Flower keen to pass on lessons
Andy Flower, the England team director, is keen to ensure lessons are learned on the team's recent overseas tours are not limited to the senior squad and get passed down the chain to younger players. Flower was boosted by the strides made by the batsmen in Sri Lanka as they fought back to level the series with a convincing eight-wicket win in Colombo following the whitewash against Pakistan in the UAE.
The success was set up by Kevin Pietersen's barnstorming 151 but Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss all played important innings. But the revival was started by Trott in the second innings in Galle when his 112, although not able to prevent defeat, showed how batsmen can succeed by playing to their strengths.
England's other representative sides - the Lions and Under-19 team - also toured Asia over the last six months with mixed results. The Lions lost in Bangladesh but won in Sri Lanka, while the Under-19s were beaten 5-2 in a one-day series in Bangladesh. Flower wants all levels of the professional game to work together to improve England's cricket in these conditions.
"It is our job, not only to embed all those lessons but also to continue building on want we've learnt," Flower said. "We also need to pass on those lessons to younger English cricketers so that when they are playing international cricket they don't make the same mistakes as ours did this winter. I think that's quite important.
"It has been a tough winter but our focus has never wavered, our determination has never wavered and I think you would probably have see that best in the field. I think that was a good indication of where the group was. Yes it's been tough but it's brilliant to come back and level the series. It's a real pity that it's not a three-Test series - both Tests were excellent matches played on good pitches."
England almost left it too late to put in a complete batting performance and while Flower acknowledged it was a lengthy phase of trial and error, the end result has left him very hopeful of what can be achieved in the future.
"We all want instant results but the world doesn't work as easily as that but I do think it's exciting watching excellent cricketers still have the capacity to learn and improve themselves," he said. "I think good sides and good players have that capacity and are humble enough to open themselves up to new learning experiences. And I think we did see evidence of our guys learning in the second dig in Galle and out here."
Eoin Morgan was the one batsman to pay with his place after the Pakistan series and there will be focus on Ian Bell and Strauss when England resume action against West Indies in May. Bell has had a poor few months with just one half-century, in the first innings in Galle, to show as reward and his dismissal in Colombo - pulling a long hop to midwicket - was an inglorious way to finish.
Strauss, meanwhile, struck an important 61 to lay the foundation alongside Cook in Colombo but has now one Test hundred in 50 innings. From within the team there remains no doubt over his position - something reiterated by Flower - yet he could still do with a productive summer against West Indies and South Africa. Bell, too, will not be dropped although will need to convince the selectors that he has the game to succeed in India next winter with Flower insisting no one is immune to scrutiny.
Heading into the home season, No. 6 is the likely spot up for grabs if England revert to their regular balance of six batsmen, a keeper, three quicks and a spinner. Ravi Bopara was the spare batsman on the two recent tours after picking up a side strain in Sri Lanka being overlooked for Samit Patel.
"Not one player owns a position in the batting order," Flower said. "There's competition for all places. Of course some are more secure than others but I don't want to comment who'll bat at six against the West Indies as I need to talk to the selectors. We'll be having a selection meeting later this month and that's when we'll be discussing it in greater detail."
Neither would Flower be drawn on whether he thought the top six that played in Sri Lanka was the ideal combination for India at the end of the year. "I think it's a little early to say that this batting unit will be there at the end of the year, we don't know how things are going to pan out," he said. "Yes, this batting unit is good enough to score heavy runs in India but part of our job is to ensure it isn't a closed shop and if there are other players in England, we want them pushing the top seven here, constantly. That will drive our standards upwards."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo