It seems a tad bizarre to me, but England could become the number one ranked test side in the world in a few weeks’ time. It’s enough to make the new breed of sensitive metrosexual Australians choke on their chicken and zucchini salads. We just need to beat Pakistan at The Oval and hope other results go our way.
This intriguing development has arisen because the current No.1, our canary yellow friends, lost to Sri Lanka the other day. When a top ranked team lose to a low ranked team, the ICC rankings system really punishes them. The Aussies can still cling on to their ranking if they win in Colombo, but they’ll need to play a hell of a lot better to do so.
If the Aussies fail again, and continue to play spin like Daryll Cullinan on a bad day, the team most likely to pounce is India. If the Indians win their current series in the West Indies 3-0 it doesn’t matter what the Aussies (or England) do. India will become No.1 regardless. However, Kohli’s boys were unable to win the second test in Jamaica, so it’s far from a foregone conclusion.
However, although I expect England to do their bit – we’re as short as 8/15 to win the Oval test with sports.betway.be/nl – I actually have mixed feelings about us becoming No.1 right now. Why? Because I’m not sure we deserve it. I understand that there’s no dominant team in world cricket at the moment, and that someone’s got to be number one, but it’s all come a bit early. Hear me out …
The last time we reached the summit of the test rankings, it came after years of steady improvement, a historic Ashes win in Australia, and a big series win against India. We had a really good team: a settled opening partnership of Strauss and Cook, a middle-order of Trott, Pietersen and Bell (an established combination that had solidity, flair and elegance), plus a world-class spinner.
If you look back to the ICC test player rankings in 2011, England had four batsmen in the top ten (Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Trott) and all four of our frontline bowlers (Anderson, Broad, Bresnan and Swann) were also in the world’s top ten. This time we have Root and Cook, Jimmy and Broady and, err, that’s about it.
Although you can’t knock the recent progress we’ve made under Trevor Bayliss, the only series we’ve won that we weren’t expected to win was the South Africa one. And even then we were helped by some heroic performances from Joe Root and injuries to both Steyn and Philander. I’m not saying we were lucky but circumstances certainly helped us.
Our other recent results have been pretty good but a little up and down. We drew with New Zealand at home, won the Ashes (albeit on some very helpful wickets), lost 0-2 in the UAE and then beat a poor Sri Lanka side at home. I’m not complaining (after all, we’ve made some really promising progress) but is this really the form of a No.1 team?
To be honest it might be better in the short-term for India to beat the West Indies, claim the top ranking for themselves, and then the pressure will be on them (rather than us) this winter. If things go well, and England manage to beat the number one side in their own backyard, then we can talk about England being the best. Until then it all feels a bit hollow.
I don’t know about you, but I still think we’re in the middle of a development stage. Several England players still have their ‘L’ plates attached. The batting especially remains a concern. For example, Alex Hales averages just 29 in 19 innings and most of his runs have come against a county standard Sri Lanka attack. He’s made some technical improvements, and looked better in the last test (albeit on an absolute road), but the jury’s still out. The best teams in the world traditionally have a settled and consistent opening pair. England clearly do not.
Unless Hales gets runs at The Oval I would be tempted to drop him for Ben Duckett. India is a good place to blood openers – the top of the order is often the best place to bat because there’s little seam movement, the ball comes on to the bat nicely, and you have the opportunity to get your eye in before the spinners come on.
Duckett might be a little wet behind the ears but his ceiling is sky high. What’s more, his positive style may complement Cook better than Hales’ more circumspect approach. Bayliss likes Joe Root at 3 because he wants someone similar to Ricky Ponting. I wonder if he’ll see Duckett as someone who can take on the new ball like Matthew Hayden?
James Vince is another player who hasn’t convinced. Although Michael Vaughan thinks he’s shown enough to justify a longer run in the side, I worry that’s he’s too flaky: he does all the hard work and then gets out carelessly like Ravi Bopara used to do. Meanwhile, Gary Ballance has looked better this season but he still hasn’t cemented his place. That means there’s a question mark above three of the top six. That’s half the specialist batsmen!
Although I don’t agree with those who say Vince is too limited to succeed in test cricket (he’s got plenty of shots in T20) I wonder whether he has the right mental make-up? This might sound a tad harsh – hey, that’s what I’m here for – but he does sport a rather gormless expression at times.
Having said all that, the current team is similar to Strauss’ fine side in the seam bowling department. Obviously the spearheads are identical (Anderson and Broad are still strutting their stuff) and there’s exactly the same strength in depth. Whereas we once had Bresnan, Tremlett and Onions fighting over one spot in the team, we now have Finn, Ball, Wood and the rapidly improving Woakes.
It’s just a shame about the paucity of quality spinners available. The last time we went to India we had Swann and Panesar operating in tandem. This time it will be Moeen and possibly Adil Rashid. It doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence. You don’t always need a good spinner to be the world’s best team – the Windies and South Africa have proved that – but it sure as hell helps.
And it most certainly helps in India. Which is why, I hate to say it, if England do become the world’s number one team in the near future, it’s probably not going to last very long. Sorry guys.