England’s cricketers: good but not invincible
The test series whitewash of India shows England are a good team, but they haven’t got the aura of a great team.
The England cricket team are No.1 in the test rankings after completing a ruthless four-nil series whitewash against India. Top of the pile in the five-day format, but how good is the current England side? In an
Look, I’m not trying to knock ‘our boys’. I think what Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have achieved is fantastic. The transformation since the wretched five-nil Ashes whitewash in 2005-6 speaks volumes. The biggest difference is the winning mentality that has been instilled. There’s a self-belief and hunger to succeed that was absent even when England won the Ashes in 2005. England’s reaction to beating the once-mighty Australians was telling. We celebrated like lottery winners who couldn’t believe our luck. The players were showered with gongs, feted with an open-top bus parade and a Downing Street reception. The team went on what journalist Martin Samuel described as a ‘year-long lap of honour’ and were soundly walloped in Australia.
Over-celebration and premature decoration was symptomatic of the absence of a winning mentality. Compare that with Andrew Strauss’s more understated reaction to England’s victory in the final test against India. ‘The greatest pitfall is feeling that we’ve done it all and that we’re not willing to put in the hard work to continue it. I’d be very disappointed if our side fell into that trap’, said Strauss. ‘Rightly we should celebrate the fact that we’ve had a fantastic summer but we’re always looking forward to the next challenge.’ Strauss’s words are reminiscent of Roy Keane, who was never content to bask in title-winning glory but was always looking ahead to the next tournament.
This England side have the ambition and hunger that characterises all champions. ‘I have never seen such a fit, disciplined and motivated team, and also a group of players who are constantly challenging themselves to improve’,
Let’s face it, England have clambered to the top of a relatively unexceptional pile. India are a decent side, particularly at home, but England ruthlessly exposed their limitations. Australia without Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist are a pale shadow of the imperious sides that bestrode cricket over the past two decades. The West Indies have, for some years, been in decline as a test side while Pakistan are in disarray after the spot-fixing scandal. That leaves South Africa as the best of the rest, so a big test will be England’s planned tour of South Africa in 2013.
Having scaled the heights of the ICC rankings, England’s challenge now is to stay there. To achieve that they will need to raise their game to the next level. Jonathan Agnew, for example, argues that England need to become more tactically flexible, for instance by playing two spinners at the Oval. ‘If England really are going to stay in the top one or two, they have to be able to pick different teams for different occasions’, wrote Agnew. Shane Warne feels that Strauss needs to be less cautious as a captain: ‘If you can beat a side in two-and-a-half days, then do it. Don’t get into a position where you have to be 9,000 runs ahead before feeling safe’, wrote Warne in the Daily Telegraph. ‘Be more aggressive with fielding positions, your instructions to the bowlers and send a message, so the opposition say “jeez, these guys are at us and there is no respite”.’
‘The mark of a folklore side is to be held universally in awe’, said veteran Times cricket correspondent John Woodcock this week. England are admired and respected but are they feared? Is the bowling attack, for instance, more terrifying than the West Indies pace attack of the Eighties or the legendary Australian strike force of Lillee and Thomson? I don’t think so. Nor does this England side yet possess the aura of invincibility which surrounds the greatest test sides. Andrew Strauss has spoken about how the Aussies of old had an aura which gave them a psychological advantage over their opponents. ‘An aura is when the opposition teams, even though they are on top, are not confident they are going to beat you’, explained Strauss in 2009.
There’s nothing mystical about acquiring such an aura. Teams that very seldom get beaten eventually appear invincible. And that’s what England have to do: continue to win cricket matches at home and abroad consistently for the next few years. Only then we can start using the G-word about this England cricket team.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
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