Reaching No 1 is the easy bit, staying there is the hard part
England are on the brink of topping the world rankings but here are five goals they must achieve to stay there in the long term
England are not yet on top of the world and, quite rightly, Andrew Strauss will not talk about what comes next if or, more likely (on the basis of what happened at Lord's and Trent Bridge), when his men complete the job and dethrone India as the No 1 Test team.
But a benefit for those of us on the outside looking in is that we do not need to take one ball, one day or even one match at a time. So let us assume the best, work on the theory that Strauss and Co will win or at least share the last two Tests (at Edgbaston and The Oval) and try to analyse how England stay on top after being crowned in either Birmingham or south London.
1. Keep Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower as captain and coach
Strauss is going through a lean spell, which is a bit worrying. He has not made more than 32 in any of his eight Test innings, against Sri Lanka and India, so far this summer and his record shows only one century (against Australia in Brisbane) in the last couple of years. But there is a wonderfully calm air of authority about his captaincy and England would like to have him at the helm until at least after the 2013 Ashes defence on home soil.
No team can afford to carry a captain, though, so the sooner Strauss resumes normal run-scoring service, the better.
But if anyone needs reminding how quickly the wheels can come off when a trusted leader suddenly falls by the wayside, think back to 2006 and what happened once Michael Vaughan's fragile knee wrecked England's planning.
As for the coach, the worry is that family man Flower will tire of relentless travelling before his job is fully done. There is talk (but nothing concrete as yet) of letting him miss out on the occasional tour and this idea must not be allowed to evaporate. Flower is at the top of his game and England need to look after their most valued employee in order to keep him fresh and sharp for a few more years.
2. Win on the subcontinent
This has always been a lot easier said than done for English teams (and, to be fair, the great West Indies and Australian sides of the fairly recent past never found it a breeze, either). But to stay at No 1 for any length of time you need to be able triumph abroad as well as at home.
England's first trip after their great Ashes win of 2005 was to Pakistan, where they promptly lost. And while three Tests against these hugely unpredictable opponents early next year will be played in the United Arab Emirates (because of ongoing security issues in Pakistan), conditions are still more likely to favour the "home" side.
Next on the agenda, straight after the United Arab Emirates trip, is a two-Test tour of Sri Lanka, where England have lost their last couple of series and generally found the combination of blistering heat and pan-flat pitches hard to handle.
Winning in India is the biggest subcontinental challenge of all, though. England have been victorious in only one of their last 11 Tests in that country and have lost three of the last four series there. Turning the tables in India must be a big target, regardless of whether or not England are No 1 when they next visit for Tests, in late 2012.
3. Win the World Test Championship in 2013
The idea is that the top four teams in the Test rankings battle it out – with two semi-finals (presumably 1 v 4 and 2 v 3) followed by a (possibly timeless) showdown to produce a champion. This is just one of the ideas (along with such things as day-night play) to try to attract more interest, around the globe, in the oldest form of the international game.
Whether or not the scheme is short-lived, England are due to stage the first event in 2013, with the final certain to be at Lord's. So why not win the thing? It won't prove you are the best of the four contenders over the long haul (think of football play-offs for producing "injustices") but it could be a brilliant end to an Ashes summer for England.
4. Balance the team
England continue to do very nicely with only four front-line bowlers. The potential for cricketing disaster is obvious, of course, and has become a reality for India in both Tests so far this summer (Zaheer Khan's injury at Lord's and Harbhajan Singh's problems at Trent Bridge reducing them to an impotent three-man attack).
It is not the possibility of someone collapsing in a heap that will force England to change tactics, however, but the sight of a pitch absolutely demanding two spinners (and there could be several of those this winter).
Without Paul Collingwood, England cannot rely on two pacemen and two twirlymen so there will have to be five bowlers sooner or later. Fortunately, there is more than enough lower-order run-making ability (Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann) to put Matt Prior at No 6 and leave out a batsman. But who will be Swann's spin partner in Sri Lanka and possibly the UAE?
Monty Panesar seems the obvious choice. But in some ways he is yesterday's man so perhaps, for a team going forward, Hampshire's young left-armer Danny Briggs is the boy to look at. Or, if more of an all-rounder is required, Samit Patel.
5. Stop the shockers
Any team can lose, but when England have been bad in recent years they have been absolutely awful: Perth last winter (187 and 123 all out), The Oval last summer (from 194 for 3 to 222 all out during a four-wicket defeat by Pakistan) and Headingley 2009 (where Australia beat them by an innings and 80 runs) spring to mind.
Not one of those defeats was ultimately costly but performances like that are not the stuff of true champions – and both Flower and Strauss are determined to make sure they happen no more than once in a blue moon.
England stars on rise
Ian Bell's superb 159 at Trent Bridge takes him to fifth in the latest ICC batting rankings while Stuart Broad's heroics put him seventh among the bowlers.
England's highest-ranked Test bowlers:
2. J M Anderson
4. G P Swann
7. S C J Broad
10. C T Tremlett
18. S T Finn
England's highest-ranked Test batsmen:
4. I J L Trott
5. I R Bell
11. A N Cook
15. K P Pietersen
21. M J Prior
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