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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 June, 2005, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
England benefit from soft victories
Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent at the Riverside

The series against Bangladesh lacked virtually every ingredient that makes Test cricket so special.

England celebrate at the Riverside
If you are in the England bubble you are part of the set-up, if you are not you are an intruder

Yet England must feel that they are in better shape as a result of having played it.

Bangladesh simply were not good enough to provide any competition, and I imagine most counties would see them off in a four-day match.

But those who suggested England's players would have been better off playing county cricket rather than these Tests are out of touch.

These days, representing England is about so much more than simply turning up on the Wednesday morning - as used to be the case - and playing a Test match next day.

This team is now a unit and, luckily for those concerned, they can spend a great deal of time preparing and fine-tuning for the next game.

Coach Duncan Fletcher's entire philosophy involves what he calls the 'bubble'. This is the little world in which Team England lives and breathes.

If you are in the bubble, you are part of the set-up and you work for everyone else around you.

If you are not in it, you are an intruder.

Ian Bell
Bell has surely cemented his place in the England middle-order

Clearly, this environment takes time to establish, and there was nothing like it before central contracts enabled Fletcher to have complete control over his players' movements.

These two weeks have allowed Michael Vaughan's men to regroup and form the unit we all hope will give Australia a hard time later in the summer.

Ian Bell has more than made the most of his chance to settle in and, because he has contributed so impressively, he will now feel as if he is genuinely part of the England set-up.

His place in Fletcher's bubble is secure.

Bell played understudy to Marcus Trescothick on day one in Durham, but he took absolute command on the second morning when he became the first Englishman to score a hundred runs before lunch since Les Ames in 1935.

This young batsman played every shot in the book and is the genuine article - of that there is no doubt.

But it will be intriguing to see how he deals with the bully boys, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, who will try every trick to unsettle and distract him.

Graham Thorpe has not only batted well in his limited opportunities, but he is developing into an excellent short-leg fieldsman.

He has taken two brilliant catches in this series, and this additional string to his bow should not be underestimated.

Steve Harmison is amongst the wickets again, and Andrew Flintoff has proved that he is fit enough to bowl flat out when the time comes.

Simon Jones gets better and better - his skipper trusts him more now - and the only bowler who has not been at his best is Matthew Hoggard.

He may have won Man-of-the-Match honours with his five-wicket haul in the second innings, but Hoggard's rhythm seems temporarily to have deserted him and he admits he is not yet at his best.

This will return if he relaxes a little and gets some overs under his belt for Yorkshire, while the NatWest Series provides the next distraction before the Ashes finally begins.


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