Long season of endless enjoyment

Bell's batting and England's all-round dominance light up a breathless campaign

At around 9.30pm today the English season will end. At last. It began in late March, an event in Abu Dhabi so long ago that it is not covered by short-term memory loss, and it will finish at The Oval with a match that might be added to the charge sheet ofAllen Stanford, who is the reason for its staging.

They are the oddest of bookends. The first was a pink-ball match in the desert, about the only place it could have taken place, between Nottinghamshire, the champion county, and MCC.

The last is a Twenty20 international between England and West Indies, being played to ensure that broadcasting obligations are honoured after ties were severed with Stanford, who would have backed a mid-summer tournament had he not been arraigned on fraud charges on which he is still awaiting trial.

Never has an English season started so early – for a century and more May was perfectly acceptable – and never has it finished so late. (The first hundred, incidentally, was scored for MCC by Rahul Dravid, who was to leave a deeper imprint later). There was plenty to cherish and savour in the filling.

England are in a happy place, and it is not often that can be said about a team who have been forced to use five captains in less than a month. All of them have led winning sides, a mark of the happiness of the place they are in.

It was always believed that England would have the better of Sri Lanka in an early-season series. In the event, it took an unfeasible collapse on the last afternoon of the First Test, when abandonment had seemed a certain option, for series victory to be achieved. Sri Lanka were tenacious in the end but they miss Muttiah Muralitharan so profoundly that it is impossible to tell whence their next Test match victorymight come.

India came as the No 1 ranked Test side and as World Cup winners. The consensus was that England might win the Test series but might struggle to acquire the two-match margin required to become No 1 themselves. The tourists would be clear favourites in the one-dayers. As it was, England ran away with the lot: four Test matches, three one-dayers, two being rained off, and the Twenty20, withoutreply. 8-0. It's a cricket score.

England are the best Test team in the world, partly because they have produced and nurtured the best players, partly because they care so much about it. The sound of lip service being paid from other quarters does not need a translator to discern.

It was disappointing that India were so awful and, perhaps because they were, they never had the rub of the green. A decade ago, the coach, Duncan Fletcher, took over a flaccid England team and eventually moulded a bunch of hard-nosed attritionalists who would not lose easily (except to Australia). That might seem like a doddle compared to what he now has to do with India.

But England were first-rate, and in any debate about the best-ever England team they would feature. Their batting is glorious and Ian Bell has become its most glorious component. He is, officially, joint second in the world rankings, along with Alastair Cook and Kumar Sangakkara, behind Jacques Kallis. Do not believe all you read in the ICC Rankings.

There is a depth to the bowling that has probably not been seen since the 1950s. It has been instructive to watch Steve Finn in the past fortnight, 90mph of bouncing menace, and he is not in the Test XI. Yet. Only the lack of a class second spinner, which may be required in the UAE against Pakistan and in India next year, nags away.

To have beaten India so resoundingly in the one-dayers was surprising. But a truer examination may come in the return series next month. Win that, they can win anything.

While England were becoming No 1, so too were Lancashire for the first time since 1934. County champions and deservedly so. They were a team of no stars in which all were stars. Leicestershire were Twenty20 champions, which was both welcome and showed that anybody can win it. Surrey, darn it, are on the way back.

It was a long season. Glad that it is over perhaps, but much gladder to have watched it.

Five to savour: The best of a long summer

Top batting

Ian Bell's 235 at The Oval was the construction of a player fulfilling a rich talent. Endlessly pleasing.



Top bowling

Stuart Broad's four wickets in eight balls, including a hat-trick, at Trent Bridge swept aside India and his critics.



Top fielding

Gary Keedy's crucial direct hit – his first in 18 years as a pro – on the Championship's last day will be enshrined forever in Lancashire folklore.

Top gent

Rahul Dravid for all sorts of reasons. Instrumental in Ian Bell's recall after controversial dismissal at Trent Bridge and, in his last match, was first to congratulate Jonny Bairstow after he had won for England a match they should have lost in Cardiff.



Top captaincy

Andrew Strauss is often damned with faint praise. At Trent Bridge he moved Alastair Cook into a hitherto unseen square slip position, Tim Bresnan let rip a bouncer and Yuvraj Singh was caught.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power