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By John Harkness
Few could have envisaged the current position of English cricket following the 5-0 Ashes whitewash of four years ago. It was a team in a desperate period of transition, experimenting with players, devoid of continuity, leadership and any sort of discernible talent. That the Test side is now but one win away from being the second best in world cricket is a fitting tribute to the remarkable turnaround that has been achieved since 2007.
Only five players remain from that embarrassing whitewash tour. Cook and Strauss, then an opening partnership in its infancy, have forged an alliance which has become feared in the world game – the former a man who only last winter became the highest run-scorer for England in a single series for over 80 years, the latter rapidly cementing his place as one of England’s legendary Test captains. Ian Bell, a long-time presence on the fringes of the Test scene but always doubted as a true talent, has transformed into a batsman with the skill and temperament to contribute runs in every innings, saving the top order’s failings more often than they deserve and providing a stable contrast to the more up-and-down form of flamboyant 2007 veteran Kevin Pietersen. Add into the mix Jonathan Trott, the man with the highest average in the history of the game behind the simply superhuman Don Bradman, and the handy batting skills and top-class ‘keeping of Matt Prior and it is easy to see why England have been able to rack up the consistently high scores they have against all manner of opposition.
The only other survivor from that ill-fated Ashes series is James Anderson, who now finds himself as the senior seam bowler amongst a group of young talents that between them have revolutionised what for so long has been the real weakness of the English side. Anderson himself has more than played his part in this, but combined with Swann, Broad and Tremlett the England of 2011 finds itself with a four-man bowling attack that can stake a very strong claim to being the best in the world.
With two consecutive glorious Ashes victories in the bag, there is no greater feeling as an English cricket fan than watching the seemingly unstoppable rise of the Test side to the pinnacle of the world game, particularly sweetened by watching the now Ponting-less Aussies slide down the slippery slope we know so well. For them, a period of serious re-evaluation awaits – the Warnes, McGraths and Punters of this world have all dried up, and the days of being Test cricket’s ‘Invincibles’ are well and truly over.
England, however, continue to go from strength to strength – last week’s dramatic innings victory over Sri Lanka was England’s fourth in five Tests, made all the more impressive by the fact that almost two days of the match were lost to rain. England are now unbeaten in Test series for over two years, and can look forward to this summer’s clash with India as a true battle for supremacy of Test cricket. If there has been a more optimistic time for English cricket in recent years, I can’t work out when it was – alongside the likes of Laker and the 1950’s side, and Botham and Gatting’s 1980s successes, the class of 2011 will go down rather well in the long history of the most English of games.