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Pressure player: Paul Collingwood was a forerunner of the current crop of ice-cool Englishmen

The big stage has not traditionally been trod with much comfort by English sportsmen. Habitual under-performance in pressure situations has imbued certain events (like penalties against the Germans) with a gut-wrenching inevitability, the all too certain knowledge that sooner or later someone will choke. Until recently limited overs cricket was an exemplary arena in which to prove this phenomenon. England played the shorter forms hamstrung by fear, and the opposition knew that they were only ever two or three dot balls away from a wild swipe or an incompetent attempt at a nurdle. The most famous example is of course Mike Gatting’s reverse sweep in the World Cup Final, but the history of English cricket is littered with such clumsy naivety and even the coming of T20 seemed to have brought no improvement, despite England’s invention of the format.

Now, however, the whole picture has changed. England, under the dour but reassuring guidance of Andy Flower, have developed a squad and a method which excels precisely when they were formerly weakest; when the pressure is on. The recent World T20 victory is a testament to this. Every time England seemed in danger of conceding ground somebody stepped up with a vital wicket or some useful runs, and their performances improved with the size of the occasion, resulting in an absolute hammering of Australia in the final. The two recent ODIs against Australia, too, have seen an England side which can turn on the gas whenever it is required. In the first game, when England had subsided to 90 odd for 4, Eoin Morgan and (the unlikeliest of consolidators) Luke Wright combined to produce a steadying partnership which nonetheless came at a healthy strike rate. In the second, when Shane Watson threatened to take the game away from England, the newly beefed-up Stuart Broad produced a match altering spell of 4 for 44, an analysis which reined in the Australians and meant that the batsmen merely had to accumulate sensibly for the team to stroll to a comfortable victory. Where can this steely aplomb can have come from, and how has Andy Flower managed to produce it in just over a year, after the horrendous, embarrassing debacle in the West Indies.

The signs were there in last year’s Ashes. Though England were consistently the poorer side throughout the series, they played the crucial sessions much better than the Australians. The final day at Cardiff, the first session at Lords, James Anderson’s spell at Edgbaston and Stuart Broad’s at Headingley; all these moments spoke of a squad with a greater than usual inner resolution, an internal strength which could be drawn on when they really needed it. Abject performances at Cardiff and Headingley did not bother them, did not shake their fundamental self-belief. This says much about the characters of the players themselves, but it says more about the role of the coach and captain and their ability to turn negatives into positives, triumph into disaster. Flower and Strauss had managed to produce an ethos which was tough on ill-discipline and bad performance while nonetheless bolstering the sometimes fragile confidence of a talented group of players. Pietersen, Anderson, Broad and Bell all required subtle and different personal approaches in order to get the best out of them, but it was provided with great skill by the two Andys and their reward was reclaiming the urn.

Personnel, too, has made a difference. Inspired selections like Eoin Morgan, Graeme Swann and Craig Kieswetter have all repaid the faith put in them many times over. Perhaps more valuable, however, have been the more surprising stars, hard-working county players who Flower and Strauss have selected for their mettle as much as their magic. Jonathan Trott, Tim Bresnan, Michael Lumb and Michael Yardy have all shown grit, determination when given their chance, a timely reminder that talent is but one of many virtues which help to win games of cricket.

The future, therefore, looks bright. England have an enviable mix of youth, experience and real class, and a sensible trio at the helm of their three sides. Alastair Cook is learning the captaincy all the time, and with Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, Ajmal Shahzad, Adil Rashid and Tim Bresnan all under the age of 25 they have a superbly talented batch of young bowlers who are equipped to play in all forms of the game. Four of them can also bat, another strength of the Flower selection manual and something which will be vital in Australia this winter. As for that series, it will be an exceptionally difficult test, even for this excellent group. The Aussies are still a high class unit, with several excellent batsmen, one of the best keeping all-rounders in world cricket, and a battery of fast men who are a completely different proposition on home soil. The result, however, will still turn on the crucial matter of who can play the pressure points better, and if England can keep playing as they are at the moment they’ll certainly be in with a fighting chance.

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The West Indies - down, but hopefully not out.

