Nation is once again proud of its Ashes heroes

ENGLAND’s greatest triumph this summer has not been winning the Ashes but reconnecting with the public.

Englands Joe Root is hugged by Yorkshire county colleague Jonny Bairstow after reaching his century during day one of the fourth Ashes Test against Australia at Trent Bridge (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA).

There was not so much a feelgood factor as a feel bad factor around the team after their humiliating performance at the World Cup.

To think that England have gone from shackled under-achievers in that competition to free-spirited Ashes winners in the space of a few months is remarkable.

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To judge by the smiles on the faces of those who saw them clinch the series at Trent Bridge, and the wider reaction to their win over Australia, the country has been swept up and carried along on a wave of euphoria.

Granted, England’s success might have lacked the mass appeal and historic feel of their 2005 triumph over the old enemy.

The decision to take cricket off terrestrial television and sell it to the highest bidder meant the game would never reach out so widely again, while England beat a truly great Australian team 10 years ago as opposed to a very good one now, albeit one wilfully exposed in England conditions when the ball moves around.

But no cricket lover who follows the game through whatever medium could fail to have been enthused by the way England have gone about their business since the World Cup, even if there have been disappointments and setbacks along the way.

Starting with the Test and one-day series against New Zealand, England have played with a new-found positivity and become a side of which the nation can be proud.

Of course, sterner tests lie in store, and history teaches us that it would be foolish to get carried away.

England go to Abu Dhabi in the autumn to play Pakistan before the ultimate challenge of a trip to world No 1 South Africa.

It would not be a complete surprise if they lost both series against strong opponents in hostile conditions, just as it would not be a complete surprise if they won both series.

But at the risk of slipping into the “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part” cliche that is the very antithesis of professional sport, the real point is that England are now playing the game as it should be played, with a freedom of expression, and giving it “a damn good go” in a manner that can only endear them to people.

Everyone knew that England were better than they showed at the World Cup, where they failed to reach the knockout stages and were humiliated by Bangladesh, and that a change of culture, as much as a change of coach, was required.

Now the free-spirited talents of such as Yorkshire’s Joe Root and Durham’s Ben Stokes are being encouraged to flourish, and the public are loving every minute of it.

Paul Farbrace, the England assistant coach and the former Yorkshire second-team coach, said in the aftermath of the Ashes win that England “stumbled” on their new attacking style as though by accident.

Farbrace claimed it “just happened by chance” after they had been 30-4 on the opening day of the first Test of the summer against New Zealand at Lord’s before Root and Stokes took the game away in a blistering stand that set the tone for all that has followed.

Farbrace, however, does himself a disservice.

What a splendid job he has done, helping to empower the players and giving them licence to go out and express themselves safe in the knowledge that failure brings no recriminations from the coaching staff, while Trevor Bayliss has quietly taken up the reins after replacing Peter Moores as coach and done a splendid job, too.

Both deserve a pat on the back, while director of cricket Andrew Strauss and the selectors, led by James Whitaker, must also be congratulated on their efforts.

Of course, any team is only as good as its components, particularly its bowling components, and England’s bowlers have worked as a unit.

They include the rapidly-emerging all-rounder Stokes, a man fit to follow in the traditions of Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff but very much his own man.

Alastair Cook has been a character transformed, both as a batsman and captain, and shaken off the shackles that previously bound him in a way that some might have thought unlikely.

But, for me, the man who embodies the new England and what they have achieved is Root.

Make no mistake, in Root, English cricket has an all-time great-in-the-making, a batsman in the finest traditions of a Hutton or a Hammond.

He really is that good.

If anyone disagrees with that contention, I look forward to burning the letters of protest.