The Last Word: Forget about India, England are the best

Already the detractors are saying the opposition weren't any good, but Strauss's boys certainly are

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It took longer than expected. The normal form is to get the retaliation in first by demeaning the achievement before it has been made; true post-modern slagging-off. For all that, it did not take long and by Friday it was in full flow.

To wit, barely had England become officially the best Test team in the world than the sly whispering campaign began. This ran along the lines of, well, they might be No 1 but they did not have much to beat. Ho hum.

David Cameron has come home from holiday more times than heartfelt disappointment has been expressed because India, who previously held the title, failed so abjectly to provide anything resembling proper competition.

On Monday at The Oval, England secured a 4-0 victory, only their third whitewash in a series of four or more matches since time and Tests began, which amounts to more or less the same thing. Since when the opinion has grown that England are not that good because India are not that good after all.

The concept was growing in popularity all week, once the strains of 'There'll Always Be An England' had begun to fade around Kennington at Monday teatime. It is a variation, at least, on another post-modern theme, to portray any winning side of today as the best there has ever been.

This Last Word, which will not be the last word on the topic at all, was predicated on an idea from the sports desk; a man who knows his cricketing onions was suggesting that England had only reached such lofty heights because every other side are pretty hopeless.

Until recently, England were being regularly duffed up by Australia and, before them, by West Indies. From memory, nobody was saying at the time that the only reason they were the best of their time was because everybody else was useless, though for much of the time that happened to be true of England.

Both those teams, West Indies from the late 1970s and through to the 1980s, Australia through most of the 1990s and into the 2000s, had truly great players. This England side are not perfect and they are certainly not (yet) one of the best there have ever been. At present, it would be a stretch to say they have any great players and perhaps a little too early, say by 60 years or so, to propose that any of them might be players of the century.

But for two days at The Oval, Ian Bell looked like a man who had the essential attributes – talent, flair, skill, timing, panache. It is easy to damn the England batting order with faint praise by pointing out their defects, and each member has them.

Bowlers, or good ones anyway, used to persuade Matthew Hayden to hit the ball in the air to short cover; Justin Langer could get himself in a terrible tangle to the short ball; Ricky Ponting went at the ball outside off with hard hands.

When West Indies were in their pomp, Gordon Greenidge was an lbw candidate, Clive Lloyd was caught behind in 23 per cent of his dismissals, Viv Richards... Ah, Richards was unbowlable to.

The real worry about India is not that they were beaten so badly when so much else had been reasonably expected. If it was beyond the powers of their ace coach, Duncan Fletcher, to rectify the faults in their performance and effort, then it was probably beyond anybody.

Still, people might be starting to ask questions. Of Fletcher's last three series in charge of national sides, one has been lost 5-0 (England in Australia 2006-07) and now one 4-0.

No, the real worry is that India might not care that much because Test cricket does not matter so much to them. Or to anybody else. Much lip service is being paid to the longest form of the game at present and the evidence of five consecutive full-house crowds at The Oval, following something similar at Lord's, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, would suggest there is not a patient to treat.

In other places, however, few watch and soon even fewer may care. The International Cricket Council recognise this, which is why they are making plans for a World Test Championship. Nothing that the ICC have said or done so far convinces many close observers that Tests have a long-term commercial future outside England.

This should not end on such a miserable note. Some of us have been wondering where the England of 2011 stand among their predecessors. The side of the Fifties were excellent after regaining the Ashes in 1953 and they might have been better still had they had a similar attitude to consistency of selection.

In that year, for instance, Willie Watson was a hero after resisting the Aussies, scoring a century and earning an epic draw at Lord's. Two matches later and he was dropped. The selectors could justify it because the team they picked won the only match of the series.

This England, led admirably by Andrew Strauss, are beginning to stand comparison with them, and with the team spanning the 1960s and 1970s, and with the heroes of 2005.

The numbers alone are compelling. In this summer of Tests, five batsmen average above 50, five bowlers below 30. That bespeaks a seriously good team, whoever is on the receiving end.