West Indies 163 run defeat to South Africa in the recent Test match in Trinidad must rate as somewhere near their nadir. The side once famed for batting flair and searing pace was completely outclassed in all but the spin bowling department (an irony which was painfully illustrated by Dale Steyn’s vicious performance with the ball), and looked completely bereft of any coherent answers to their manifold problems, either in the field or at the crease. Their woeful first innings of 102 all out was the low point, and it leaves a once proud team asking themselves ‘where do we go from here?’

That question is the one to which the newest incarnation of the Pakistan cricket team must find an answer in the coming weeks and months. The farcical tour to Australia, which resulted in bans for Mohammed Yousuf, Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan has been wiped clean from the memory banks and the disciplinary slate, and a new team of old heads are ready to take on Sri Lanka tomorrow in the first game of the Asia Cup. There follows a Test series against the Australians who drubbed them in the winter, and then another against England, a side to whom they lost 3-0 the last time they played them away from home. Neither will be easy assignments and any significant wins would be a  miraculous achievement, but then Pakistan are nothing if not unpredictable. They have the Rawalpindi Express back in their ranks, and any team with Shoaib Akhtar in their side is only a fiery burst away from being in the game. The key, however, will be team cohesion, and only if they eliminate the self-destructions (fixed or otherwise) which plagued them in Australia, can they hope to challenge two sides who are desperately keen to cement their progress in recent months.

Like a messy celebrity divorce, it is hard to know who to feel more embarrassed for. The Windies have drastically imploded after a period of complete dominance: these things happen. Teams often struggle to cope with the loss of a golden generation, and the West Indies’ slide into mediocrity in the 90s was a predictable epilogue to the grand legends of the 70s and 80s. More worrying has been the complete lack of infrastructure, dignity, passion and technical ability on display in their recent performances. They are no longer a team weighed down by the burden of expectation, they are now a team woefully ill-equipped to deal with the standards of modern cricket. To make things worse, their talisman player and captain openly flaunts his disdain for Test cricket, and players and boards quibble over sponsorship deals, leading to the fielding of third elevens, and the loss of a Test series against Bangladesh. ‘No worse, there is none’ should be the outraged cry from the streets of Kingston and Bridgetown, but people seem apathetic about the modern slump, and go gooey-eyed over T20 and American basketball instead.

Passion isn’t lacking in Pakistan. There a different player or board member is throwing a tantrum with every new dawn. Bookmakers wander cheerfully in and out of team hotels, leaving trails of foaming, empty outrage behind them and players bicker bitterly, retire, and then grandly announce their return to the international scene to the hysterical delight of their adoring, effigy burning fans. Here, the problem seems more about channelling the passion (and finding a decent captain) in order to get the most out of their stables, bursting as they are with raw, exciting young talent. But instead of grooming young talent in a learning environment they throw them into Australian tours and make them have rows with the coach about why their butterfingers brother is not playing. And then they re-select Shoaib . . .

All in all, the situation of these two is dire. Both require a drastic management overhaul and comprehensive financial restructuring before you even think about the cricket, and even then the residual old guard of villains and troublemakers will be hard to shift. It’s incredible what can happen in sport, though (as Zimbabwe’s emergence is proving), and both teams have the ability, still, to compete at cricket’s highest level. Let’s hope, therefore, that in the next few months, one of them can get their act together and pull off a famous win. Cricket is the lifeblood of these two nations; let’s see it flowing strongly through their veins once again.

As the first day of the 1st Test between England and Bangladesh drew to a close, the heartwarming television pictures of Jonathan Trott striding happily off the Lord’s field hid an underlying feeling of disappointment; the lingering and bitter taste of anti-climax was on the tip of every tongue.

The first day of an English summer at Lord’s rightly generates a certain unique excitement in the breast of the British cricket fan. Picturesque surroundings, seaming conditions and (usually) the dearth of cricket in the previous months all combine to create a sense of anticipation which is unlike the average preamble to a Test match. Today, however, the buzz was noticeably absent, and the murmurings were more than likely coming from the members’ stand, where disgruntled patrons complained about the devaluing of Test cricket.

It’s not that Bangladesh aren’t capable of being a Test side; on the contrary their team is packed with outstanding cricketers. It’s rather that their development is stunted by too much one-day cricket (a problem for all the sub-continent sides), dreadful pitches at home and the absence of any kind of development plan to help them improve. All this means that, when faced with conditions abroad, they are woefully ill-equipped to deal with swing, bounce and seam. Neither do they have any bowlers who can produce these key ingredients of good fast bowling. How they can be expected to challenge anyone is beyond comprehension.

