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Match Analysis

South African shadow looms large for England

With a series for the top spot in the world coming up, England proved once again how good they are at home

Alastair Cook enjoyed some useful time in the middle, England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day, May 28, 2012

Alastair Cook, along with Andrew Strauss, became only the fifth pair to score over 5,000 runs together in Test cricket  •  Getty Images

Like the film Titanic, there were some twists and turns along the way, but the end result on the fourth day at Trent Bridge was inevitable: West Indies - like the ship - were going down.
This was always going to prove something of a no-win series for England. Victory was expected; defeat would have been viewed as an embarrassment. England remain as the No. 1 ranked Test side, but those who insist they are little more than home-track bullies will go on believing it.
England's record at home really is remarkable, though. This success sealed their seventh successive home series win under Andrew Strauss - a record for any England captain - during which period they have won 16 Tests and lost just two. It was also the first time West Indies had suffered defeat in a first-class game at Trent Bridge. Whatever their issues against spin - and spin in Asian conditions in particular - England are excellent in England.
That may prove just as well. The shadow of South Africa looms over this series with England knowing that far tougher tests lie ahead. It would be disrespectful to dismiss West Indies as little more than a warm-up; disrespectful but not entirely untrue. It may well be that England even use the third Test at Edgbaston to rest a key player or two - James Anderson, who has, in Strauss' words a "quad niggle" is the obvious candidate - and take a look at some fringe candidates. Steven Finn may well win another chance.
Some may complain that such a move is disrespectful to West Indies or to the game. But the England schedule over the next 18 months or so - with a World T20, two Ashes series and demanding series against South Africa at home and India away - is daunting and relentless. Anderson would play every game if he could, but such a gem requires careful handling.
"We will definitely think about that," Strauss said. "We've always viewed resting or rotation as something you do on a case by case basis. We'll speak to the seamers and see how they are feeling. There is a balance to strike because primarily we want to win every Test - that's the starting point - but there is some benefit in taking a look at other bowlers. We want to win the series 3-0."
While England favour continuity of selection they will show no sentimentality towards Jonny Bairstow if they feel he does have a genuine problem against the short ball
While the fallibility of the West Indies top four - a top four that have contributed only 203 runs between them in 16 innings in this series - might suggest otherwise, the pitches at Lord's and Trent Bridge offered the England attack little assistance. There was minimal conventional swing available to bowlers in Nottingham and, with little pace, bounce or seam movement either, England were instead obliged to rely on the old virtues of line, length and pressure.
It is a method they have perfected. They rarely destroy teams with outrageous displays of pace or devastating displays of individual skill. Instead the four bowlers, all of them proficient but none, by the strictest standards, great, share wickets between them. In the field, they besiege teams with pressure. They give them nothing, cutting off their scoring opportunities and preying on their weaknesses and insecurities. They choke and suffocate them. With the bat they wear teams down and, by batting so deep, test the fitness, resolve and skill of their opposition. They are the boa constrictors of the cricket world.
Opponents often chastise themselves for one bad session; in truth they have more often buckled after several sessions of pressure. England may not possess the best individual players in the world but, in these conditions anyway, they may well have the best team.
The series against South Africa will clarify that. England will go into it, at least, in decent shape. On the final day here Strauss and Alastair Cook became just the fifth pair of batsmen in Test history to add over 5,000 runs together, Kevin Pietersen is back to his confident best, they have a batting line-up that contributes down to No. 10 and a reliable, sometimes inspired, bowling unit. Some doubt remains about the identify of the man who will bat at No. 6 against South Africa - while England favour continuity of selection they will show no sentimentality towards Jonny Bairstow if they feel he does have a genuine problem against the short ball - but the other 10 places are all but picked.
"We feel we can beat anybody at home," Strauss said. "We have home advantage, we know the conditions better than the opposition and we think we're a match for any side generally. Test wins are not easily achieved - we have been pushed hard in both these Tests - but it is the right attitude to think we can beat anyone at home."
It is worth reflecting for a moment on the contrasting fortunes of these teams over the last decade or so. Since 2000, the first time England won the Wisden Trophy in the lifetime of these players, England have, with a few blips upon the journey, risen from the bottom to the top of the Test rankings. West Indies have continued their slide in the opposite direction and, since February 2009, they have played 32 Tests, won just two (one of which was against Bangladesh) and lost 16. They have lost six of their last eight Tests.
They could do worse than learning from England. And they could start by looking at the work of Lord MacLaurin - chairman of the ECB between 1997 and 2002 - and the way in which he instilled the game in England and Wales with a common purpose.
The greatest achievement of the ECB in those years was to convince all parties - the counties, the players, the media and the supporters - that the No. 1 priority was the success of the national team. Everything else - the central contracts, the investment in the national team, the investment in age group cricket and in local academies and the improvements in the domestic game - all came from that principal. While Caribbean cricket remains choked by ego, petty grievances, personal agendas, appalling management and individual aspirations, the West Indies team is trying to climb with an anvil tied to its back. They deserve so much better.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo