Becoming the best: a lament – day two at Edgbaston

India 224. England 456/3 at stumps

It’s not supposed to be this easy. For us long suffering England cricket supporters, the goal of becoming the world’s number one team was always a pipe dream. There were always far superior teams in the way – Australia, South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, India and, when we lost to New Zealand at home in 1991, the Kiwis too. If we’re being honest, Zimbabwe also used to give us a run for our money – not that we liked to admit it, eh Bumble.

Fortunately, things have steadily improved over the last decade. When we won the Ashes in 2005, it was like reaching the summit of Kangchenjunga. When we beat the Aussies down under this winter, it was like conquering K2. However, the long-term goal of becoming world number one remained elusive. Being the world’s best was our Everest – and it was supposed to be the next big mountain to climb.

Yet tonight, as England are poised to scale the heights that no England team has managed for donkeys’ years, it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. Basically it just seems too easy.

In 2005 we emerged victorious after a tumultuous battle against the old enemy. There were ups and downs along the way – including a heavy defeat in the first test at Lord’s. And even though this winter’s success was comfortable in the end, there was still a demoralising reverse at Perth.

Great achievements, like becoming world number one, are supposed to be earned. But India have handed over their title on a platter. Their bowling yesterday wasn’t just buffet – it was silver service. Meanwhile, their body language suggested that they’d given up.

I actually felt a little bit cheated by India’s ineptitude on day two. Their feeble efforts seemed to suggest that the prize wasn’t even worth fighting for. It was like watching a petulant child give up because it gives him half an excuse: ‘you can have your victory – we can’t be bothered. If we actually tried, we’d win – honest’.

Maybe I’m being harsh on India. Perhaps they’ve simply got nothing left to give after being pulverised at Lord’s and Trent Bridge. Or maybe I’m feeling the emptiness that Alexander the Great felt when he had no more lands to conquer – although a victory against India in the subcontinent would be nice.

Unfortunately however, I suspect I’m feeling  flat because yesterday’s carnage confirmed that test cricket isn’t what it used to be. Matches against Australia and South Africa are still intense, but I wonder whether the other nations really care? India seem more interested in the IPL and ODIs.

Consequently, although England are undoubtedly a fine team now, it’s almost impossible to gauge how good we really are. The competition is appalling. Flower and Strauss run a very professional ship, and in terms of preparation we’re light years ahead of where we were in the 1990s, but are we really that much better talent wise?

The likes of Thorpe, Lamb and Stewart would have feasted on India’s bowling yesterday just as eagerly as Cook, Strauss and Morgan. Indeed, I firmly believe that the former three were far better players; their problem was that they had to content with Ambrose, Walsh, Donald, Pollock, Wasim, Waqar, McGrath and Warne. Cook’s 182 not out was a fabulous effort, but Kumar, Sreesanth and Mishra aren’t remotely in the same class. England’s vice-captain has probably scored tougher runs in country cricket.

If we do indeed become the world’s number one team over the weekend (it seems inevitable now) we’re bound to perk up and celebrate the moment. But today we’re in the mood for quiet contemplation. My worry is this: are we about to become the world’s best test team at the precise moment that test cricket goes into terminal decline? How utterly typical that would be.

James Morgan


  • The body language that we’re seeing from India looks like a good, old-fashioned,
    disunited dressing room. That’s why they’ve got as much fighting spirit as Boy
    George handing over his pushers to the coppers. Pressure will do that to ya.

  • “My worry is this: are we about to become the world’s best test team at the precise moment that test cricket goes into terminal decline? How utterly typical that would be.”

    That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking.

    Whilst I do share your sentiments about India’s feebleness, I do think we’re doing England a disservice, much of what we’re seeing is the result of playing against a well-drilled, confident, committed, united and let’s face it, pretty damn good, team.

  • How typically English are we that when we finally reach the top we wonder whether we really deserve to be there!
    I agree in part, India have given up and look like they don’t want to play any more. I imagine they will hammer us in the ODI’s and the T20 as that seems to be the format they are interested in. I can see Sachin getting his 100th 100 in the ODI series, he’s been missing in action so much in this series that when he came on to bowl yesterday i was genuinely suprised to hear that he was on the field!
    I agree 100% that Thorpe, Lamb and Stewart were fine players. To make any kind of score against such quality bowling shows their class. I wonder however, if they could cope in the professional game today. With the fitness and conditioning requirements, controlled nutrition and ice baths I think they would have struggled to make the grade. Look at Samit Patel, if he couldn’t get in the side how would Gatt, Botham and Lamb got in?
    I think we have to accept that the game we grew up with and look back at with such fondness is long gone. What we see today is a very different animal and it remains to be seen whether it’s a worthy successor.

  • Great comment, Mark. You may be right. I think Stewart would have coped with today’s regime, and possibly Thorpey (unless he was having a tough patch), but I totally agree that people like Lamb, Botham, Tuffnell would not be compatable at all.

  • Excellent article, although I think you’re being rather unfair on the current England team – they can only play whoever is put infront of them. India have been an absolute disgrace so far this tour (I couldn’t believe my eyes when Sehway wandered off for a nice custard slice and a lie down whilst his team mates were being given the run around), but that shouldn’t detract from what is clearly a superb England side.

    Good point about the standard of opposition the likes of Atherton, Thorpe etc had to face back in the 1990’s, but it’s all cyclical – the 1960’s was a similarly barren time for world-class bowlers, with one or two obvious exceptions.


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