The problem with this inability to compete is that it drags down the standard of Test cricket. The England batsmen today looked as though they were netting, and though Kevin Pietersen’s loose dismissal is sure to be seized up0n by the more capricious cricket writers, the harsh reality is that it meant nothing at all. The only importance of this game for English players is in proving a point to the selectors. Thus Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn will all be keen to perform well at Lords. But any cementing of spots in this game will actually be a negative for England, as all these games prove is that players can perform against a team barely worthy of the label ‘first-class’. Hardly a glowing tribute . . .

All of this means that the ICC must take a stronger interest in both Bangladesh’s development and the scheduling of Test matches. Consecutive series against Bangladesh must not be allowed (they kill off interest in Test cricket) and they should be slotted in before or after a marquee contest to allow for squad rotation and to make sure they don’t detract from the public’s enjoyment. Meanwhile, the development of Bangladesh’s domestic cricket (including their facilities) should be subject to annual reviews, to ensure that they are improving at the requisite rate. ICC finances are a good enough carrot with which to coerce a more balanced view on, for instance, pitch preparation, and if this doesn’t work, the loss of Test match status is a big enough stick. It is in everybody’s interests for Bangladesh to improve, but in nobody’s for them to remain as poor as they are.

Andy Flower holds aloft the trophy which he helped England to win.

The position of England coach has always been something of a poisoned chalice. With grouchy selectors and wilful captains to deal with and the notoriously fickle English media ever ready to make the most of any slip-ups, an English coach must be both firm and flexible, and know when is the right time for either approach. David Lloyd’s famous ‘we flippin’ murdered ’em’ outburst was a classic example of how not to do it, whereas Andy Flower’s ‘let’s not get ahead of ourselves’ speech this week was a brilliant example of using the right line at the right time.

Flower took charge at a time when it looked as though the position itself might be at risk. The Moores Pietersen affair had left such a bitter taste in the collective mouth of English cricket that people wondered what the need was for a coach, particularly if he was prone to being an interfering busybody. This situation was not only the culmination of Moores’ own brand of meddling incompetence; it was also a reaction to the legacy left by Duncan Fletcher’s invasive coaching methods (think central contracts for all, Ashley Giles and Geraint Jones’s selection for the 06/07 Ashes etc.). Much of Fletcher’s work was outstanding, and it changed English cricket forever, but the his resultant omnipotence, and later that of Moores, became a major problem for players, selectors and supporters alike. When the ivory tower finally came crashing down, it was blackened and rotten inside.

Out of the carnage which ensued, Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have somehow built an England side who have won an Ashes series, drawn away in South Africa and won their first ever ICC trophy in the space of only 11 months. Strauss’s part in this phenomenal achievement has been significant, and he can be deservedly proud of the team which he captains with such impeccable cool. The role played by Flower, however, has been the more impressive. Strauss’s absence for the past several months has proven that Flower has a comprehensive plan for English cricket which he can implement with whichever captain is present at the time. Tim Bresnan, for instance, a surprising and not immediately impressive selection, has been persisted with under all three captains with which Flower has worked, and has improved enormously in all three forms of the game. Under Flower Graeme Swann has flourished beyond all expectations, and Eoin Morgan has become a world class one-day cricketer, capable of turning any game England’s way. The rest of the squad, empowered by consistency of selection, high standards, hard practice and a focus on the responsibility of the individual within the team, have also flourished, and a year such as the one which has just finished must rank among the best in the history of English cricket.

What, then, has Flower got so right? He has refused, importantly, to be held hostage by his affiliation to any group, individual or policy which might compromise his leadership. Eschewing the maverick selections of Duncan Fletcher and the new age buzzwords of Peter Moores, Flower’s only guides have been form, fitness, discipline and talent. Dispelling the aura of cosiness which surrounded the English batsmen was a key task in the early part of Flower’s regime, and he immediately responded by dropping Ian Bell from the side after the Jamaica debacle. For the remainder of that tour, Bell ran up and down beaches until he was blue in the face, thereby not only improving his fitness but also proving to his teammates that he had the gumption to do literal hard yards in order to get back in the team. His eventual replacement, Ravi Bopara, was rewarded for outstanding performances in the Caribbean and at home with an extended run in the side during the Ashes, but when his unfitness for the no. 3 position became clear Flower axed him ruthlessly from the team. When deciding who to call up in his stead, for the vital final test, Flower paid no attention to nostalgia or patriotism (which called for Mark Ramprakash or any other Englishman respectively) and called up the next cab off the rank, Jonathan Trott, who promptly scored a second innings hundred (to add to Ian Bell’s dogged first innings 72) to effectively win England the game and the series. Such decisions look simple only in hindsight, and they require a completely logical approach to selection which eschews sentiment, romanticism and patriotism, and prioritises only the interests of the team.

