England's rise to the top
Posted in England v India 2011
When England lost a home series to New Zealand in 1999 they went bottom of the Test rankings.
Test Match Special presenter Jonathan Agnew was among many who lamented the demise of the side whose nation introduced cricket to the world. Agnew demanded respectability, at least, for the national team.
Twelve years of progress, from bottom of the pile, culminated yesterday with a crushing victory over India that ensured England will take over from their opponents at the top immediately after the npower series.
England’s dominance over the tourists, that saw them take an unassailable 3-0 lead at Edgbaston, could not be further from the sorry scenes against the Black Caps a dozen years previously.
That was Nasser Hussain’s first series in charge. He was soon to form a progressive alliance with coach Duncan Fletcher, who is now working with India.
Although they suffered defeat in their first series together, in South Africa, Hussain and Fletcher set about restoring pride. First signs of that came in the summer of 2000 when England beat West Indies for the first time in a generation.
The following winter saw more historic triumphs, in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. However, Australia – the world’s best team – put progress in perspective with crushing wins the next summer and 18 months later.
Despite those setbacks, Hussain and Fletcher continued to build England’s confidence. When Hussain decided it was time to step aside in the summer of 2003, new skipper Michael Vaughan helped recover a creditable series draw with South Africa.
If Hussain helped to establish self-belief, Vaughan took that to new levels. Starting with an emphatic triumph in the Caribbean, Vaughan presided over a summer of seven wins from seven Tests – versus New Zealand and West Indies – in 2004.
England’s fortunes continued on an upward curve with victory in South Africa, followed by the small matter of the 2005 Ashes win.
Beating Australia for the first time since 1986/87 led to premature suggestions that Vaughan’s side was the best in world. Defeat to Pakistan in their next series and the fateful Ashes whitewash a year later showed plenty of work was still necessary.
Fletcher’s tenure ended soon after the nadir Down Under with Peter Moores chosen to take over.
Series defeats to India at home and Sri Lanka away were followed by victory in New Zealand. However, a reverse to South Africa in the summer of 2008 spelt the end for Vaughan’s leadership.
Kevin Pietersen succeeded Vaughan, but his only full series in charge was a defeat in India after which he and Moores were relieved of their roles.
With the team languishing sixth on the Test ladder, England turned to Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower as captain and team director respectively.
Strauss and Flower’s first series in partnership saw a narrow setback in the West Indies, but that proved to be their last defeat to date.
The 2009 Ashes win proved a turning point, with a creditable draw in South Africa following. Bangladesh, away and at home, and Pakistan then fell by the wayside ahead of last winter’s stunning Ashes triumph.
If that is remembered as Strauss’ most memorable achievement in charge, yesterday’s milestone was no less significant.
India and Sri Lanka may have struggled in English conditions this summer, but England’s consistently outstanding displays have given them little chance to perform.
It will be instructive to see how Strauss’ team fare in those countries next year, and in the mouth-watering visit of South Africa between.