The manner in which England sealed their second successive series victory over New Zealand at Trent Bridge was nothing less than emphatic. Sixty-three minutes of clinical cricket condemned their opponents to an innings-and-nine-run loss, removing their last five wickets for 35 runs in 40 balls. All is not quite as rosy in England's garden as the scoreline might suggest, however, and Michael Vaughan sounded a note of hesitation when looking ahead to the South Africa series next month.
"I think the result suggests we still had to get out of a tricky position at 86 for 5. It was a position we would not like to have been in, but the partnership between Kevin Pietersen and Tim Ambrose set us up for a good score," he said. "And of course the partnership between Stuart Broad and James Anderson on the second morning seemed to knock the stuffing out of New Zealand, because we always knew that the ball was going to swing around and our bowlers would've been suited.
"We've won four out of five Tests now and I think in every one of those wins, we've got better and better in each game. And you do start to get better the more you play together. I think what pleases me most is it's not been the same people. Every bowler has stuck his hand up at certain times and every batsman has got us through some tricky positions, whether it was in New Zealand or over here."
Every batsman? Well, not quite. Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood may have played their parts in New Zealand, but they have been the pair most in the firing line and the least profitable of England's top six. Bell scratched 45 runs in four innings in this series; Collingwood 31. As a point of comparison, Ryan Sidebottom reached the lofty heights of 27 while James Anderson swished 31, although 28 of those came in one innings. And yet. Peter Moores, the England coach, together with an assortment of team-mates, continue to believe the pair have a big innings just around the corner.
"They're working as hard as they always do," Vaughan said. "I know it's a saying, but they're hitting it very well in practice. It's very much an individual thing, batting, and each of those guys will know exactly what to do to go out and get that trot. The one-day series which starts later on in the week...sometimes that's a good thing to just get into another form of the game. One quick 50 or 60 could get themselves back into form."
The word hung echoingly. Form - that elusive intangible - has utterly evaded the pair. And, yes, the one-day series - beginning with a Twenty20 against New Zealand on Friday - does indeed offer them a chance to regain confidence. However, the ODIs will also represent a golden opportunity for some of England's younger bucks to stand tall and prove their worth, not least Ravi Bopara, the Essex allrounder in scintillating form for his county this season. It is also expected that Luke Wright, Sussex's bullish batsman, will get a chance in the one-dayers. Bell and Collingwood beware: for all Moores' loyalty, England cannot carry passengers if they are to beat a confident South Africa side with arguably the best fast bowling attack in the world.
This was a series in which England twice collapsed, recovered and dominated. At Old Trafford, Daniel Vettori's five wickets rolled them for a poor 202 to concede a first-innings deficit of 179. Then, New Zealand's confidence got the better of them to allow England back into the game. Likewise here at Trent Bridge, England's middle-order lacked substance to leave them critically exposed at 86 for 5. Only a masterful 115 from Pietersen and gutsy 60s from Ambrose and Broad bailed them out, generously assisted by New Zealand's own lack of self-belief. South Africa will not be so easily overturned.
"I'd like to not get in those positions," Vaughan said, "and you know a sign of a good team is getting out of them. But a sign of a really good team is not getting into them in the first place. That's where we can improve. We're a pretty young side, developing. The likes of Broad haven't played many games and he's showing a lot of maturity - I love the way he bats at No. 8: he actually has the mentality of a batsman. And again they're good signs for the team in the future.
"I guess the win here suggests we've got better as the series has gone along. There are ways to improve and the South Africa series will be the ultimate test to see where we're at as a Test team."
If he's honest, Vaughan will admit that the South Africans have been looming in his mind for quite some time. New Zealand were but a stepping-stone for England, albeit a slippery one which needed careful footing, before they take on the more cumbersome boulder of South Africa in July. Metaphors aside, Vaughan singled out James Anderson as his key bowler in the hunt for his 10th series win as England captain.
"He's very exciting, Jimmy. He's great to have in the team because even when he's inconsistent he gets wickets, and as a captain you always want guys who can take wickets. He seems to have that knack of getting wickets out of nothing. Last night, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Flynn were batting very well and, out of nowhere, he gets McCullum out. He's got this record which suggests he's inconsistent but when he's swinging it, there's not many better around than him."
It is all too easy for laurels to be rested, particular after a series win, and yet the manner in which Vaughan spoke at Trent Bridge implied his eyes have been firmly fixated on the South Africa series for some time. England's summer begins now.