Is this the best England cricket team ever?

Barry de Silva10 January 2011 - 17:05

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2010 started with England being blown away by the pace and bounce of Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn at the bull ring in Johannesburg. Fast forward 12 months, and it was Anderson, Tremlett, and Bresnan who were doing exactly the same at the SCG, by bouncing out the Australian top order with ruthless precision. Since January 2010, and that innings defeat to the Proteas, Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have led a remarkable turn around in the team’s fortunes, that culminated last week in a well deserved 3-1 Ashes win over the Australians. With records tumbling left, right, and centre during the series, Sport.co.uk asks if Strauss’ side are the best England team in history?

What records?

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last two months, or suffer from amnesia, you’ll be aware that England have comprehensively out-batted, out-bowled, and out-fielded their Australian counter-parts in this Ashes series. If to rub it in any more, Strauss’ men have done it with a swagger and a style that has been reminiscent of Steve Waugh’s side during the late nineties and early 21st century. The success of this present England team in Australia won’t just live long in the memory by the videos on YouTube, but more the stack of records that have been smashed by this squad of players. Here are the key milestones:

1st Test, Brisbane

The opening partnership of 188 between Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss in the second innings is a record for any England side at the Gabba. The duo also became England’s highest ever scoring pair by overtaking Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe’s total of 3,249 during that stand too. Added to that, Essex’s Cook then went and broke Australian hearts by shattering Don Bradman’s top score of 226 at the Gabba, with 235 not out.

If that wasn’t enough for you to get your head around, Cook and Trott put on an unbeaten partnership of 329 – a record for any wicket in Australia by an English side. Finally, the 517-1 in the second innings represented England’s highest ever second innings total in a Test on Australian soil.

2nd Test, Adelaide

By the time Cook had made 136 not out, before he was caught by Brad Haddin off the bowling of Ryan Harris for 148, it meant that England’s vice-captain had occupied the crease for a staggering 1,022 minutes whilst scoring 371 runs in the process without being dismissed. That is an English record. By scoring 620-5 in the first innings, the team also became the first England side to record back-to-back 500 plus totals in an Ashes series as well.

3rd Test, Perth

Only one piece of history was made in this Test by the touring side, as Australia dominated on a lightening quick Wacca pitch. Nevertheless it didn’t stop James Anderson from becoming England’s second youngest bowler, behind Ian Botham, to the reach the milestone of 200 Test victims.

5th Test, Sydney

By the end of the final match at the SCG, Cook had recorded a new world record for a five Test series, by batting for an eye-watering 2,171 minutes. He also amassed the second highest series total by an England batsman with 766 runs from seven innings. To top it all off, and stress the opener’s dominance throughout this tour, Cook became only the second youngest player, after Sachin Tendulkar, to reach 5,000 Test runs.

Sussex man, Matt Prior also stamped his name on the record books with a 109 ball ton. It was the fastest century by an England batsman since Ian Botham’s 102 ball hundred at Old Trafford in 1981. And to rub salt into the already very sore Australian wounds, England’s mammoth 644 all out signalled the three lions’ highest ever total in the former British colony.

It wasn’t just the batsmen that reached new heights on this tour. James Anderson proved that he was much more than just a swing-bowler, by setting a new England Ashes record in a five match series with 24 wickets.

Strength in depth

It’s not just the numbers that illustrate England’s worth as a dominant Test nation. It’s England’s level of highly talented reserves at their disposal that prove that Andy Flower can afford to rotate his squad of players. Looking at the bowlers on this tour, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan have both walked into the team at the expense of  Stuart Broad, and Steve Finn, and settled in as if they’d been playing Test cricket for years, despite both only having 13 Test caps between them.

Similarly the same can be said for the pool of batting resources. Even though Eoin Morgan was relegated to carrying the drinks this series, the left-hander will go straight in the first eleven now Paul Collingwood has retired from the five day format of the game. There shouldn’t be any worries about Morgan either given he’s  played 55 ODIs, and has proven he’s more than capable at Test level, as he did with a well structured 130 against Pakistan last summer at Trent Bridge.  With others like Surrey’s Steven Davies - who went as back up to Prior, Somerset’s Craig Kieswetter, and Yorkshire’s Andrew Gale waiting in the wings, the future looks very bright for English cricket.

How does the present compare with the great England teams of the past?

Under the leadership of Strauss, England’s current record stands at having played 32 Tests, won 16, drawn 11, and lost just five. How does the record of two of England’s most successful captains, in Douglas Jardine and Mike Brearley, compare with that of the Middlesex opener’s? 

1931-34 - England under Jardine: Played: 15, Won: 9, Drawn: 5, Lost: 1

Despite the controversy that surrounded the ‘bodyline’ tour and captain Douglas Jardine, the Surrey man still led the mother land of cricket to a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Australians during the 1932-3 series. The catalyst for England’s success on that tour was the fast, short bowling of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, and their ability to implement the ‘fast leg-theory’ method successfully at the great Don Bradman. Backed up by the run machines of Herbert Sutcliffe and Walter Hammond, Jardine turned England into a ruthless and efficient outfit during his tenure in charge.

1977-81 - England under Brearley: Played: 31, Won: 18, Drawn: 9, Lost: 4

With the all-round ability of the destructive Ian Botham, the fast bowling of Bob Willis, and the astute tactical brain of captain Mike Brearley, England enjoyed one of their most successful periods in international cricket during the late seventies. Once again it was the Ashes that brought the highest rewards and plaudits, as Botham dominated with bat and ball to seal a 3-1 series win for Brearley’s team in the 1981 series. Many have said that without Brearley’s excellent man management of the Somerset all-rounder, Botham and England wouldn’t have enjoyed the success that they did during that golden period - where they won three consecutive Ashes series.

Final word

The statistics are staggering, and are heavily indicative that this current England Test side is one of the nation’s greatest sides.  Whether this team has reached its peak already during this Ashes series is difficult to say. The ultimate examination will come when they lock horns with India next summer.

Will Alastair Cook be able to deal with the swinging Duke ball, that he struggled with against Pakistan last summer? Will Graeme Swann be able to bamboozle Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and V.V.S. Laxman, given they’re all excellent players of spin?  Will England’s pace attack be able to dismantle arguably the best batting line-up in world cricket? If England can answer these questions positively, they’ll have a shot at beating India.

What is apparent is: England won’t have a better chance to become the number one side in the world given the sharp decline of Australian cricket, and the lack of dominant side - like the West Indies of the seventies and eighties, and the Australian team of the nineties and 21st century. If Strauss’s men can emulate those legendary sides and continue to break records as easily as they are at present, then they will be regarded as England’s greatest.

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