I have to admit to a certain disappointment in England’s victory over New Zealand. While it was a thrilling finish and I was certainly handsomely rewarded for my attention, I was grimly predicting a series without a win.
In a way, much more could have been taken from a tour duck then if we go on to beat New Zealand in the triangular series and loose again and again to Australia. Abject defeat might disturb the torpor which has becalmed the England selection and managment since the Ashes ’05.
The possibility of beating New Zealand with some consistency and finishing second would allow the powers to continue to say that we are actually fine, it is just that Australia are scandalously good at cricket.
I certainly would not have said so. But looking at it, there is some defense in this claim – we did just beat New Zealand who are ranked 3 places ahead of us.
We did also draw with Pakistan in the summer, ranked another three places ahead of them.
Our Test thrashing of Pakistan in August (and the Oval debacle notwithstanding, it was a thrashing) without Flintoff, Vaughan et al showed what we can do to the supposed ‘next best’ after Australia and us.
Some lessons have already been learned from the Ashes. For a start, the selection of Vaughan as Captain has finally shown that Graveny and co, if not Fletcher, have understood that this is a specialist position and one England cannot function without.
It is no coincidence that England won, Flintoff batted like the man of old and even Jimmy Anderson bowled well. These all happened after Vaughan had time to reassert his authority (and take three catches). A similar surge in form happened when Vaughan first took over against South Africa.
In the modern game there is an obsession with the all-rounder.
The endless hunt for a batting keeper to replace Alec Stewart is still going on, and Fletcher feels justified in picking Gilo over Monty for a mythical 10 extra runs.
What England have learned the very, very hard way this winter is that you cannot become a leader, you either are or you are not. Flintoff is not a leader of men. His captaincy was a costly mistake and one that should have been avoided after seeing the ability of Strauss over the summer.
Now that Vaughan is back in the team – and more importantly holding Fletcher’s lead again – we might get a better picture of how good England really are.