England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Edgbaston, 5th day June 11, 2012

Not perfect, but an efficient job from England

Tougher challenges await for England and there are a couple of areas to sort out, but the series victory against West Indies highlighted their solidity as a Test side

Sometimes on a long journey it is worth pausing to reflect on what progress has been made. There was a time, not so long ago, when a 2-0 series victory by England over West Indies would have been celebrated as little short of a spectacular.

But, in the last couple of years, England have climbed to the top of the Test and Twenty20 rankings. It speaks volumes for their improvement - and West Indies' decline - that this series result surprised nobody. It was not always like this and it will not always be like this in the future. Indeed, in years to come and despite the bumps in the road experienced in the UAE, we may reflect on this as the golden age of English cricket.

Whether that age is to be sustained remains to be seen. Certainly the next 18-months contains tougher tests and how England come through them will define the legacy of the team. Quite apart from the Ashes and the South African challenge, they have serious questions to answer about their adaptability to Asian conditions.

However, they can look back on this series against West Indies and congratulate themselves on an efficient job. England were pushed hard at times, but there were very few real periods of tension. England, persistent, disciplined and relentless, may not be the team with the most flair in Test cricket. But they make fewer mistakes than most. With their long batting line-up and an excellent first choice bowling attack, they remain tough to beat in England, at least.

It is worth reflecting, too, on some of the questions that hung over the side heading into the series. Most pertinently, there were doubts - quite reasonable doubts - over Andrew Strauss' future as a Test batsman. To a lesser extent, there were concerns over Ian Bell, too, doubts over who should fill the No. 6 position and who should be the third seamer.

We have enjoyed fewer than 11 full days of Test cricket in this series, yet all but one of those questions has been answered with reassuring confidence. Strauss, with two centuries in the first two Tests, proved his worth and won the Man-of-the-Series award for England. Bell averaged over 100 and produced three half-centuries, including some sublime strokes at Edgbaston and some calm batting under pressure at Lord's. Tim Bresnan won the Man-of-the-Match award at Trent Bridge with an all-round performance that underlined his worth to the team.

Only Jonny Bairstow failed to take the opportunity. While he has not looked out of place in the international environment, he failed to score the runs that might have guaranteed his selection for the series against South Africa. It would be premature to reach conclusions about a 22-year-old with only three completed innings behind him, but the fact is that four of England's top seven made centuries on Test debut and, after three Tests, Bairstow averages 12.66. International sport is brutal and impatient.

Andy Flower offered encouraging words for Bairstow, however. "We should be careful not to judge him too harshly," Flower said. "He's a really good young man. A strong, hungry young cricketer and he has a very high ceiling. None of us know if he'll be a successful international cricketer or not but he's played a couple of limited-overs games already where he's helped win games for England. He's a quick learner. There's a history of good young cricketers coming in getting a taste of international cricket and coming back stronger, even if they've not had a hugely successful start."

England, persistent, disciplined and relentless, may not be the team with the most flair in Test cricket. But they make fewer mistakes than most

There were a couple of other areas of concern for England. The first session of the fourth day at Edgbaston represented, arguably, England's worst session in the field for several years. While it would be unwise to read too much into one session when a tailender played the innings of his life on a pristine batting surface, it does seem fair to conclude that James Anderson and Stuart Broad's positions as first choice bowlers remain unquestioned. Graham Onions, in particular, bowled impressively, but he will, for now, remain reliant on rotation and injury for his opportunities.

"One of the things about missing a couple of your senior players is it makes you realise what role they do play in the side," Strauss said afterwards. "It also allows you to see what role the other guys could play in the side. I think the picture is a lot clearer now.

"We came to this Test with every intention of Broad playing. It was a last-minute thing that he didn't play. Although we didn't play brilliantly, I am very comfortable and happy that we made that decision, because it will serve us well come the South Africa series. Onions and Steven Finn both showed that they are definitely Test quality bowlers."

Perhaps England also missed Paul Collingwood. Maybe that sounds strange - Collingwood has not played Test cricket since the Ashes in early 2011 - and it was not so much for his determined batting or occasional bowling that was missed. But his excellent catching at third slip has not been replaced and, with Ian Bell dropping two chances in the position at Edgbaston, it is an area England must improve before South Africa arrive.

Had England taken their catches on the third day, they may well have wrapped up the West Indies' first innings before stumps that evening. If they drop Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis or AB de Villiers, it could well cost them a Test. Anderson, excellent in all fielding positions, cannot be there all the time as he will often be bowling.

"The catching was disappointing," Strauss admitted. "That's something we need to get better at. The third slip area is one where we need to develop someone to do an all-round job, rather than chopping and changing. We've got a number of guys with great hands in our side. Bell fields at slip for Warwickshire and Alastair Cook has got good hands, but it's about someone getting used to that position and you've got to give them time to do that. That's something we have to work on.

"But I think by and large we are very happy to have won the series. The West Indies have got some dangerous players, but we were able to overcome that challenge and we obviously go into our next Test assignment in good fettle and feeling confident. We are also aware that there are definitely areas in which we need to improve.

"We played enough good cricket in those first two Tests to win reasonably comfortably. This Test was frustrating for all sorts of reasons. Clearly the rain wiping out the first two days doesn't help with the intensity of the cricket and we certainly didn't get everything right when we were out there in the field. There are definitely areas we need to sharpen up on. Obviously we dropped a few catches and you don't want to be in a situation where their No. 11 gets 95 all that often. We're probably aware that we need to improve our standards a bit before that South Africa series starts."

