Last week’s crushing victory over India at Edgbaston cemented England’s place at the top of cricket’s vaunted test rankings, completing a 12-year journey from nadir to zenith. England’s meteoric rise to the number one spot hasn’t been easy. In 1999, England hit rock-bottom, after losing to New Zealand by 83 runs in the last test match at the Oval. But like most resurgences in sport, you often have to experience the trauma and humiliation of defeat before you can start to turn it all around.
So how did it all happen? Well, for starters, you don’t just turn the lowest ranked test team in the world into number one overnight. Transforming a national team into a confident cohesive unit of experienced professionals takes time, planning and above all, it takes investment. The introduction of central contracts by the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board), the creation of the national academy at Loughborough University and the determination brought in by players and coaches, such as Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, have all been pinpointed as pivotal moments in England’s rise to the top.
Having tasted victory under the captaincy of Nasser Hussain, the most successful English captain since Mike Brearley, England had once again established itself as a force within test cricket, although an inconsistent one. In 2003 Michael Vaughan was made appointed captain and under his and Duncan Fletcher’s leadership, the team, after a rocky start, completed an unbeaten season in 2004. That year, it recorded 11 wins and two draws, including the first away victory in the West Indies since 1968 and the first away victory in South Africa since 1965. The 2005 season followed in a similar vein, culminating in the famous Ashes series, which saw England claim cricket’s most prised possession for the first time since the 1986-87 series.
After Michael Vaughan’s departure in 2006, the England team experienced a turbulent period under the captaincy of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, which included whitewashes in both Australia and India. After the Peter Moores debacle, Andrew Strauss was appointed captain in 2009 and Andy Flower was designated as interim coach, before officially being appointed. During the 2009 West Indies tour England again hit rock bottom, as it was skittled out for 51 in Kingston, their third lowest score in test history. The three previous years of turbulence, combined with such a poor performance in Jamaica is now considered to be a watershed moment in England’s rise to the top.
With a wealth of talented players now in place and a raft of others coming through the ranks, England under Strauss and Flower have risen through the test rankings, including Ashes wins in 2009 & 2010-11, both home and away, and the recent series victory against India. As I write, the fourth and final test at the Kia Oval is underway, providing England with the chance to conclude the npower series in an emphatic 4-0 victory.
England’s promotion to the top of the test ranking may just be a statistical highlight for now, but with matches against Pakistan (in Dubai) and in Sri Lanka in the winter, followed by a home series against South Africa and Australia next year, plus the opportunity to take on India in the sub-continent in 2012, England finally have the chance to prove themselves as the best test nation in the world.
Who knows? Maybe this England team will one day be mentioned in the same way as the 1983 West Indies side led by Sir Viv Richards or the dominant Australian team of the mid-’90s.
Here’s to hoping…