Several other tough decisions have come and gone, all successful. Craig Kieswetter was preferred to Matt Prior, Michael Lumb beat Bopara to the opener’s slot and (most shocking of all) James Anderson found himself squeezed out of the World T20 team by Ryan Sidebottom. This last change was a typically clinical one. Flower felt that the team needed a left armer, and so he got rid of the worst T20 cricketer in the bowling unit. That this happened to be the attack leader in all forms of cricket was irrelevant. He couldn’t bat and he was inconsistent. Anderson was out.

Ruthlessness, however, is only an asset when it is allied to a generally supportive and progressive team environment. If the sword of Damocles hung constantly over each member of the dressing room the team would be able to achieve little. Players like Bresnan are evidence of the fact that consistent improvement is the currency which Flower values most highly, and it is this policy which has helped England grow so much as a team. Nor is Flower prone to dropping a player unreasonably swiftly. Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook have both been given time to find form over the last year, and Pietersen in particular has benefited hugely. The common factor here, however, is that both spent long periods in the nets, with Graham Gooch and Flower himself, working their way slowly back into form. If Flower had made a speech at the start of his tenure, his three priorities would have been ‘Dedication. Dedication. Dedication.’ On that evidence, it may be a while before we see Samit Patel wearing England colours again.

All this means that England stand in excellent stead going into what is another difficult year. Their ethos of hard work will have to sustain them through a lack-lustre summer against Bangladesh and the shambolic Pakistan before they head down under for the ultimate test. Flower’s presence in the background, however, should ensure that it will, and that the sweating will be as productive as possible. This is the real benefit of having a coach, the constant presence of an overseer who can maintain the ethic and direction of a side without being compromised by either his performance on the field or his relationships within the team. So many coaches fall foul of this remit that one forgets that it is the way they should work. Flower has had it etched upon his skull; long may his success continue.

 

Dirk Nannes: Seriously Rapid.

So it’s all come down to this. The two form teams of the tournament meet tomorrow in Bridgetown for a duel in the sun, Twenty20 style. One team is notorious for having three of the fastest men in the West (or anywhere else for that matter), and the other has finally ridden into town, after many years in the desert, looking like it means business. As always in quickfire shootouts like this, the result is difficult to predict, but it ought at least to be one hell of a show.

Teams:

It would be a major surprise if either team made any changes at this late stage. For England, Ryan Sidebottom  has been the most controversial selection, and if the group-stage rain permutations had gone against England then the head-scratching over James Anderson’s absence might have turned into finger-pointing. But they didn’t, and Sidebotton has settled into the side, producing an absolute pearler to dismiss Jayasuriya in the semis. His behaviour towards his team mates is still a major concern, especially given the general excellence of England’s fielding, but one hopes that Andy Flower will address that wider issue soon enough anyway. The rest of  the side looks superbly balanced, with a rejuvenated Kevin Pietersen slotting in perfectly as the axis of the batting at number 3 and Yardy and Swann doing a fantastic job in the middle overs. The Australians didn’t fancy Swann too much in the summer, and the middle over squeeze could be a turning point in the match.

Australia, meanwhile, come into the final off the back of one of the most sensational victories ever in T20, and would be madder than a box of frogs to make any changes in their line-up. That said, their bowling was tanned to the tune of 191 in Gros Islet, and their top order more or less failed before the whole show was rescued by Mike Hussey. Importantly, the Australian line-up is packed with hitters, and they won’t die wondering even in the pressure-cooker environment of an international final. One of tomorrow’s most interesting contests will be between the Australian top order and the English quicks, who have predominantly opted to bang it in on the bouncy, faster pitches in Barbados. If the Aussies (and particularly Shane Watson, a magnificent puller) can latch onto that shorter length, then England could be in trouble. A couple of skied pulls later, however, and it might all be down to Mr Cricket once again!

