England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day May 21, 2012

Welcome to fortress England

The England team are utterly professional, confident in their skills and exude an air of superiority over touring opposition

In the Test match age of pitch-it-up and swing, England are king. James Anderson is one of the best there has been; Stuart Broad has grown into the idea. Tim Bresnan passed the exam when once upon a time his wide-of-the-crease fast-mediums were only good for the one-day game. In the wings are Graham Onions and Chris Tremlett. Of England's arsenal, only Steve Finn is limited to a shorter length.

With swing bowling comes the edge of the bat and England's slip fielders - usually Andrew Strauss, Graeme Swann and James Anderson - are as convincing as wicketkeeper Matt Prior. Batsmen know this and misjudge at their peril. Improved method and hours of practice have given England an air of superiority over all those who visit these shores. Welcome to fortress England, where the bowlers suffocate, the fielders crow and the batsmen strut. Few England teams can ever have looked so comfortable in their skin.

Ian Bell finished the match with an exquisite on-drive and after a little jig gave the new cap, Jonny Bairstow, one great big hug. The players on the dressing-room balcony stood as one to aplaud themselves. Job done. Phew. Last night they were not so sure. Kemar Roach wound back the West Indian clock to have Strauss caught at slip fending at a fierce short ball. Soon after, nightwatchman James Anderson's glove was brushed by another: 10 for 2 - how Darren Sammy needed another hour on the fourth evening. Passionate cricket comes from confidence. Early on the fifth morning Jonathan Trott was brilliantly held at slip by Sammy off Roach. For a sudden and all-too-brief moment this might have been Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall in harness, with Greenidge and Haynes, Ambrose and Walsh celebrating the fate of another beaten English batsman. The exuberance, the sheer unbridled joy was the same. The result was not.

England are simply too good for anyone who plays the game predictably. Modern players, coaches and captains talk of "working hard" not of playing intelligently or with more instinct and flair. On the fourth evening Roach and his fellows had 15 minutes to let go and let go they did with nothing to lose. It was fabulous to see but it couldn't last. The fear of failure crushes a team, the legacy of another does it no good. And here am I, talking of Richards and Marshall. How Sammy and co must hate that.

To beat Strauss' team you must think out of the box because he and Andy Flower have prepared them for everything in it. The word professional is often misused, applied to a foul or to meanness, or suggesting dullness. When applied to this England team it means as it should: well-prepared, physically fit, mentally aware (Graham Gooch, now the full-time batting coach loves the phrase: "If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.") England have a team that leave little to chance, a team that understand themselves and the conditions under which they play. They have studied the likely responses of an opponent and, therefore, it is only when an opponent surprises that England shiver. Witness the magic in Saeed Ajmal's wrist and fingers; witness Mahela Jayawardene's patience and skill.

Strauss came good at Lord's by limiting his strokeplay and leaving well alone outside off stump. Ian Bell came good by batting within himself. Alastair Cook won the game by giving nothing, not a single sniff, to the West Indies bowlers. To play so efficiently is not as simple as it may appear. Dressing-rooms are fragile, cricketers are prone to error, the game has tiny margins. One ball Kevin Pietersen smashes to the boundary; with the same stroke from the very next he edges to the wicketkeeper. There is so little between cricket succes and failure that millimetres matter.

"England have found the formula that allows individual freedom of expression within the discipline of team performance - you will never walk alone but at times you will have to"

What England have done especially well is find the formula that allows individual freedom of expression within the discipline of team performance - you will never walk alone but, er, at times you will have to. For this juxtaposition to work, players must fully appreciate their own role and the responsibility to others alongside them. And they must make the right choices at key moments, instinctive choices that turn a game. What is high risk to one, say, Cook, is barely the raise of an eyebrow to another, say, Pietersen. Which is why we thrill at watching Pietersen and the madness of it all but barely notice Cook until we study the scoreboard.

Though the contrast between Pietersen and Cook well illustrates England's compass, it is the bowlers who best complete the wider picture. Four hardcore competitors whose inherent weaknesses are covered by the exaggeration of their strengths. The fast men move the ball, the spinner spins it. All bowl with accuracy, patience and courage. If one is off the case, another is on it. West Indies did well to make 343 in their second innings. Last summer, India's array of stellar batting failed to pass 300 once in four test matches.

Five stern days at Lord's has done no harm, only good. Little lapses in concentration made the game tighter than it might have been and, yes, West Indies have real spirit. But England are getting better. That mace is as safe as a slip catch in the hands of the England captain for a while yet.

