As the battle for the Ashes rages on, it's easy to forget that England have already secured one notable triumph this year. In May the national side carried off the World Twenty20, in the process banishing a shameful status as the only major cricket nation never to have won a one-day trophy. That they completed the job with a thumping win over Australia in the final merely gilded the lily.
A victory that changed English cricket can have affected few cricketers more than Michael Yardy, Sussex's captain and all-rounder. Yardy, who formed a formidable spin partnership with Graeme Swann, says that he had not expected to be part of the England side before he was named in the provisional 30-man squad. Now he is a Twenty20 gun for hire, playing in New Zealand's domestic competition and in the IPL auction next month.
"It's been a funny year. This time last year playing cricket for England wasn't on my radar," he says. "I did well in domestic cricket in 2009 [when Sussex won the Twenty20 Cup], especially in the bowling department, so I thought I might have a chance and then I was in the 30. The more I spoke to people, the more I realised I had a better chance than I first thought."
Yardy says that England entered the tournament believing they could win it. "The squad was very relaxed, but there was a real confidence among the lads; everyone really believed that we had a chance in that tournament," he says. "We seemed to have every base covered and I think that showed."
The vital moment came with victory over South Africa in the Super Eight stage, Yardy believes. England batted first and then bowled out Graeme Smith's team for 129, Yardy taking two for 32. "From that moment onwards we realised we had a good chance," he says. "The confidence was massive and there was a real belief.
"I came on and bowled into the wind; I got Hershelle Gibbs and Albie Morkel. It was really special – not just for me personally, because I was happy with the way I played, but for the team. That was definitely the moment for me when I thought, 'We've got a great chance of winning the tournament.'"
One of the key men for England was Swann. His influence in the dressing room is almost as important as his bowling ability, Yardy says. "He bowled exceptionally well through the tournament and if he wasn't the best bowler in the tournament he was one of them," he says. "It was nice to bowl with him and he complemented me. In all forms of the game, he is the best bowler in the world.
"He's a personality and a character, and when tense situations come he's always got a smile on his face and he relaxes people. In the last 18 months of his career he's played his best cricket and he is oozing confidence. That rubs off on people. He is a great guy to have around."
But Swann is far from the only strong character in the England set-up, Yardy points out. "The England set-up is really professional now," he says. "There is a kind of tightness in the group and everyone works for each other. It's like a club team in the sense that everyone has a good joke and a good laugh and it is great to be involved but when we need to get very professional, we do. I think that comes not just from the management but from the senior players as well. Everyone takes responsibility for what they have to do and it's a very good environment to be involved in at the moment."
Yardy has been enjoying the Ashes as much as anyone ("For me, that's real cricket") and will be in Australia himself soon as part of the England one-day team. "I'm itching to get over there," he says. "Obviously there is a huge rivalry between England and Australia and, OK, it's not the Ashes but there's a World Cup coming up – it's as big a series as you're going to get, and I can't wait to compete on that stage.
"I've had a great 2010; I couldn't have asked for a better year on the cricket field. As long as I keep working hard, I don't see why I can't have an equally successful 2011."