England refuse to get carried away
The next time Andrew Strauss dons the whites for England will be when he walks out to toss alongside Ricky Ponting at Cardiff. After England's crushing innings victory today, he was at pains to point out "there is plenty of cricket to be played" before then. But now that there is no more Test action until July, it is hard not to look ahead. On Wednesday morning the Australian selectors name their squad for the Ashes series and, while the chosen few won't fear their challenge, they may just encounter an England side in better shape than could have been expected a few months ago.
Let's make it clear. If England hadn't won this series, a major inquest would have been undertaken. The visitors were woeful and didn't want to be here; their captain couldn't be bothered to turn up until two days before the first Test, and conditions meant some of them barely got their hands out their pockets. Still, England haven't made a habit of registering comfortable wins, even when they should. So victories by 10 wickets and an-innings-and-83-runs are as good a place as any to start.
"The real positive to come out of it was how clinical we were," Strauss said. "We got on top in both Tests, we had to earn the right to, but once we got on top we stayed on top and by and large took our chances. We are in a pretty good place at the moment.
"Guys are enjoying each other's success and we are a pretty close-knit group. I think that always happens when you're winning, so hopefully we can make sure when we meet again for our next Test that we are reminded how close we are now. You just look at the way the guys are practising and training, there's a real hunger to improve and we need to cultivate that and ensure it grows.
"We aren't getting carried away thinking we are the complete article by any means, we still need to keep improving and working hard. There are still areas we need to improve dramatically on if we want to be the best team in the world. But with small steps, we are going in the right direction."
The England side that reached its peak in 2005 had a confidence built over a sustained run of success leading into the series. This latest 2-0 victory is just England's fifth series win since that triumph, coupled with a winter where they lost a captain and coach, but although the opposition were a shadow of the side that won in the Caribbean it was clear to see the positive signs Strauss was talking about.
"Things settled down very quickly after the upheaval which is very encouraging because it means the players are committed to playing for England," he said. "There are no hang ups or ego problems. It shows our priorities are right."
Two weeks ago the vacant No. 3 spot was being questioned more than MPs' expenses, while there were issues over the balance, and experience, of the bowling attack particularly without Andrew Flintoff. Fitness permitting, Flintoff will return for the Ashes, but this series has further increased the gap in the statistic of England winning more matches without him than with him. There is a nagging feeling that he can be an overwhelming presence in the dressing room and it has been noticeable this week how happy the current camp is.
Without Flintoff to fall back on in these two matches, the young attack has made the most of home advantage with emphatic results. The mastery of swing by Jimmy Anderson and the menace from Stuart Broad shows that England's new generation of quicks are maturing into a powerful force. Anderson has become a threat in all conditions, while Broad is able to turn on the aggression that England have wished for from Steve Harmison but so rarely received. Harmison is now laid up with a shin complaint and the door that had been left slightly ajar for a recall is slowly closing.
"In West Indies they both bowled exceptionally well and didn't get what they deserved because the wickets were very flat," Strauss said. "This match they've got more like what they deserved. Jimmy's control with the swinging ball is exceptional and he'll be a threat against anyone when it's swinging, but at the same time when it's flat I think we've learnt a lot from what happened in West Indies and also have a plan B which is encouraging."
The difficulty now for England is maintaining this flicker of momentum. A month of one-day cricket begins on Thursday and after the limited-overs series against West Indies there is the ICC World Twenty20, which also involves a change of captain with Paul Collingwood replacing Strauss.
"The reality is when we step out there in Cardiff it means nothing really," Strauss said. "The only thing from a team point of view is to remember what it's like to win. We haven't done that as much as we'd have liked recently, now we've done it twice in a row. But once we start the Ashes series it's back to square one."
Normally a series win is followed by an on-pitch presentation in front of a celebratory stands. However, on this occasion the Wisden Trophy was returned to English hands after just 69 days in one of the hospitality rooms with a few dozen spectators clapping from the outside. It was hardly Nasser Hussain at The Oval in 2000, or Gayle in Trinidad two months ago.
Such a famous trophy deserved better and it summed up the large feeling of apathy towards this contest. England, though, took it deadly seriously. If they win their next Test series, you can rest assured the celebrations won't be so restrained.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo