Reaching No 1 is the easy bit, staying there is the hard part

England are on the brink of topping the world rankings but here's what they need to do to stay there

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England are not yet on top of the world and, quite rightly, Andrew Strauss will not talk about what comes next if or, more likely (on the basis of what happened at Lord's and Trent Bridge), when his men complete the job and dethrone India as the No 1 Test team.

But a benefit for those of us on the outside looking in is that we do not need to take one ball, one day or even one match at a time. So let us assume the best, work on the theory that Strauss and Co will win or at least share the last two Tests (at Edgbaston and The Oval) and try to analyse how England stay on top.



1) Keep Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower as captain and coach

Strauss is going through a lean spell, which is a bit worrying. He has not made more than 32 in any of his eight Test innings, against Sri Lanka and India, so far this summer and his record shows only one century (against Australia in Brisbane) in the last couple of years. But there is a wonderfully calm air of authority about his captaincy and England would like to have him at the helm until at least after the 2013 Ashes defence on home soil.

As for the coach, the worry is that family man Flower will tire of relentless travelling before his job is fully done. There is talk (but nothing concrete as yet) of letting him miss out on the occasional tour and this idea must not be allowed to evaporate. England must keep him fresh and sharp for a few more years.



2) Master the art of winning on the subcontinent

To stay at No 1 for any length of time you need to be able triumph abroad as well as at home. England face three Tests against unpredictable Pakistan early next year in the United Arab Emirates (because of ongoing security issues in Pakistan), where conditions are still more likely to favour the "home" side. Next on the agenda is a two-Test tour of Sri Lanka, where England have lost their last couple of series. Winning in India is the biggest subcontinental challenge of all, though. England have been victorious in only one of their last 11 Tests there and have lost three of the last four series. Turning the tables must be a big target when they next visit for Tests, in late 2012.



3) Win the World Test Championship in 2013

The idea is that the top four teams in the Test rankings battle it out – with two semi-finals (presumably 1 v 4 and 2 v 3) followed by a (possibly timeless) showdown to produce a champion. This is just one of the ideas (along with such things as day-night play) to try to attract more interest, around the globe, in the oldest form of the international game.

Whether or not the scheme is short-lived, England are due to stage the first event in 2013, with the final certain to be at Lord's. So why not win the thing? It won't prove you are the best of the four over the long haul, but it could be a brilliant end to an Ashes summer.



4) Balance the team with an extra twist of spin

England continue to do very nicely with only four front-line bowlers. What might force them to change tactics, however, is a pitch absolutely demanding two spinners (and there could be several of those this winter).

Without Paul Collingwood, England cannot rely on two pacemen and two twirlymen so there will have to be five bowlers sooner or later. But who will be Graeme Swann's spin partner in Sri Lanka and possibly the UAE? Monty Panesar, Hampshire's young left-armer Danny Briggs or Samit Patel are contenders.



5) Stop the shockers which only embarrass would-be champions

Any team can lose, but when England have been bad in recent years they have been absolutely awful: Perth last winter (187 and 123 all out), The Oval last summer (from 194 for 3 to 222 all out during a four-wicket defeat by Pakistan) and Headingley 2009 (where Australia beat them by an innings and 80 runs) spring to mind.

Performances like that are not the stuff of true champions.

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