Predictions:

Impossible to call. Australia have the more intimidating line-up, yet they were pushed to the edge by Pakistan. England are a coming team, and they have all the bases covered in a way which Australia don’t. Both teams have a real chance of winning, and the game will probably turn on who wins the first innings. England have been brilliant, from the Super 8s onnwards, at hammering home any advantage they get. If they bat well, the seamers will look to take wickets and the spinners to strangle. If they restrict Australia to 150 or below, the openers will give the Aussie quicks the charge and leave it to Morgan, Wright and Bresnan (yes, Bresnan) to see England home. With Australia, any dominance will be even starker, and a first innings demolition job from Nannes, Tait and Johnson is what England will most fear.

Result: England to squeak home via some Eoin Morgan brilliance, prompting Mitchell Johnson to make a disparaging comment about Morgan’s ethnic validity to an adoring Channel 9 audience . . .

Bowler of the Match: Kevin Pietersen doesn’t like left armers, and Dirk Nannes is one of the quickest. If he turns it on, he could make KP look a bit silly.

Batsman of the Match: Steven Smith has provided Australia with useful middle order control, but his type of bowling is just the sort which Eoin Morgan likes to dispatch over point with a sweetly timed reverse hit, before going on to seal the game with an over to spare.

Spectator of the Match: England have batted superbly in this tournament, but Paul Collingwood has mostly watched from the balcony, and with Australia’s pace attack in searing form he looks unlikely to spring into life in this one.

Kevin Pietersen's arrogance helped him to a sublime 73 not out.

It had to happen some time. After an outstanding IPL, Kevin Pietersen had only managed a couple of tame strangles on the leg side boundary in this tournament, and was beginning to be outshone by the outstanding Eoin Morgan. Pakistan had selected Mohammed Asif, a notorious tormentor of Pietersen, and the pressure was on England to produce a first victory of the campaign, but KP shook off some early nerves to produce a performance filled with the kind of effortless panache which has made him England’s best one day cricketer since he debuted in 2004.

England’s bowlers had done well for the majority of Pakistan’s innings, but had let things go a little in the final over to allow them to creep up to 147. That surge of momentum should have worked for Pakistan, but Saeed Ajmal’s catching proved so woeful that they were unable to take a wicket until the sixth over, by which time the score was already 44. In strode Pietersen, usually a heartwarming sight for English supporters, who proceeded to spoon a caught-and-bowled chance back to Razzaq which he somehow managed to drop. Kieswetter went with the score on 65, and England began to look somewhat wobbly, but then Pietersen kicked into gear and a tricky chase turned into a walk in the park.

The work which he has done on his backlift and his positioning down the wicket appears to have helped Pietersen enormously, and it was the fluency of his driving which really impressed today. On this form he is impossible to bowl at; able to move at the ball and work his hands in order to score on both sides of the wicket at will. He also has an invaluable presence which allows his team-mates to sidle along unnoticed while he dominates the limelight. This, more than runs or hours batted, is Pietersen’s real value to England. Take the match saving partnership with Jonathan Trott in the first Test in South Africa this winter. Before Pietersen arrived at the wicket, Trott looked as though he was playing by sense of smell, wafting at the ball erratically with no idea of either line or length. As soon as Pietersen began to impose himself Trott suddenly relaxed and, as with this game, a difficult saving job became (even considering a ridiculous late order collapse) a relatively simple task.

If Pietersen has to leave the Caribbean to attend the birth of his child, then Ravi Bopara will step into his shoes. Bopara has his detractors in cricket, but his great value in this situation is as a Pietersen clone. He too has swagger and arrogance to match the best, and he too enjoys taking the limelight, an invaluable asset (one that cannot be coached) which allows other players to over-perform. In England we like our players meek, unassuming and polite, more happy to congratulate the bowler on a lively leg-cutter than to insult his mother. With Pietersen and Bopara, however, England must find a way to integrate the egos into the team. Andy Flower is known for his dislike of selfishness, generally an excellent principle by which to abide, but the test of his tenure as coach may be whether he can use, rather than obliterate, the swagger which, if it’s on your side, can be a game winning asset. Shane Warne doesn’t like Bopara (it’s a free country, after all) but he ought to recognise a good deal of his own attitude in the young Essex Boy. Let’s only hope he becomes half as good a cricketer!

