Stephen Brenkley: World rankings are wrong, England are already No 1
Thanks to the astute leadership of Flower and Strauss, their dream should soon be officially realised
Nobody who watched England on Monday will forget it. Here were a team operating almost at the peak of their considerable powers. Here were a team who may well be the best on the planet. India, their opponents who they defeated by 196 runs in the first Test of four, continue to occupy the official No 1 place in the ICC rankings for now. The table cannot be updated until the conclusion of the series on 22 August, but the evidence from Lord's was overwhelmingly persuasive.
England functioned with a resilience and conviction that made them difficult to withstand. From the moment they lost the toss under heavy cloud cover, there were several periods in an engrossing match, which paraded Test cricket in all its glory, when they might have wilted.
But each time, in each of the four innings, they responded as champions do by finding a way, and their exhibition on the final day was relentless. The occasion was uplifted, if it needed it, by an exultant crowd which had turned up spontaneously, rather than having booked tickets months and months in advance.
Andy Flower, England's exemplary coach, who carries perspective and commonsense around with him along with the practice balls and bats, was having none of the best team in the world tag yesterday. "We don't feel we are No 1 in the world because we are not," he said. "We are No 3."
At present, officially, England are behind both India and South Africa, though officialdom is not always right and is often wrong. To overtake South Africa, England have to beat India by one clear match, to go top they must win by two.
Flower said: "When we are ranked No 1 we can say that we are, so there is a whole heap of work to do before that happens and we don't know the outcome of the series. We have only won one out of four matches and there is another vital game around the corner and we have to be on the top of our game to win it.
"India are a very fine side. They didn't get to the No 1 spot in the world by being poor and by not fighting back. We are ready for that fight and we will be ready for Friday. Talking rankings is pointless at the moment."
Pointless but inevitable, unfortunately for Flower. Some of his perspective may be required before the open-topped bus sets off from Trafalgar Square on the way to the Palace. India, as they were quick to mention, had little luck. They entered the match without their rampant opening batsman, Virender Sehwag, who is recovering from a shoulder operation.
During it, their best bowler, Zaheer Khan, hobbled off with a hamstring strain that may keep him out of the second Test beginning at Trent Bridge on Friday. Their batting order in the second innings needed revising after Gautam Gambhir, the other opener, was hit on an elbow, and Sachin Tendulkar, their continuing legend, was stricken by a virus.
In addition, the tourists had only one match in which to acclimatise. But they were hardly short of cricket, having completed a Test series of three matches in the West Indies on 10 July, in which eight of the Lord's team played. Primarily, make no mistake, India were beaten by an England team who are conscious of their goals and know what they have to do to attain them.
The four bowlers were outstanding, lending clarity to the idea of acting as a unit. The batting, too, was extraordinary. Having been inserted, England had tricky conditions to negotiate. Four studiously gritty innings – one by Kevin Pietersen was converted into a masterpiece – ensured they did so. In the second innings things might have gone badly wrong but Matt Prior and Stuart Broad secured control of the match.
People's Monday, when it all reached a perfect conclusion, was a triumph in every way. There are no discernible weaknesses in England's team. They now have the second, sixth, 15th and 17th ranked batsmen and the second, third, ninth, 11th and 18th ranked bowlers. Andrew Strauss may not be the most inventive captain but he allows strategies time to unfold and if there was a rankings table for captains, the eyes would need to keep going up to find him.
The mind went back almost 12 years to another match in London. Nobody who saw it will forget that either. On 24 August, 1999, England slunk to defeat by 83 runs against New Zealand at The Oval. It made them the worst team in the world. On the dressing room balcony afterwards, Nasser Hussain, who had taken over as captain just four matches earlier, said how proud he was of his team and was roundly booed. England have been through several cycles since then. They have lost, won, lost and won the Ashes, they have had excellent moments in foreign parts and excruciating ones. But that was the day it all started to change for English cricket, when Nasser and shortly afterwards the new coach, Duncan Fletcher, recognised that something much else was required.
From time to time, England have insisted on reinventing themselves. It was done voluntarily after the Ashes whitewash in 2007 and necessarily after the Kevin Pietersen-Peter Moores imbroglio of 2009. Finally they were convinced to turn to Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.
Since then, England's progress has been inexorable. Seven series have been won, one drawn. India, now under Fletcher, may well respond as they did in South Africa late last year. Beaten by an innings in Centurion, they achieved an 87-run victory in Durban 10 days later and managed to draw the series.
Were England to become official No 1 there would still be other challenges – winning on the sub-continent, winning in South Africa. The feeling is that this England would be ready for them. But right now, at this moment in history, if you had to say who were the best team in the world, the ICC rankings would by no means be decisive. The answer would be England.
Brenkley's World XI
1. Alastair Cook (England)
Ashes hero who was man of a monumental series Down Under. In the form of his life before failures at Lord's.
2. Virender Sehwag (India)
Bludgeoner who scores at a ridiculous lick for Test cricket. Badly missed at headquarters.
3. Jonathan Trott (England)
England's run machine who has proved doubters wrong consistently since making magical Ashes debut in 2009.
4. Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
The stats don't lie and this man is simply one of the finest cricketers of all time.
5. Sachin Tendulkar (India)
The Little Master edges ahead of Ponting and Lara as pre-eminent batsman of his generation.
6. Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)
Articulate artist who sheds the gloves and plays as a batsman only in this team.
7. M S Dhoni (India, capt)
Picked here for his often brutal batting – and his wicketkeeping – not his bowling.
8. Graeme Swann (England)
Likeable Jack-the-lad who happens to be the world's best spinner. The second-best bowler in the world...
9. Dale Steyn (South Africa)
... behind this fearsome flinger. The lightning-quick Steyn's strike rate is astonishing.
10. Chris Tremlett (England)
Gentle giant turned enforcer who left home to join Surrey and turned into a world beater Down Under.
11. Jimmy Anderson (England)
The Burnley boy is king of the swingers and officially now a man for all occasions.
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