If you’ve followed England for any length of time, and you haven’t yet keeled over due to the stress, you’ll remember the following great days for the England cricket team. Some of these wins were expected, but most of them weren’t.
That’s what makes most of these brilliant wins a bit special. We used to be underdogs in every game we played (especially against the Aussies), but in the first decade of the new millennium we suddenly, somehow, gradually, got better. These matches were defining moments along the way …
1. V West Indies, Lord’s, 2000
The turning point. From one-nil down, we went on to win the series – the first against WI for 31 years – before beating both Pakistan and Sri Lanka the following winter. An era of success, which climaxed at the Oval in 2005, began here. The match itself was a breathless classic – and remember, West Indies were still a decent side then. 21 wickets fell on the second day as Caddick’s 5-16 helped dismiss the visitors for 54 and left us chasing 188 to win. Courtney Walsh nearly had the final say before Dominic Cork’s biffs took us over the line with two wickets to spare.
2. V Pakistan, Karachi, 2000-01
This was the one in the dark. After the first two tests were drawn, Moin Khan’s side set us 176 on the final afternoon to clinch that rarest of prizes – a series win in Pakistan. But time was running very short. With the fielders dawdling and night closing in, Graham Thorpe (64*) and Graeme Hick (40) somehow saw us home in conditions of near-darkness.
3. V South Africa, the Oval, 2003
We’d been under the cosh all summer – our threadbare attack (Bicknell, Kirtley, Kabir Ali) put to the sword by Graeme Smith’s unspeakably drab brace of double-centuries. Going into the final test, however, we were still only 2-1 down, with an opportunity to reinforce one of cricket’s central tenets: show South Africans the finish line, and they’ll soil their trousers.
The Proteas presumably thought their first innings 484 was impregnable – until Marcus Trescothick responded with a test-best 219, and Graham Thorpe, returning to the side after a year’s absence with marital and back problems, crafted a poignant 124. A total of 604 set the stage for Steve Harmison’s first ever match-winning test performance – his 4-33 helping rout the Saffers for 229, leaving a target of just 110, which Mark Butcher and Tres easily knocked off.
The series-levelling result was as sweet as it was significant, kick-starting an unprecedented two-year spell of unalloyed England success. That winter, we won our first series West Indies since 1968; returned home to win all seven home tests in 2004; then beat South Africa away, brushed aside Bangladesh – and won the Ashes.
4. V South Africa, Johannesburg, 2004-05
Matthew Hoggard’s finest hour. Thanks to Strauss’s third century of the series and 180 from Tres, we’d set the Saffers 325 to win – but with only two sessions left to bowl them out. Enter the shaggy-haired hero of Pudsey, who’d already snaffled five wickets in the first dig. Hoggy’s 7-61 in 18.3 overs of magnificent probing swing closed out the game, in defiance of the odds, and set us up for a historic first series win in South Africa since readmission, perhaps the most under-rated achievement of the Duncan Fletcher era.
5. V Australia, Edgbaston, 2005.
You may remember this match. Three words: Harmy’s slower ball.
6. V Australia, TrentBridge, 2005.
Everyone always talks about the Oval in 2005, but this was where we really won the Ashes. After a Flintoff ton took us to a first innings 477, Hoggard swung out the top order to provide Michael Vaughan with the delicious experience of asking Ricky Ponting to follow on. By now, Australia knew that we were the better side, and that they were going to lose the series. Trying to make life difficult for ourselves, despite Strauss’s horizontal wonder-catch, and the infamous Gary Pratt run-out, we subsided to 116-7 in pursuit of 129 to win. Cue Hoggy’s heroics: has there ever been a more beautiful stroke in the history of cricket than his cover drive to the boundary off Brett Lee?
7. V India, Mumbai, 2005-06.
This was the Johnny Cash one. It’s rarely easy to take twenty wickets in India, and when England roundly dismissed the hosts for just 100 to win by 212 runs, captain Andrew Flintoff credited the triumph to the dressing-room’s warm-up song of choice – ‘Ring Of Fire’, presumably a reference to the physical effect of the local cuisine.
Such ribaldry has since obscured the merits of a hard-earned but surprising victory, notable for Shaun Udal dismissing Tendulkar (eh?), and Owais Shah’s fluent and assertive first-innings 88 – unfortunately, still the only meaningful innings of his test career.
8. V Australia, Lord’s, 2009.
Famously, our first Ashes win at HQ since 1934, made even more enjoyable by the spectacle of Mitchell Johnson’s comically poor bowling on the first morning. It was so bad, even Alistair Cook made 96. Strauss’s imperious 161 set the stage for the final morning’s ferocious Flintoff spell which secured victory by 115 runs and put us one-up in the series.
9. V Australia, the Oval, 2009.
Broad’s spell. Trott’s century on a remarkable debut. Australian whinging about the pitch. Freddie’s throw to run out Ponting. The Ashes return home. A tear in my eye.
10. V South Africa, Durban, 2009-10.
This series will probably be remembered for the way we twiceclung on for a draw, nine wickets down – and our thumping defeat in the deciding test. But in the middle came this spectacular victory over the Biltong-munchers. The architects, perhaps surprisingly, were Cook (118) and Bell (140), who both exploited some awful bowling by Paul Harris and Ntini to build the platform for our eventual first innings 574. To universal joy, the Saffers then imploded, at one point subsiding to 50-6 amidst the havoc wrought by Broad and Swann (who finished with 10 wickets for the match) – to leave a very tasty victory margin of an innings and 98 runs.