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England whitewash NZ, look ahead to the Ashes

It took them a while, almost three months in fact, but England have finally put New Zealand in their place. Now for the Ashes.

Australia are not anything like the force they once were, in truth probably not much better than New Zealand at the moment, but the very fact that it is the Ashes, with all the intensity and pressure that very word brings, ensures that England will face a much sterner test against the Baggy Greens than they did against the Black Caps.

Coral go 4/9 England to win the five-match series with Australia 3/1 and 6/1 the draw. The home side are just 1/5 to retain the Ashes, which they will do, of course, even if the series is drawn.

It is wonderful for any home fan to reflect that these odds do not flatter England. They are a cut above their old enemy these days and certainly if events go to form, then Alastair Cook will be hoisting that little urn above his head after the final Test at The Riverside and quite possibly before that.

The recent form comparison is quite straightforward, if a little simplistic. Both sides have faced India away in the past six months and whereas England secured an historic 2-1 series win, Australia were whitewashed.

There are disciplinary problems for the Aussies, too, while there hasn’t been a sniff of any dissent in the England camp since Kevin Pietersen was brought into line.

Pietersen’s recovery from injury is one of just many positives for England. The problem for coach Andy Flower is where to fit him in, which of course he will. Either Jonny Bairstow will have to drop out or, more popularly, Joe Root, England’s new star, will be promoted to open with Cook and Nick Compton will give way.

Cook’s continuing good form with the bat is another major plus, although as a captain he can be a Cautious Cuthbert – he was criticised when not enforcing the follow-on at the weekend and then delaying the second innings declaration. If England are to get to the next level and be close to as good as Australia were in their pomp, then Cook and his players will have to be bolder and marry a ruthless streak with a spark of adventure, as befitting a superior team.

England’s bowlers are a superb unit, almost perfect now that Graeme Swann has returned as good as ever following elbow surgery and there’s good back-up, too (Bresnan, Onions, Tremlett, Panesar).

It’s a close call which of England’s strike force will end the series with the most wickets, but Swann might well outperform the three quickies. The Barmy Army will be in full voice throughout the summer and expect to hear this song ringing around the Test venues on a regular basis: “Swann, Swann will tear you apart. Again.”

Written by Jon Freeman