England's lethal cocktail
How did England's bowling attack, for so long the preserve of journeyman seamers and spinners unworthy of applying Shane Warne's hair lacquer, become the envy of world cricket?
In the past an injury to a key bowler would have severely dented England's chances, but when Tim Bresnan's troublesome elbow forced him into depart Dubai before the Test series against Pakistan began, selectors were able to call on Graham Onions, a more than handy fast bowler who was sharing new-ball duties with James Anderson before he suffered a career-threatening back injury two years ago.
With Anderson and Stuart Broad nailed on to start the first Test on Tuesday, Onions will compete for the third seamer's berth with Chris Tremlett (49 Test wickets at 25.7) and Steve Finn, who was firing the cherry down at 94mph in the recent one-day series in India.
Throw Graeme Swann’s world-class off spin into the mix - with Monty Panesar as a more than capable stand-in - and you have a pretty lethal cocktail, and one that most of England’s recent opponents have found decidedly difficult to stomach.
“You could argue that they haven't had to bowl against any of the great Australian batting line-ups but then again, they destroyed a very good Indian order last summer.
“They are ruthless. When they get a scent of blood they go for it. It can’t have been much fun for the likes of [India batsmen] Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh last summer when England really did go after them.
“It was pretty brutal stuff but that is what international sport it all about. You are not out there to make friends on the field, you are there to turn them over."
Turning teams over is something England have become rather good at of late. In their last 13 Tests, they have won seven by an innings, testimony in part to the batsmen’s ability to rack up huge totals, but also to the skill, discipline and relentless determination of their bowlers.
In Anderson, Swann and Broad, England have three of the top four bowlers in the ICC Test rankings, while Bresnan and Tremlett are ranked 13th and 14th in the table. No other Test side has more than two players in the top 15.
England have had great bowling units in the past of course, the Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Trevor Bailey, Jim Laker and Tony Lock breed of the late 1950s springs to mind, or the Ashes-winning sides of 1971-72 or 2005.
But too often in recent decades, their attack has been less a coherent arsenal and more a diverse collection of weapons all firing in different directions and very rarely hitting the target at the same time.
These days the targets are not just being hit, they are being shattered; the sight of an iconic Indian batman trudging back to the pavilion with his stumps rearranged proving one of the recurring images of last summer.
Thanks to some long-term thinking by the England & Wales Cricket Board, players such as Broad and Finn have been brought in to the national team set-up at an early age and developed as bowlers and athletes by England's unrivalled team of specialist coaches.
In an interview in August, Broad put the success of the current generation down to a sense of collective responsibility, arguing that the bowlers, unlike some of their predecessors, take as much pleasure in each other’s success as their own.
“When I was a kid and a fan, I got the impression at times that Darren Gough and Andy Caddick were almost competing against each other to take wickets,” he said. “We put pressure on together and squeeze the opposition as a pack.”
It is an argument with which the dependable Fraser - who spent much of his career surrounded by the more mercurial talents of Devon Malcolm, Chris Lewis and Phil Tufnell - is inclined to agree with.
“I think there is a greater togetherness in this team than there was in previous generations, but a lot of that has to do with central contracts and the fact that players can feel secure because they know that they will be involved,” he said.
“In the old days you always felt you were potentially two games away from getting axed.
“That led to a lot of competitiveness. I didn’t mind how many wickets any other England bowler got as long as I got one more than them.
“There were a couple of spikey occurrences in my career, when someone wanted to be the main man, but in this England side everyone is very comfortable with where they sit. There is loyalty and consistency, but also an understanding of where everyone is.”
As England prepare to embark on a testing 2012 programme that features away series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, home contests with West Indies and South Africa, and a tour of India, the supremacy of their pace unit may well be something to enjoy while it lasts.
“We had an era of wonderful fast bowlers with Glenn McGrath and [Jason] Gillespie, the Windies, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. And then there was a little lull, where no one seemed to be producing world-class quicks.
“But now it seems to be changing. Pakistan are always finding high quality fast bowlers from somewhere, Australia have got two or three exciting young bowlers, South Africa have Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander to back up Dale Steyn and even India have Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
“There are potentially a lot of good fast bowlers around but England are further on in the cycle at the moment.
“They are experienced, have better records and are more consistent, which is one of the principal reasons why they are top of the rankings.”
Can they stay there? We're about to find out.