Cricket

Why England have a lot of work to do to become the world's best

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Flick back to 23rd August 2009. England have just regained the Ashes after recovering from a humiliating 5-0 whitewash in Australia. Captain Andrew Strauss had led admirably from the front and new coach Andy Flower proved to be just as influential. The celebrations were rightfully grand, yet there was always the sense that this was just the beginning. They wanted to be the best in the land.

Fast-forward to 8th August 2015, and there are several similarities to the triumph six years previously. The Ashes were regained, England had once again recovered from a demoralising whitewash, this time during 2013/14, and captain Cook has won just as many admirers as his former opening partner Strauss did. Only one more target needs to be accomplished to complete the set of similarities to 2009: become the number one team in the world.

Indeed, it is easier said than done. To be number one you have win in most, if not all conditions. Whether it be the flat track and the humidity of Chennai, the hostile environment of Cape Town, the rapid pitch of Perth or the minefield of Galle, you have to show the mental fortitude and physical skill required to win away from home.

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Not only that, but to be the best, you have to beat the best, as the old saying goes. South Africa, despite their period of transition do not look in any mood to relinquish their no.1 spot under the captaincy of Hashim Amla. India are more than a handful in their own conditions, the same goes for Sri Lanka. And we all know how hard it is to win in Australia. 

Nevertheless, the class of 2009 continued on from their Ashes victory to achieve the majority of the challenges that awaited them. An impressive 1-1 draw in South Africa was soon followed by a historic 3-1 Ashes series victory down under, their first in 24 years.

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The summer of 2011 brought with it a 4-0 demolition of India and the number one crown to boot. Even after losing their place at the top to the ever impressive South Africans in 2012, England still had it in them to secure their first series win in India since 1984-85. They had attained almost everything.

Whether this new-look England have it in them to reach similar heights remains to be seen. They certainly have the ingredients. The squad boasts the world's top ranked batsman in Joe Root, an all-rounder of extreme potential in Ben Stokes and an opening bowling partnership of over 700 test wickets in James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Finally, the squad still have Alastair Cook, who is now marrying his ever improving captaincy with his outstanding skill with the bat.

In and around the vital cogs of the team, England have players who have the ability to dominate spin, such as Jonny Bairstow and Ian Bell. The squad also obtain a talented wicket-keeper batsman in Jos Buttler who, despite not reaching his best with the bat this summer, has the ability to take the game away from any team, at any time. The breakthroughs of Moeen Ali and Mark Wood, combined with the rejuvenation of Steven Finn, should provide plenty of room for encouragement.

Next up

So where will England's fresh challenge begin? Well, Cook's men travel to the UAE to play Pakistan in what will be a huge test. Since Pakistan moved to play their home tests there in 2010, they have not lost any of their eight series at their new adopted home. They have toppled some big teams along the way such as Australia and Sri Lanka, not to mention England, who crashed to a 3-0 defeat in winter 2012 after achieving the no.1 slot the previous summer.

That series England's big guns struggled to cope with the mystery and guile of spinner Saeed Ajmal and will again have to overcome a trial by spin if they are to win the series in order to stay on course to reach no.1. England's superb series win in India three years ago shows they can do it, but it will be a huge challenge.

If that wasn't hard enough, England then go to the home of test cricket's top dogs, South Africa. The Proteas may have lost some great cricketers over the years, such as Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, but they still boast some excellent players.

AB de Villiers is arguably the best batsman across all formats in the world at the moment, captain Amla has tormented England in the past with big hundreds (including a triple at the Oval in 2012), and Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy add much needed balance to the side.

Strike-force

Yet above all, it will be the task of negating South Africa's three fast bowlers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander that will be the sternest of all. Steyn's record against England, let alone in all tests, is simply outstanding. He also recently became the joint-second fastest to reach 400 wickets in test matches. Morkel provides devastating bounce and Philander adds a skilful exhibition of swing and seam, even in the toughest conditions.

As we have said before, England have the players to cope with the barrage that will come their way from the South Africans. Though the Proteas' record of losing only three times in their last 28 test matches summarises how tough the assignment of winning there will be. England have to win the series by at least 3-0 to become the best team in the world. Possible, but very very tough. 

England have the talent, they have the skill, yet a lot of hard work awaits them if they are to reach the summit of test cricket once more.

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Topics:
England cricket
Cricket
The Ashes

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