England v West Indies, 2nd npower Test, Chester-le-Street, 4th day May 17, 2009

The value of the hard yards

Sometimes runs and wickets can come a little too easily. It has been the occasional passages of play that have pushed England which have had the most value

This series has been billed as key to England's Ashes build-up, but the ease with which the home side demolished West Indies at Lord's and cantered to a huge first-innings total here made it clear that this was far from the test that would be faced when the Australians arrive. Sometimes runs and wickets can come a little too easily. It has been the occasional passages of play that have pushed England which have had the most value.

As pleasing as it is to see batsman after batsman edging to slip, or half-volley after half-volley being crashed to the boundary there won't be many gift-wrapped offerings in a few weeks' time. With that in mind the sterner resistance from West Indies on the third day at Chester-le-Street should be seen as a welcome challenge. Success should always feel more rewarding when it is worked for.

"The wicket's still good. To pick up 10 wickets is a great effort by the bowling and fielding unit," said Stuart Broad, who played a key part with an aggressive spell towards Ramnaresh Sarwan. "There's a lot of hard work to do with seven wickets left and how easy it is to score quite quickly. It's still a pitch you need to stay patient on, but it's certainly within our sights and we've got to be ruthless to take it."

It is true that in 2005 England began their summer with two of the most facile victories imaginable against Bangladesh - they almost won in two days on this ground - but the situation back then was very different. They were a winning unit that had done the hard yards over the previous eighteen months with an away win in West Indies, a string of home successes and, most notably, victory in South Africa. They didn't need to be tested, they just needed fine-tuning.

Andrew Strauss's side are not in such a confident position after the most difficult of winters and precious little significant success since 2005. Victories are important for them to build form and confidence, but being handed them on a silver platter - however pleasing it feels in the immediate aftermath - won't have huge benefits down the line.

Strauss needs to know how Broad and James Anderson will respond when the pitch goes flat, how Graham Onions follows up from a dream debut and how Graeme Swann responds to different levels of pressure. Strauss, himself, also needs to be made to work, think about bowling changes and stretch his captaincy skills.

"Fidel ups it about seven or eight miles per hour when Jimmy comes in so I don't think those two will send each other Christmas cards. It's not nice to see one of your other bowlers getting bombed so it was nice to give a couple back."
Stuart Broad on the Anderson-Edwards rivalry

There aren't many tougher batsmen to bowl at in world cricket than Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul or a free-flowing Chris Gayle. Double failures such as they suffered at Lord's don't come along very often and Australia's middle order won't provide any easy pickings, either. So the fact that England had to work for the key wickets was time well spent.

Anderson tested them with swing, but it was the hostility of Broad that stood out. His dismissal of Chanderpaul showed mature thinking as he switched to around the wicket. However, the peppering he gave Sarwan was even more impressive. "With Chanderpaul round the wicket I found throughout the winter that I managed to tie him up a little," Broad said. "When the ball's not swinging it's a plan to mix up a few things.

"When Sarwan got into the 90s he was playing really well and it was quite hard to unsettle him, so Straussy and I had a chat and he said play a bit of bouncer warfare with him. We thought he might want to get his hundred quickly and play a few shots. He got his hundred, but luckily enough the ball just kissed off and bounced a little more."

Sarwan was full of praise for how the England attack used home advantage. "They have worked well in terms of a unit," he said. "The attack seems well balanced at the moment. Jimmy Anderson especially bowled in really good areas and always seemed like he would get a wicket. He was outstanding, not only here but in the Caribbean as well."

The strength and depth of England's pace unit will be a vital part of the Ashes contest. The odds of them remaining injury-free as they did for four of the 2005 Tests is slim, but suddenly there are some options emerging. Andrew Flintoff's fitness, as always, will be monitored in minute detail, but Ryan Sidebottom is determined to show he isn't a busted flush and now there's Onions as well.

"As a bowling unit we are delighted with our day's work," Broad said. "We've bowled in partnerships together and shared the wickets out. Jimmy's five-for was fantastic but I thought the boys supported him really."

When Edwards walked in with the second new ball primed, Broad and Anderson teamed up against the West Indies quick to give him a taste of his own medicine with Broad clanging one straight on Edwards' grille. The fielders backed them up with plenty of chirping after yesterday's latest instalment of the Anderson verses Edwards show. It was a little reminiscent of how England formed a pack mentality four years ago, which was started by Matthew Hayden's confrontation with Simon Jones at Edgbaston.

"Fidel ups it about seven or eight miles per hour when Jimmy comes in so I don't think those two will send each other Christmas cards," Broad said. "It's not nice to see one of your other bowlers getting bombed so it was nice to give a couple back.

"It was certainly a plan to be aggressive towards their tail. We have tried to do that throughout the series. It was difficult in West Indies because the wickets were so slow, but certainly at Lord's last week I tried execute that on the last day. I got a couple right, but it was more pleasing when he nicked one to slip."

This series should be secured 2-0, weather permitting, at some point on the final day but, while the players might not agree, it would be perfect if the victory wasn't handed to them on a plate. It's these tough, hard-won mini-battles that will serve England well because the team they'll face in July never give up something for nothing.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo