Historic victory for England's cricketers

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The Independent Online

England's cricketers, rated the worst Test team in the world just five years ago, today created history.

England's cricketers, rated the worst Test team in the world just five years ago, today created history.

Their seven-wicket win over South Africa in the First Test at Port Elizabeth was their eighth in succession - the longest winning streak in England's 127-year Test history.

The previous record of seven was achieved in the 1880s under the captaincy of Arthur Shrewsbury and again under Percy Chapman in the 1920s.

The present run by England, captained by Yorkshireman Michael Vaughan, began at Lord's last May when New Zealand were overcome thanks to a memorable 100 from former captain Nasser Hussain who promptly announced his retirement.

Two more wins over New Zealand followed and then England faced four home Tests against a Brian Lara-led West Indies.

Buoyed by their 3-0 success in the Caribbean against the same opponents earlier in the year, England hurtled to an unprecedented 4-0 whitewash of the West Indies.

A disappointing warm-up match in South Africa, when England were comprehensively outplayed by an effective South Africa reserve team, did not bode well for the First Test which stated last week.

But a century in the Test by England's South African-born opener Andrew Strauss helped England to a first innings lead and then a 4-39 spell by Welshman Simon Jones cut down South Africa in their second innings.

Today, England needed only just over half an hour to knock off the 49 runs still needed for victory, with Strauss again the hero with 94 not out.

Today's historic victory would have been unthinkable in the dark days of 1999 when Hussain's side slumped to defeat against New Zealand at The Oval in London and slipped to the bottom of the world rankings.

England were booed off that day, but Hussain gradually built a competitive team which began to win, first Tests, and then series, with the West Indies being overcome in 2000 for the first time in a series since 1969.

Although still second-best to a rampant Australia, England have proved more than a match for most other countries.

The key this year has been the batting of Strauss - named Man of the Match today - and the bowling of Durham's Steve Harmison under the relaxed leadership of Vaughan.

Facing four more Tests this winter against a South Africa team in transition, England have the chance to extend their winning run.

But they still have some way to go to beat the all-time Test record of 16 consecutive victories set by the all-conquering Australians earlier this decade.

Now England have the chance to recapture the Ashes - lost in 1989 - when they host Australia in a five-Test series in summer 2005.

England legend Ian Botham, speaking on Sky Sport, said today: "England did it in style. The bowlers have worked well as a unit and and everyone has enjoyed each other's success. That's what makes this side tick."

Vaughan said: "We never thought about the eight victories. We just wanted to concentrate on this match and we are delighted to go 1-0 up in the series.

"Andrew Strauss was outstanding and Simon Jones, with his attitude and the way he bowled, really changed the game for us."

Strauss, who has now won in each of his eight matches appearances for England, said: "It's been a great eight Tests to play in and in every match someone has made a big contribution.

"It's gone very well for me. I have felt in pretty good form in every match."