Powerful in Test cricket and a growing force in the limited overs game, England have enjoyed a formidable summer.
Andrew Strauss' side swept to a 4-0 series win over India in the five-day game to rise to No 1 in the world Test rankings, earning rave reviews along the way for the quality and intensity of their performances.
Largely unseen and unsung, England's Strength and Conditioning coach Huw Bevan has played an integral part in helping to keep the team fit and firing and at a masterclass organised by the Sky Sports ECB Coach education programme he offered an insight into his role...
skysports.com: England are going from strength to strength - what's the secret?
Huw: It's all down to the hard work put in by the guys. Of course, having a great crop of batsmen and a good supply of fast bowlers helps - as does having a strong element of competition. We've got eight or more bowlers who are either in the squad or on the verge. That means everybody has to look over their shoulder and make sure that they are in the best shape they can possibly be.
skysports.com: What advice have you passed on to the coaches today?
Huw: Principally, how to work conditioning into skill sessions and how to utilise the limited time that they have got with their players to maximise outcomes. This might involve looking at different ways how they can develop speed, agility and endurance to optimise cricket performance.
skysports.com: So where's the best place to begin?
Huw: We did some work on basic movement patterns - initially on posture and how it affects your ability to move. For example, adopting an athletic or powerful position can help with catching, movement and getting to the ball more quickly.
skysports.com: How is that reflected in what players like James Anderson do out on the pitch?
Huw: As well as leading the attack, Jimmy has become an extremely athletic player who can field in a number of positions. The posture he adopts in the slips gives him a very good base to move from - his feet aren't planted too wide so he is balanced, nice and stable and able to move in any direction. You often see him fielding in the one-day internationals at short midwicket where there is a lot of rapid movement and fielders have to dive around. To do that you have to be powerful, agile and have great reactions.
First we work on the player's posture, then on his lateral movement throw in some cricket specific drills. We will hit balls at him to try and simulate what happens in a game - so he develops the skills and the anticipation needed to field in that specific position.
I work very, very closely with the fielding coach Richard Halsall. Even though we are with the guys for a long period of time throughout the year, a lot of the time they are in competition. With time at a premium we have to think about why we are doing each and every drill, what it gives us and whether it will help to get players' 'game right' or simply wear them out.
skysports.com: Many club cricketers just want to rock up and play. How can a coach engage players like that?
Huw: The answer applies as much at international level as we do club level - we try to make things fun. When you are working to try and improve the same skills, it helps to come up with some ideas so that people don't get bored. That might involve throwing in an element of competition or even just using music at the appropriate time as a motivational tool. There's nothing worse for everyone than a session that drags.
skysports.com: As a former rugby player, do you think that cricketers learn enough from drills taught in other sports?
Huw: Despite the big differences between cricket and rugby there are certain principles that hold true - making the conditioning specific, maximising time spent with the players and the skills conditioning work that they do.
My concern is making sure that our cricketers are the best that they can be. There have always been some athletic cricketers but I think that the number of athletic cricketers has increased in the county game and at Lions level.
skysports.com: Is there a growing understanding that players who take time out of the game to take part in conditioning programmes will be better off for it in the long run?
Huw: All coaches and captains want their best players on the pitch as often as possible but the schedule is so demanding that there has to be a balance between game time and rest. Most people realise that it would be very difficult to play in all of those games and remain fresh and injury free.
Last year James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn all had time out and I think it had a positive impact on their performance when they returned.
skysports.com: How do you reflect on the team's year and what are your future goals?
Huw: Obviously, I'm satisfied that we've done a reasonable job so far but I'm also very aware that we need to continue to be as thorough and committed as we can; I'm sure Andy Flower and the other coaches are of the same mind.
It's important to keep making progress because every team will be working hard to improve and we can't afford to be any different. The last thing we want is people to catch us up or go past us.
The Sky Sports ECB Coach Education Programme has trained over 33,000 coaches over the past four years and develops coaches from playground to Test arena. For more information on the scheme please visit www.skysports.com/coaching and the ECB's website.