The Ultimate Professionals

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Ultimate Professionals


Byline: Jonathan Agnew BBC Cricket Correspondent

[bar] T has been a long haul for England to become the best Test team in the world; a long road on which the occasional high has more often than not been followed by crushing disappointment. English cricket knows all about over ambitious mission statements and false dawns so now that they are at the top, everyone involved with the transformation of our national team deserves to take a bow.

I am fortunate in that I get to see much of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. The hours these athletes spend in the gym and working on their skills in the nets.

I can also see clearly the influence of Andy Flower, the coach, who drives the players to challenge themselves and to set new standards while at the same time never losing sight that cricket is only a sport, and that there is always a bigger picture beyond the narrow world of the dressing room.

In 20 years of reporting on the England team, and many more spent within the game, this is the best prepared and most professional group I have seen. It is impossible to judge the generations in terms of talent and skill because each has to sit in its own context of the game at the time, but dedication and intensity can stand out.

I was struck by how 'in the zone' Stuart Broad appeared to be when marking out his run-up half an hour before play was due to start at Edgbaston. As he paced past me, I said 'good morning' and he simply stared blankly ahead, looking rather like Bob Willis did when he bowled the Australians out at Headingley in 1981.

Only when he had measured his run did Broad trot back to me and return the compliment. If England's bowlers are focused to that extent when merely marking out their run-ups at the start of the day, goodness knows what they must be like during the match itself.

The success of this team is in some ways unusual because it has no standout fast bowler of genuine pace. Most top teams have centred their attack around a spearhead, but in terms of speed James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett are in the same bracket.

What they bring is controlled hostility in that every ball they deliver asks searching questions of the batsman in the area that is most likely to get him out. There is the occasional bouncer, of course, but ball after ball is relentlessly probing the batsman's off stump which, after a while, builds up intense pressure. …

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