Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, says the current squad needs to be mentally tougher if they want to improve in the Test arena.
"I believe England have the raw materials to build another very strong side," Hussain wrote in the Wisden Cricketer. "The area of concern for me is mental; they need toughening up."
Hussain targeted the soft approach of the batsmen for their failure to score runs. "There is a softness about some of the batsmen that is preventing them delivering the big runs," he said. During England's recent series loss in Sri Lanka, only once did a batsman go past 100. "There is a sense that being England players is enough. They feel comfortable in the side and think they have fulfilled their potential.
"When Kevin Pietersen first arrived there was no doubt that he split the dressing room. Some liked him, others did not. But he is involved in a single-minded quest to be No. 1. People like him get called selfish but we need more of that sort of attitude," he said.
Hussain criticised England's policy of players constantly leaving the field. "I want to see England tougher in the field as well. They need consistency in personnel and that includes fielding positions," he said. "By that I mean that players should stay on the field at all times, not pop off for a break any time they feel like it."
"I know this makes me sound a bit fogeyish and I know it wound up Ricky Ponting during the 2005 Ashes but I think the constant to-ing and fro-ing of players is bad. First, it causes the captain a headache with fielding positions and secondly it exhibits a mental softness that is bad for the team. If you cannot stay on the field for two hours during a fielding session, what chance have you got of batting for seven hours?"
Hussain looks at the upcoming series against New Zealand as a preparation for the Ashes in 2009, but feels the team miss the all-round abilities of Andrew Flintoff.
"Back-to-back Test series against a weak New Zealand side give them a chance to get back to winning ways and build for the Ashes in 2009. The batting is full of potential. The bowling could do with a bit more variety, which is why Andrew Flintoff is such a massive player for England, despite all the problems.
"He is a bowling allrounder now and is a great catcher at slip. He also inspires Pietersen to play better because there is a rivalry between the two. If Flintoff comes back and starts performing, then I think you will see Pietersen raise his game, which has to be great news for England."