England target No. 1 ranking
England's coach, Andy Flower, has praised the ruthlessness of his Ashes-winning cricketers, but warned that their 3-1 series win must not be seen as an end in itself, as the squad prepares to embark on a tough ODI campaign against Australia that will test their readiness for the World Cup in the subcontinent later this year.
Speaking on the morning after England's innings-and-83-run victory in Sydney, Flower said that, while the successful defence of the Ashes in Australia was a special achievement, it would be disrespectful to the challenge posed by other countries to single it out as a crowning glory.
"Our celebrations were good, and well deserved by the players," said Flower. "We had a good time and I think the guys are reflecting on a job well done and a job that they are very proud of. But our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 in the world, and in no way would I demean the Ashes series in saying that. Any series against any international nation is important in its own right, and any Test win is a very proud moment for me and our players. I think it would be disrespectful to view it any differently."
England's itinerary has left them little time to sit on their laurels. Much as was the case in 2009, when the team departed for Belfast shortly after wrapping up victory at The Oval, the squad set off for Canberra on Saturday to prepare for the two Twenty20 internationals that precede the seven-match ODI series. "There's not much rest time," said Flower. "The guys won't be able to bask long in the sunshine. They have to get their training boots on, and get back to work soon."
One man who will not be joining them on that trip, however, is Alastair Cook. England's Test vice-captain is not a member of the one-day set-up, and so he is set to fly back to England on Saturday evening, to reflect on his phenomenal achievement in racking up 766 runs in the five Tests, a tally that has only ever been exceeded by one Englishman in Australia - Wally Hammond, who made 905 runs in 1928-29.
"Cook had a particularly outstanding series," said Flower. "He's a very strong young man, he's displayed that strength in a number of ways through his career, and he's overcome most challenges that have been put in front of him, which is testament to that strength of character. Our players are picked to play international cricket because we believe they are good enough, and crucially they believe they are good enough."
Cook's turnaround in form has been stunning, after he struggled to 100 runs in the first four Tests of the English season before saving his short-term place in the side with a gutsy second-innings century against Pakistan at The Oval.
"Considering that people were calling for his head not so long ago, it is an outstanding riposte," said Flower. "Although that's not why he did it. It was because of the pride he has in his own performance and because he is very proud to play for England. I am very happy for him personally, and we're all thankful that he made those contributions to the team for us."
The team ethic was the defining feature of England's Test campaign, and of their rise and rise in the past 12 months, in which they have not lost a single series or tournament in any form of the game for 15 series and counting. The knock-on effect of such confidence is that the less-experienced members of the team, such as Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett, have been able to slot into the set-up without missing a beat.
"Bresnan and Tremlett stepped into the breach very skillfully I thought, and held themselves well under pressure," said Flower. "It's not easy to do when you don't play a lot of cricket at the start of the series, and you're asked to take over because of injury or form, but they did it very well. It's down to a combination of things. It's a testament to their character and the way they handle pressure, but also a testament to the unity in the side, and the fact that they felt comfortable coming in and didn't feel like outsiders."
The fact that England have forged a squad of international-standard players, rather than just a first eleven as was the case in 2005, augurs well for the challenges that lie ahead, with Flower hinting that changes of position and personnel may come into play when the team reaches the subcontinent in February for the World Cup. But all the while, that aim of No. 1 remains the ultimate focus.
"It's realistic, it's achievable," said Flower. "I don't know if we'll get there or not, but it's certainly what we are aiming for. This result will give the players a lot of confidence, and some of the results they are achieving are building that confidence all the time. Winning the Twenty20 World Cup, playing well in South Africa, and winning two of the last Ashes series are all things that will build the confidence of the side."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.