Tough battles on the Subcontinent and with the South Africans will be the true measure of this England side
English cricket is scaling dizzy heights. The England cricket team are now officially ranked the best side in the world. They are currently demolishing the previous holders of that position, India, in a manner so ruthless and comprehensive that it is scarcely believable to an English media and public unaccustomed to watching such scintillating performances.
Listening to post match interviews following the 3rd Test at Edgbaston, the England players were at their media-trained best, although the joy was evident. However, it was Kevin Pietersen who offered the most revealing insight, when he implied that England must learn the lessons from the 2005 Ashes and not allow this summer to be a high watermark before a fall.
The England team cannot afford to, nor are they likely to, get caught up in the hype, which will inevitably go into overdrive. To justify claims of being “the best England side ever”, or to be mentioned in the same sentence as the West Indians of the 1980s or the Australians of the Taylor/Waugh/Ponting eras, this England side must maintain their current dominance and form for at least the next 18 months. They must beat Sri Lanka and India in the Subcontinent and overcome the mighty South Africans at home, all significant tasks confronting them.
Strauss is still a long way off emulating Ponting. Source: pj_in_oz
It would be much easier to assess where exactly this England side rates at the present time if Sehwag, Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan had all been fit for the entirety of this series. Regardless of the problems of the Indian side, the England bowling displays have been magnificent, the fielding generally top class. Borderline faultless. Nevertheless some concerns still remain with the batting, particularly against quality seam bowling.
It seems to have been quickly forgotten that during two of their first three innings this series, England had collapsed to 62-5 and 124-8 in the face of good seam bowling from Khan, Kumar and Sharma, before Broad and Prior came to our rescue. Cook, Strauss and Morgan were all struggling and not many would have been predicting a 4-0 series whitewash.
While you could argue that the fact we won from these positions shows the best qualities of this side, it is hardly a case of complete domination. In fact, it should raise concerns about how we fare when South Africa and their attack of Morkel, Steyn, Kallis, Parnell and Tsotsobe arrive here next summer. Let us not forget that the only series we have not won in the past nine was in South Africa. And we escaped with a 1-1 draw only when Graham Onions twice held off the South African pace attack with the South Africans requiring only one more English wicket for victory. Anyone remember Friedel de Wet in Centurion?
The last time the South Africans toured in 2008. Source captainsticky
This is not to advocate any changes, far from it. England must stick with their trusted players and formula for success. It is only to serve warning that everything might not be so rosy against Pakistan or South Africa in the coming 12 months.
To highlight some key examples. Alastair Cook, England’s most prolific batsman of the past year and now 3rd in the ICC Rankings, still has some problems in home Tests when the ball is swinging, as exhibited against Pakistan last summer and against India in the first two Tests. It seems bizarre to say this in the aftermath of a wonderful 294, but it comes as no surprise that Cook averages 55 away from home in Test cricket as opposed to ‘only’ 45 in English conditions. The South Africans may well see Cook and Strauss as presenting good opportunities to strike early.
Eoin Morgan, a class act against spin and when the ball is more than 30 overs old, will have a testing 12 months ahead of him. He has scored well in less pressurised periods (a similar charge to the one Ian Bell faced for a number of years), but is not as prolific against the new ball, either after a spate of early wickets or at the 80 over replacement mark, as was witnessed by two ducks and Kumar dismissing him with his second ball after a new ball was taken at Trent Bridge. Andy Flower would no doubt like to see a big innings under pressure when England are 30-4.
England have a testing 12 months ahead. Source gareth1953
Although these seem minor issues, there is just a small sense that the wonderful bowling and fielding performances have masked over the fact that the English batting has been under pressure at key points. Pakistan will be a big test this winter (I can see a number of low scoring matches, with the ball dominating), as will playing in the tough conditions of Sri Lanka and India (and how we fare at accommodating a second spinner).
Yet it is South Africa next summer that should mark the time at which we are either confirmed as the best cricket side of a generation and worthy of comparison with great sides in history, or a side that reached its high point during 2010-11.