Former England international batsman Nick Knight believes much has to improve ahead of this summer’s Investec Ashes series but remains confident of victory over arch enemies Australia.
England, currently ranked the second best test side in the world, drew heavy criticism from corners of the media and even former captain Michael Vaughan after only narrowly avoiding defeat to New Zealand in a test series in March.
Each of the three Tests against New Zealand were drawn, including a dramatic last day in Auckland which saw Matt Prior and Monty Panesar bat out the majority of the day to avoid a shock series defeat.
And with a busy schedule including two home Tests against New Zealand and the one-day Champions Trophy before the all important first Ashes test match at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge in July, Knight, who featured in 17 Test Matches and 100 One Day Internationals, has conceded improvements need to be made.
“I certainly don’t think they played very well in New Zealand, in the test matches,” he said.
“For me the bowling unit didn’t click as a four man attack and then the batting was poor in two of the four test matches which is quite unusual.
“I won’t be overly critical but I would be slightly concerned because if you take the matches with India out of the equation and go back three or four series some of the results have not been what England would expect.
“Potentially they have an outstanding side because they have four excellent bowlers and that will make a big difference in how good they are.
“They also have excellent batsmen, and despite my concerns, I still fully expect England to win the Ashes and compete well.
“For whatever reason that team performance wasn’t there in New Zealand, but I don’t think we will see that again this summer.”
Much has changed in the game since Knight’s retirement in 2003. The controversial implementation of central contracts through the ECB and the creation of the Indian Premier League tempting players with the lure of big pay-days, have changed the face of cricket for ever.
Kevin Pietersen famously fell out with the ECB over his contract situation after being dropped for last year’s final Test of the summer against South Africa, before undergoing a process of ‘reintegration’ and signing a new full contract earlier this year.
However, despite acknowledging the issues modern developments have brought about in cricket, Knight, who also famously faced a 100mph bowl from Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar at the 2003 World Cup, believes the game has improved since his days at the crease.
“I don’t want to stand here like an old man and say what it was like in my day but it has changed massively and I believe changed for the good,” he added.
“There is a lot more money and resources in the game now and more opportunities for players but with that comes its own challenges.
“The standard is also a lot higher with central contracts, when I played it was much more a bunch of county cricketers coming together.
“If the players have got any sense there won’t be any issues with central contracts, if you’re lucky enough to be awarded a contract with the ECB you should cherish it.
“The game is changing at such a great pace and actually I do have some sympathy with some players who want to be involved in opportunities that are arising like the IPL.
“I would be wrong to be standing here and say if I was offered the chance to play in something like that I would turn it down.
“Inevitably that will bring challenges to the management in the England set up to make sure they get the balance right.
“With the Pietersen issue the management felt that balance wasn’t going to be correct but issue has been resolved quickly and well by the ECB.
“Strangely enough though I don’t miss it, if I wasn’t involved in the broadcasting side of things with Sky then perhaps I would but I have no desire to go an put a pair of pads on and go back out and play.
“It is still my life and I am very grateful for that. I’m very content in what I achieved and I was lucky enough to achieve what I did in the game, I feel incredibly fortunate.
“I think cricket is doing a fantastic job. The resources available now through television deals and opportunities are excellent and so the ECB are doing a fantastic job for kids, so there isn’t much I would actually change.”