Paul Collingwood will hope to be England's captain fantastic.

And so it begins. England have played their warm-ups, watched their two adversaries clash in the first group game, contemplated the presence of Ottis Gibson in the opposing dressing room and speculated over the potential absence of Kevin Pietersen, but now, finally, it’s time for their campaign to begin in earnest. Their lead up to the tournament means that they must be confident of performing well, and England should see themselves as major contenders for this tournament, but T20 is a lottery, and if you throw the West Indies into the mix then anything could happen.

Teams:

The England side for today’s game is virtually nailed down. Broad, Anderson and Bresnan will start, the middle order picks itself, as do Yardy and Swann as the spinning options, and Luke Wright’s presence as a firebrand in the lower order and a backup seamer has often proved invaluable, meaning he too is inked in. Then come the openers. Here the case for selection should be a difficult one. Kieswetter’s emergence as a true replacement for the outstanding Marcus Trescothick means he is a cert, but then comes the choice between Bopara and Michael Lumb. Despite the poorness of his team, Bopara had an impressive IPL, and is one of the few Englishmen who have ever looked entirely at home scoring at over a run a ball. He has scored runs on slow tracks in India, belted a 200 in a domestic 45 over game in England and has performed well whenever international limited-overs opportunities have come his way. These qualifications should win him the slot over the experienced but less talented Lumb. One of the tricks of the Flower-Strauss selection strategy, however, is to leak the team news slowly so that everyone knows what the team will be before it is announced. The brilliance of this is that it tends to reduce the brutality of being dropped, and allows the selected player to feel that the coach and captain have made a firm statement of support which they are prepared to stand behind. Lumb is the current beneficiary of this support, and he will almost certainly play this afternoon. The team, therefore, looks as follows . . .

1. Lumb 2. Kieswetter 3. Pietersen 4. Collingwood (c) 5. Morgan 6. Wright 7. Yardy 8. Bresnan 9. Swann 10. Broad 11. Anderson

For the West Indies the selection is more difficult. Gayle will return, but doubts linger over Sulieman Benn and Jerome Taylor, two of their key bowling figures. It is to be hoped that Kieron Pollard will be batted higher up the order this game, at the expense of the uninspiring Narsingh Deonarine, but the slowness of the pitch may not suit him, and Chanderpaul might be the key in a batting line-up full of heavy-bat belters. Hopefully the line-up will look like this . . .

1. Gayle 2. Chanderpaul 3. Sarwan 4. Pollard 5. Bravo 6. Sammy 7. Deonarine 8. Ramdin 9. Taylor 10. Benn 11. Roach

Predictions:

After a good win against the Irish, the Windies seem bound to slip up here. England’s pace attack look lively, but on the low Providence wicket the key bowlers will be Swann and Yardy. Watch out for Swann vs. Gayle, a match-up which Swann won comfortably in the one-day series in England last summer, and Pollard, Bravo and Sammy against Yardy. The Windies were given a torrid time by 17 year-old Graeme Dockrell on Saturday. Yardy will be aiming to do the same.

With the bat, England’s hopes will probably rest on Collingwood and Morgan. These two know how to nurdle on a slow deck, and can whack it if required, and if bigger hitters like Kieswetter, Lumb and Wright can hit seven or eight maximums between them then England should win. And then of course there’s Kevin Pietersen . . . .

Result: England should win this. The Windies are in ill-disciplined, rag-tag bunch who can be quelled by a tight bowling performance backed up by some good fielding. England have the better spinners and the better batting line-up on this pitch, and they should be able to win by twenty runs or so. For the Windies, all they need is a big innings from Gayle or Pollard and it could be game over.

Bowler of the Match: Graeme Swann’s changes of pace should be vital here, expect him to fox one of Gayle, Pollard or Sammy with a slower one and then trap Dwayne Bravo lbw with the slider.

Batsman of the Match: Eoin Morgan has taken many one-day plaudits over the winter, but Paul Collingwood’s been there, done it and got the t-shirt. He’ll nurdle, deflect, chip agonisingly and then explode to give England either a defendable total or outright victory.

Worst Kit: West Indies, hands-down!