As England head into the victory lap of the Fourth Test at the Oval, the last of their four before the Ashes, the injury list longer than the litany of saints finally shows signs of abating. Jones and Gilo are still down and most likely out, and Vaughan’s captaincy is becoming more the role of Queen than Prime Minister, but Flintoff is on course.
Added to this is the crocked back of Jimbo Anderson and the myriad of cannon fodder to be improved enough to be included in the 30 man ICC trophy squad.
Australia on the other hand, have 27 rangy ex-cons heading into the wilderness of the Outback for a few days of locusts, knife-fighting, cannibalism and inter-racial homoeroticism. Many; Warne and Langer among them, have been keeping sharp in the County game without the mental fatigue or punishing schedule of a full blown test tour.
All 27 are passed fit now, chances are, if Buchannon doesn’t get them to kill each other, they will be more so when they are done.
Then a week’s holiday on the beach followed by some match practice in India. In short, they will be in fighting trim for November.
England on the other hand, have not really paused for breath since the Ashes. But, After four series, I am beginning to get the impression that England have hit their stride. The Ozzies seem to be gearing up for a hard sprint, England are halfway through a marathon and finding their rhythm.
One may prove to be better then t’other, but I don’t know which it is yet.
What England have done is start to find the flexibility and depth you need to be the top country. Australia have 27 centrally contracted players and they use them all. England contract only the First XI, and the reliance on the mighty few has taken its toll. But now, the punishing schedual has blooded and raised Monty and friends and England have what they need (recoveries permitting): a full squad of international caliber cricketers to take down south.
Come November, the young guns of Cook, Monty, Bell and co. can all look Shane Warne in the eye and ask where all the pies went.