Vaughan aware that road ahead will test England to the limit
Monday 23 August 2004
Michael Vaughan's victorious side will have to wait 12 months before they are given the ultimate sporting accolade - a ticker-tape parade around central London in an open top bus. And quite rightly so.
Michael Vaughan's victorious side will have to wait 12 months before they are given the ultimate sporting accolade - a ticker-tape parade around central London in an open top bus. And quite rightly so. England's seventh consecutive Test victory, sealed on Saturday with an emphatic 10-wicket win over a broken West Indian side at the Oval, completed a historic summer. England last won seven in a row 75 years ago - eight victories would set a national record. But they still have some way to go before their success receives the same recognition as England's World Cup winning rugby team.
This should in no way belittle the achievements of the 15 players used by England during the past 14 weeks. Under the excellent leadership of Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, they have played with flair, courage, discipline and a smile. It has been a joy to watch. But the results have to be put in context. New Zealand and the West Indies arrived in England ranked as the seventh and eighth best Test-playing nations in the world.
Make no mistake, England are a good side - the best the country has produced for more than 20 years. In Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison, Graham Thorpe and himself Vaughan has four world-class players and others have continue to progress. Before this summer England would have felt they had plenty of batting and fast-bowling options but were still short of a wicket-keeping all-rounder and a match-winning spinner. But following the outstanding performances of Ashley Giles and Geraint Jones the selectors must now feel they have every department covered. But the pursuit of becoming the best team in the world does not begin and end with next summer's Ashes series against Australia.
England are ranked as the second best side in the world. This is debatable. In their last four series against South Africa and India England have drawn at home - 2-2 with South Africa in 2003 and 1-1 against India in 2002 - and lost away - 2-1 to South Africa in 1999-00 and 1-0 to India in 2001-02. Indeed England have to go back further than their last Ashes victory - in Australia in 1986-87 - to find a Test series that they have won in either of those countries.
The Ashes may be viewed as the most prestigious series in cricket, and by England as their holy grail, but Australia no longer see it as the ultimate challenge. Glenn McGrath, the Australian fast bowler, feels that defeating India, and particularly India in India, is the true test of greatness.
Two Test series in Sri Lanka last winter highlight the gulf between England and Australia. In a three-Test series before Christmas England lost 1-0 and it could easily have been 3-0 but for some dogged resistance from Vaughan's batsmen. Australia toured the same country six months later and won 3-0.
If England play as they have in 2004 they can push the Aussies close in 2005, but defeating South Africa this winter - something they have not managed to do for 40 years - is a more realistic short-term goal.
They will require Harmison to continuing bowling with hostility and verve and Flintoff to remain fit. In the last 12 monthsthese close friends have been magnificent. Harmison has taken 74 wickets at an average of 20.2, which has allowed him to become the first England bowler since Ian Botham in 1980 to top the world rankings.
Flintoff's form has made him the leading all-rounder in the world. Over the same period he has scored over 1,000 runs at an average of 49.6 and taken 46 wickets at a cost of 26.2.
Marcus Trescothick was given the honour of smashing the winning runs on Saturday but the bowling of James Anderson was the highlight of the day. The Lancashire seamer has had a miserable summer and the four wickets he took in the West Indian second innings were a significant contribution.
His first victim gave him the greatest pleasure, because with Brian Lara at the crease anything was still possible. But the West Indian captain failed to control a drive and the edge flew to Trescothick at first slip.
Lara acknowledged the crowd's standing ovation as he left the ground, a reaction suggesting this was his last Test innings in England. Lara will be 41 when the West Indies next tour here in 2010.
Chris Gayle belligerently smashed his way to a sixth Test hundred before falling to Anderson and Dwayne Bravo again highlighted his prodigious talent with a fighting 54. Both he and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were unfortunate to be given out.
The West Indies' avoided an innings defeat, but their efforts only delayed England's celebrations by 10 minutes and three balls.
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