the ICC World Twenty20 tournament.
Such change is far from ideal for the embryonic management team of Andy Flower and Strauss, both of whom must be delighted to get some early results under their belts.
Success eases the pressure and gets people off your back, plus there's nothing better than a couple of victories to make you feel good about yourself. Flower can now go about things with a little bit more authority as well.
The Zimbabwean needed this series victory because over the last couple of years as number two to Peter Moores he's only been associated with modest success and then during his caretaker spell in charge England failed to win in the Caribbean.
Strauss and Flower are the sort of people I would have enjoyed playing under. They are both pretty calm, know their cricket and are decent people.
As captain, Strauss has not shown as yet that he has a magnificent instinct for the job in terms of tactical decision making. That's not to say he's done a bad job so far; in fact the contrary is true.
But his strengths are in other areas - in his own game and the way he goes about his business in such an elementally sensible way; he speaks well to the media and you can sense that he carries that authority into the dressing room.
He is the right man at the right time yet without has not shown that he is a Mike Brearley in any sense.
To be fair, I haven't played under too many captains who are in that mould. Respect comes from a number of different areas, your batting, the way you deal with people, the decisions that you make, the honesty that you show; it's a package and for most of it Strauss is spot on.
It's difficult to say how far this new and obvious sense of enjoyment that we see on the field is linked to winning games and how much can be apportioned to the change of regime but from the outside the team looks happy, the players enjoy each other's company and that's a terrific sight.
Australia will now know they can expect a tough game this summer.
They will have looked at what happened in the Caribbean this winter and sensed that England were striving hard but not quite getting there, but that things were being put back together after tricky times with Moores and Kevin Pietersen.
Now, they will sense that England have stepped up a level and are in pretty good shape to take them on. Similarly, Ricky Ponting's side has improved over the last six months so the Ashes are bubbling up nicely.
Strauss will be able to more than hold his own against Ponting; he's not the type to back down or shy away. Ponting has obviously got a massively impressive record behind him but how much those records count when you step onto the pitch, I'm not sure.
Strauss is experienced himself, if not as a captain as a Test cricketer, and knows from his participation in the 2005 series that Ponting and company can be beaten; you should never underestimate the importance of being an Ashes winner.
Meanwhile, James Anderson is maturing into a top-class bowler; he's leading the attack, he's bowling consistently and his control of the swinging ball is outstanding. It's all very well being able to swing the ball but controlling it is a different thing entirely.
He's fit, has great stamina and a good temperament. It is going to be a fascinating tussle between him and Phil Hughes at the top of the order.
The Australian has an unorthodox style, playing a long way leg-side of the ball so if Anderson swings the ball then he is in for a battle. Equally, Hughes may well get hold of Anderson and - if he does - I'm sure he won't be the last bowler to suffer that fate.
Ravi Bopara was another big performer against the West Indies and he has clearly taken a lot from these last two Tests; he came into the Wisden Trophy series with a great deal of confidence and he looks very cocksure of himself at the moment.
Now he has to make sure he doesn't go overboard because he's going to face a tougher challenge against Australia.
The West Indies put down a number of catches off Bopara; if they had taken them you are looking at a guy getting 20s and 30s and 50s, not hundreds. Australia are unlikely to spill those chances. I've no doubts that he's got all that it takes to do well but he mustn't get carried away.
Unfortunately for him, Tim Bresnan is the player who is most vulnerable ahead of the Ashes if Andrew Flintoff regains his fitness before the first Test; if Cardiff turns, then Monty Panesar could play. In either case Bresnan misses out.
On the face of it, he doesn't look like someone who is going to play a lot of international cricket but he's clearly very handy and someone who can come in and do a job; you need people like that as much as you need your superstars but if he plays a lot in the Ashes then something will have gone wrong.
Looking forward, I'm sure the West Indies will be much more competitive in the one-day games. There players can be very aggressive and like to play with a lot of freedom and the shorter formats of the game will suit them.
I just feel that England have confidence surging through them and are capable of winning the one-day series against a West Indies side that has taken a real knock.