England are the number one si… Ahem. We are the best team in the…..start again. We are the world champ.. No. It’s no good. I just can’t get to grips with the reality of our new status after so many years of humiliation and misadventure.
You’d have to be nearly fifty to remember the last time England had a good claim to be the best test side in the world – around 1971. And you’d need to go back to the mid-1950s for undisputed pre-eminence. For generations of England supporters, all we’ve really known, until fairly recently, was despair, decay and defeat.
I began following England in 1983, an era when we could beat Australia but no one else, and the West Indies blackwashed us in successive series. Worse was to follow in the 1990s. The 2000s had a different tone, but although that decade was studded by several genuinely glorious triumphs, there was still a feeling of fragility, epitomised by the nightmare of Australia 2006/7.
Now it’s England who are impossible to beat, who bully every opponent and can win from any position. We are officially number one. And don’t it feel weird.
England’s success leaves us, the supporters, with an existential crisis. We were brought up in the culture of English failure. All we knew was defeat. To be on the losing side, heavily and embarrasingly, was our birthright. It defined us, unified us, made us who we were. Now our team are swaggering, effortless victors, we have lost our identity. How will we cope?
Despite our innate scepticism and pessimism, we must allow ourselves – against our instincts – to self-indulge and express righteous pride. Our team are really, really good. This is the most professional, well-drilled, ruthless, tenacious, united and disciplined England team most of us have ever seen. The players have worked extremely hard for their success, and they deserve it.
But there’s a nagging feeling that our new number one status isn’t totally authentic. The world rankings table – with its complex points system – is a slightly arbitrary gauge. The true world champions are those who beat allcomers home and away, so we need to win in both India and South Africa to properly close the deal.
It’s a pity that South Africa weren’t our opponents this summer, instead of India. If we’d won – and surely we’d at least have edged it – we’d feel more like world champions.
Plus, it’s much more fun beating the Saffers than the Indians. Against the biltong-munchers we have an intensely bitter rivalry. We don’t like their attitude; they deserve a pasting. But how much pleasure can we derive from the sheer scale of the humiliation we’re visiting on MS Dhoni’s affable, hapless and dignified side? We’re feeling sorry for them now, and worrying if this debacle might eventually drive them out of test cricket altogether.
But enough of that for now, along with questions about where we go from here. Let’s worry about the Pakistan series another time – and yes, we’re well aware that you can slip down the rankings much more easily than you ascend them. Those are concerns for another day. We’re the best – and you’ve probably never said that before. Just enjoy the moment.