With Strauss not involved in England's limited-overs teams or Middlesex's Friends Life t20 side, he will spend some time in the nets over the coming weeks. As Middlesex only have one first-class game - against Nottinghamshire at Uxbridge from July 11 - there remains the possibility that he will once again be 'loaned' to Somerset for a two-day game against the South Africans at Taunton on July 9 and 10.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on June 14, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    @jango_moh on (June 14 2012, 03:37 AM GMT) I t depends how folk want to interpret it but the stats are that Ind didn't exceed 300 in 8 inns which I'm guessing is unprecedented with that line up , so I would say Eng prob did their homework and worked out where they were more likely to get these guys out. Anyway the point is that just like Eng lost 3-0 in UAE withby and large the same set of players who beat India 4-0 , India lost 4-0 to Eng with pretty much the same set of players which drew 1-1 with SA - and the selectors must have still thought the batsmen were of top standard because 5 out of 6 were picked (just Kohli for Raina) and kept faith with for the whole Aus series. Vs Pakistan . I personally wanted them to change formation to a 5 man bowling attack but they didn't so we have to live with those selectors decisions as there is no evidence to suggest that it would definitely have changed things for the better. Cheers

  • moginraj on June 14, 2012, 3:37 GMT

    @JG2704... partially agree with you there, eng were def better and in great form esp in their own backyard... but i wud beg to disagree that the likes of tendulkar, laxman had their "weakness" exposed on that tour.. and 7/8 months is a long time i think esp when players are close to retirement... another eg is sreesanth who bowled brilliantly in SA, he swung the ball like a banana and at good pace... he just didnt quite show up in eng except for the second match 1st innings... remember, india won the prev series in eng under similar conditions and with pretty good bowlers.... no excuses tho, i hope the new crop does well going forward... cant wait for the SA ENG series tho... shud be a cracker!!!!

  • John on June 13, 2012, 20:16 GMT

    @jango_moh on (June 13 2012, 14:07 PM GMT) Thanks for your response. Could it not be that England actually had a better game plan to face India and had a greater intensity , relentlessness about them compared to SA. With the exception of Zaheer it was the same players who drew with SA 7-8 months earlier. My point is that while India were bad - and I'm not saying India were always bad or a hype job and didn't deserve their ranking - Do England not deserve credit for exposing weaknesses ? Something which SA could not do 7-8 months earlier. They may also have given Aus the blueprint on how to beat India. I know our series in India will be much much tougher BTW. Thanks for your response

  • Alan on June 13, 2012, 18:12 GMT

    Interesting on the slip fielding. many years ago England picked former selector Phil Sharpe essentially for his slip fielding the strogest art of his game. England can't afford dropped catches against the top tier teams and with Anderson toiling away with the ball he is still their best catcher. While young Jonny Bairstow has struggled with the bat he is a top wicket keeper and it is a pity not to capitalize on these skills; should be playing him in the slips which will help him to cement his place in the team. His fielding probably rates right up there with Collingwood. Can't understand why the scribes haven't jumped on this one.

  • david on June 13, 2012, 14:27 GMT

    meety watch out for the splinters. i know cricket can be a to and fro game but you have covered all scenarios in your letter

  • moginraj on June 13, 2012, 14:07 GMT

    @JG2704... agreed... i dont really have an explanation as to why they did so poorly... all i would say is they had been playing well upto and including the SA series, (check india's away record in the last few years prior to SA series, and ull know wat i mean) but once they lost big to eng, the old players lost confidence i guess...

  • Andrew on June 13, 2012, 12:56 GMT

    @yorkshirematt - its not really rubbish, as on paper the Saffas are the better side, (read statistically). Unfortunately (for Saffa fans), there is always the long lasting stigma of choking that is attached to the team. If both sides play their BEST cricket (which as a neutral is all I want to see), I imagine the Saffas are the better side. What I suspect MAY happen though, is something like the 09 Ashes, where the statistically better side during the series lost. What happens in those (annoying for the losers) circumstances is the big moments are won by the victors. That is how I see England winning the series, they will at times get mauled by the Saffas without being knocked out, & then their retribution is swift & total. Under the assumption the Saffas staunch up, I think they'll win, either way, I am looking for a see-sawing tussle, hard fought blood, sweat & tears Test match cricket! Hopefully NO RAIN! (BTW - my comment does read a bit like a Rugby preview!)

  • narsimha on June 13, 2012, 9:49 GMT

    YORKSHIREPUDDING-PL go through my coments again i never said WI WAS IN WINNING POSITION, in cricket there is no ifs & buts nobody can gaurantee that ENG 200 runs behind with the tail they can fight it out to reduce the lead to just to 40-50 as u thought ,

  • Matthew on June 13, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    @cpt.meanster Yes I agree, our cricketers are far better than our footballers in their respective sports. They played like the underdogs they were the other day but were rarely troubled. Our cricketers will play like they are at the very least equal to SA, and they too will not be threatened as much as people say they will be.

  • John on June 13, 2012, 9:09 GMT

    @jango_moh on (June 13 2012, 01:25 AM GMT) I'm just pointing out the facts. Also re deterioration - Eng beat Ind just 7-8 months after the same India side drew in SA. The only Indian player of note missing from the Eng series was Zaheer and the winning margins were so great in that series that he may have closed the gap but the results would have been the same. Obviously India were exceptionally poor and Eng played out of their skins but by and large they beat the same Indian side that SA drew with 7-8 months earlier.

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