England begin their first Test series as the best team in the world tomorrow. By the time the third match against Pakistan finishes early next month they will have a clearer idea of where they truly stand.
The tightly knit squad designed and moulded under the guidance of the coach, Andy Flower, and the captain, Andrew Strauss, has reached its ranking via thumping wins against Australia and India. But this series is the start of a fresh challenge.
This year, England will play subcontinental opposition away three times. This series will be followed almost immediately by two Tests in Sri Lanka and, towards the end of the year, they will play four in India. These matches will present a peculiar kind of examination of England's skills and they know it.
Although the imminent encounter is not in the subcontinent, it is a home series for Pakistan and is being played on pitches built from Pakistani soil on land that, until four years ago, was in the desert. England know it will not be like Headingley on a grey day.
As Jimmy Anderson, the leader of a bowling attack whose membership is likely to continue to be restricted to a fab four, said: "We realise that it's going to take longer than it would do in England. We might be in the field for 100 overs-plus on more than one occasion. We're ready for that.
"We don't just want to be No 1 for a couple of weeks; we want to stay there for a long time and become one of the greatest England teams there ever has been."
It is difficult to be certain of the composition of the team for tomorrow's match since England generally hand over their XI at the toss only because it is in the regulations.
They are receiving advice from all quarters that they should play two spinners, thus resurrecting Monty Panesar's career. But England have reached the summit with four bowlers and will be minded to give four bowlers the chance.
Given that, they may fleetingly discuss whether that quartet should comprise two fast bowlers and two spinners and then conclude it should not. Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett are likely to be entrusted to bowl at the other end from Graeme Swann for most of the first Test at least. Even if they are outrageously successful, it is difficult to see the same three seamers playing in all three matches over 22 days.Reuse content