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.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all