AS ANDY Flower surveys his team’s winter campaign and ponders the summer ahead, the England coach has every reason to be happy.
The tours to the Middle East, to face Pakistan, and Sri Lanka proved once again how well-equipped the team is in the bowling department. Whoever plays, England possess a terrific attack, and that strength in depth was reinforced by the successful return of Monty Panesar.
The batting, however, proved far more problematic, with the displays in the Emirates in particular really poor from all concerned, against what was effectively a one-man Pakistan attack in Saeed Ajmal.
Encouragingly for Flower, England eventually learned how to cope with slow pitches in time to draw the two-Test series against Sri Lanka and retain their No1 Test team ranking.
It seems they watched Mahela Jayawardene, the hosts’ captain, and his wonderfully controlled batting display in the first Test defeat in Galle, and finally wised up for the decider in Colombo.
Jonathan Trott’s performance in the second Test was a fine tribute to Jayawardene, while openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook tried to adopt the same approach and also made huge improvements.
The batsmen deserve credit for that, however it is vital that they store that knowledge away because they will be playing on very different surfaces back on home soil throughout the summer. If the lesson is to be worth anything at all England’s top order must retain it and apply it when they face similarly slow, spin-friendly conditions in India at the end of the year.
Strauss, meanwhile, has staved off the threat to his position for now, although his role as opener is under greater threat than his captaincy.
Cook would do a perfectly good job if he came in as skipper now, but there are no equally convincing candidates for a slot at the top of the order. Trott is so effective at No3, so you would not want to disturb that winning formula, while Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell fit well in the middle order.
Strauss would be under far less pressure had he not opted out of every other format but Tests, thereby allowing himself more chances to make big scores, so in that sense he has made a rod for his own back.
Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer, captain and chairman of Warwickshire.