Marcus Trescothick, a key component of the England side that won the Ashes in 2005, believes that the prospect of next summer's rematch with the Aussies is a major factor in the recent upsurge in England's fortunes.
Since losing the Test series against South Africa at the beginning of August, England have since won a dead-rubber contest at The Oval followed by four completed ODIs in a row. Vital players such as Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison have returned to form at just the right time, and with Kevin Pietersen's captaincy exceeding all expectations, Trescothick believes that England's Ashes prospects are looking rosier than anyone could have predicted at the start of the year.
"It's inevitable [that they are thinking about the Ashes]," said Trescothick, who was speaking at the launch of his autobiography in Central London. "You can see it, can't you? The way that KP's taken it on, the way the one-day side has played over the last few weeks. I think you can see the momentum building, but there are still a lot of challenges between now and then."
The first of those challenges is Allen Stanford's US$20 million winner-takes-all contest in Antigua, then it's off to India for two Tests and seven one-dayers before a Caribbean campaign in the spring, but Trescothick senses a togetherness in the England camp that has not been present since the team that Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher built began to unravel in 2005-06.
With that in mind, Trescothick is pretty confident that Stanford's riches will not cause divisions and resentment among England's squad members. "I hope not, "he said. "We're all professional enough to know that if you're selected for a side then it's fantastic, but even if you've played all the ten games leading up to it, it's just bad luck if you're not.
"Professional sport works like that," he said. "You'd be disappointed if you lost one of your guys from saying: 'I'm not happy with the selection here'. You could play the next week or you could get left out, and it wouldn't make any difference, so why should it make a difference for this game?"
The money is one thing, but as far as the glory goes, there's no question where England's priorities should lie. "Looking back to 2005, we planned for 12 months before the Ashes even started," said Trescothick. "If they are doing that now, and getting things in place at the moment, they've got a real good chance next summer if they can keep the same team together. They are looking energised and the key influence is KP - he seems to have inspired a few of the guys - but with Fred playing like he is, it's inevitable they are going to do well. He's a massive part of it."
|Falling out with people doesn't mean you're going to make a bad captain. You might ruffle a few [feathers] along the way, but if it gets people playing well, or gets them out of the team for others to come in, then that's perfect- Marcus Trescothick on Kevin Pietersen's captaincy|
Had Pietersen's success as captain been limited to extracting the best from Harmison and Flintoff, his first month would still have been considered a success, but Trescothick admitted he had been completely taken by surprise by the extent to which he had taken to the role. "I never thought he had any aspirations to be a captain," he said. "He always struck me as a guy who was really happy going about his own business, and trying to become the best player he could, and the best player in the world.
"He is very driven, but I didn't think he could expand that much to become the team person he needed to be as captain. But we've all been proven wrong a little bit. He's showing that to people at the moment, and the reports coming out of the team are they really like him as a captain."
Pietersen's professional career has not been without its confrontations - his relationship with Graeme Smith came under particular scrutiny during the summer series against South Africa - but Trescothick believed that his singlemindedness was an asset as a leader. "Falling out with people doesn't mean you're going to make a bad captain," he said. "You might ruffle a few [feathers] along the way, but if it gets people playing well, or gets them out of the team for others to come in, then that's perfect."
Trescothick speaks from experience, because his first England captain, Nasser Hussain, was not afraid to rub people up the wrong way for the greater good of his team. "I don't think KP will be as loud as Nasser," he said. "Nasser was quite vocal, a heart-on-sleeve sort of guy who told it as it was. KP will be a cross between Michael [Vaughan] and Nasser. Sometimes he'll tell you it straight, but at the same time he's always been calm about his own cricket. All the reports say he's doing a good job."
With the excitement mounting ahead of the 2009 Ashes, the question remains: could Trescothick, who is currently the third highest run-scorer in county cricket this season, be persuaded out of retirement to take part next summer in a one-off capacity? "Let's see how I'm playing at the time. We'll see how many sausages I've eaten over the winter," he said, half-jokingly.
Realistically, however, after aborted tours to India and Australia, and a withdrawal from Somerset's pre-season tournament in Dubai, there's no way that Trescothick will go back on his international retirement. "I'm 32, and in a few years' time I won't be up to the standard," he said. "I've got no aspirations to make it back. I've had my time and I'm enjoying my moment where I am now. I just want to continue to move on and do different things."
All the same, Pietersen hasn't quite given up on persuading his old team-mate out of retirement. "We keep in contact by text," said Trescothick, "and he dropped into conversation, 'what's the situation about coming back to play?' I told him as it was. Much as I'd love to do it, it would be too much of a hard job to make it back. It's good for the ego, but realistically it's not going to happen."