Former Hampshire batsman Mark Nicholas is the host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shanmugam on May 25, 2012, 0:01 GMT

    @AdrianVanDenStael, oh our 1990s home performance was way better than the 1980s alright. I mean, 1980s was when I started watching cricket and I wish I didn't:-) I mean, that was the period when we lost like 14 out of 15 tests (and were lucky to get a draw in the other) against the Windies - 9 of these were at home, beaten 0-2 by an Indian team who were known to be terrible travellers - I believe that was India's only away series win in the 1980s, beaten 0-4 by the Aussies (would have been 0-6 if not for the weather), beaten 0-1 by Pakistan and NZ and several other reversals. The only saving graces were the 2-1 series win against India in 1984-1985 and the Ashes win in 1986-1987 apart from the 3-1 home Ashes win in 1981 (Botham's Ashes). My point was that England remained a poor team in the 1990s even though they were better than the 1980s. Surprisingly this happened even though the 90s team was worse than the 80s - might be the decline in standards in general.

  • John on May 24, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    @TsoroM on (May 24 2012, 10:50 AM GMT) As we have said lots of times before , it doesn't matter how good a side is on paper it's how they perform on the field - and I know Eng were poor in Pak - but if you take that out of the equation England have done significantly better against common opponents in recent years. I like the way you're comparing Strauss and Prior to their SA counterparts , like they were rejected by SA - when they were 6 and 12.

  • Michael on May 24, 2012, 15:23 GMT

    @Shan156: Not going to argue with you, but it depends on one's relative judgements. In the 1990s England lost 5 series at home, but they also won 5 series at home. That's better than their performance in the years 1986-9 (when they were beaten, and usually thrashed, at home by every then test playing nation with the exception of Sri Lanka), and also better than their away form in the 1990s, where they lost every series except against New Zealand and Zimbabwe (and even Zimbabwe managed to hang on for a draw). That notwithstanding, I still sometimes like RMJ find myself nostalgic for the period in the 1980s and 1990s when England were generally so indifferent. (Incidentally Shan, in discussing England's home ODI form you omitted to note 6-1 defeat by Australia in 2009 and embarrassing loss to Bangladesh in 2010.)

  • Shanmugam on May 24, 2012, 14:59 GMT

    @TsoroM, If Kallis is so great, why does he have such a poor record in England? He is consistent alright, but at making poor scores in England (that is why Sachin has got to be the best batsman of modern times - brilliant record everywhere against everyone. Anyway, there could be no question that Kallis is a great batsman and his record in England is just an aberration. You have a point in saying Kallis is a more consistent batsman than KP but ABDV? No way!

  • Mark on May 24, 2012, 14:00 GMT

    TsoroM, it will settle things for once and for all... I hope. Before adjustment, any series win will put South Africa comfortably top. If South Africa lose, Englaand will pull away. A draw sees things stay as they are after the West Indies Tests. I believe though that the August adjustment is favourable to England, so we need to see how that pans out. 1-2 to South Africa should be enough though even including the adustmen to ensure #1t. At least after that series there will be no argument who is #1. Since 2003 the series have all be pretty close and pretty tough. I can't see either side winning by more than a single Test. @Rahul, you answered your own question. Of the Tests in those two series the West Indies should have won one and could have won another. The 1-0 result in the Caribbean was not flattering to the West Indies.

  • Sifiso on May 24, 2012, 10:50 GMT

    @ CricketingStargazer, well if you look at these players that could not make SA team. Smith vs Strauss. Smith wins this battle any day, he may not have the prettiest technique, but he scores the runs that wins us matches.Amla vs Trott, both disciplined, but Amla's stoke making is on a class of it's own compared to Trott's. AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis are both better players than KP and much more consistent. And Prior is a brilliant wicketkeeper-batsman, but he would have only made the cut now considering that the end is near for Mark Boucher career. He can come back now. LOL. I hope the above just shows how much talent and class we in SA and that's why these guys would have struggled to make the cut in SA. Personally I think Trott, KP and Prior are good, but Strauss I certainly do not see making a cut into international cricket in SA. Looking forward to the Eng/SA series too. And yes, have fun with the #1 ranking :-)

  • rahul on May 24, 2012, 9:39 GMT


  • Mark on May 24, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    Randy, you know how different things seem when seen from the other side! A few weeks back it was you sweating as the West Indies gave Australia an uncomfortable ride, as they had done to India in the previous 12 months. Incidentally, who for you are the South African imports? Even taking the most extreme view I can't get close to half. One wonders what it is that makes players who were not good enough to play for South Africa into world-class players outside... it's a curious question that no one seems to want to face. Anyway, we'll enjoy the #1 ranking for a while yet. I'm looking forward though to the South Africa series and the return in India: the last three series there have been mighty close. Time to shut up the doubters and go one better than Andrew Flintoff did with a side of reserves.

  • Harsh on May 24, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    England did not win any series on the sub-continent.They lost 3-0 in Pakistan and drew 1-1 in Sri Lanka.A champion team would have convincingly won both the series.Unless a team can dominate opposition on the sub-continent it is not worthy of being called a great team.England were brilliant in certain conditions where they even surpassed achievements of past great teams like West Indies or Australia.However their sub -continent reversals blemish their reputation.

    Today there is no champion team in the world,with 3-4 teams closely bunched together.

  • rahul on May 24, 2012, 2:49 GMT

    @jb 633 . any english bastmen v/s spin . lolzzzzz.

  • No featured comments at the moment.