England might be on top of the world but they have places to go. The ranking they finally and officially achieved on Saturday by sweeping aside India for the third successive Test match is as deserved as it was belated. Now, it seems, there is progress to be made.
Although becoming the number one Test side in the ICC rankings was part of the mission statement of the England and Wales Cricket Board, there is a clear intent in the dressing room that this should be the start of something, not the end. The most immediate challenge, of course, is to complete a clean sweep over India, who England at last replaced at the head of the rankings with victory by an innings and 242 runs in the third Test at Edgbaston on Saturday.
The squad for the fourth and final match, which begins at The Oval on Thursday, was announced yesterday. It replicates the 13 at Edgbaston, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn being added to the triumphant XI. Jonathan Trott's injured shoulder has not recovered sufficiently for him to play so Ravi Bopara has another opportunity to secure a place as the reserve batsman.
When England regained the Ashes in 2005 the understandable national outpouring of elation was followed by the gradual break-up of the team and a period of huge uncertainty.
The painful memories of that era will doubtless still be with some of the players including the captain, Andrew Strauss. He and the coach, Andy Flower, now have to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Mission accomplished simply means there is a need to find other missions.
Flower said yesterday: "We used that goal – to be number one – as a motivational tool and there was a real motivation that drove us in training and in matches. In that regard, achieving the ranking was a really useful way to gauge our improvement.
"Now that we have achieved that, what Strauss and I don't want to do is just hang on to number one status. That's not a very exciting way to go about our business. We are going to have to reset our goals and I'd like to do that not only with the captain and the captains but with the team. We already have some ideas on that."
The targets that spring to mind are both imminent and distant. Winning away against Pakistan and Sri Lanka this winter would undoubtedly enhance the credentials of Strauss's side. Next summer, South Africa visit this country and there is a nagging suspicion, despite what the rankings now validly say, that South Africa presume they have claims to be number one.
In 2013, there is the inaugural World Test championship in this country, effectively a play-off between the top four teams. England must ensure they qualify. More nebulous but equally pertinent is the desire to be compared with the two great teams of recent eras, the West Indies and Australia who each had more than 10 years at the top.
Flower, grounded as ever, said: "Well we are a good side there is no doubt about that. I don't think we can compare ourselves to those sides to be quite honest. They dominated world cricket for lengthy periods. We have been playing well for a little while now but only for a short time in cricketing history terms. There is no way we can compare ourselves to those sides in my opinion. Who knows what the future holds though?"
Strauss apart, there are two survivors from the 2005 Ashes-winning side, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. Pietersen, clearly excited about what might be in store, pointed up an essential difference.
"We've got a real good structure in place and great people in place as well, the management and players," he said. "There are a lot of mature players. We actually look like one of the senior teams in world cricket right now, whereas two, three, four, five years ago there were a couple of players who were experienced but we had a lot of inexperience. So I think we've got all departments covered and as long as each individual – including the guys in the squad who aren't playing at the moment – keep striving to get better we'll be OK." OK, Kev. For the moment England are bloody marvellous.Reuse content