Vic Marks: England look set to be long-term success story

It may be an English thing but the temptation is to dwell upon the frailties of the opposition at times like this.

England have just defeated supposedly (there we go again) what was the number one team in the world by 4-0 and we are quick to point out that India seemed unfit, uninterested and under par. Surely they were the worst number one since Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini topped the charts in 1960.

After the Ashes triumph of last winter we debated when we had last seen such a ragbag Australian side. And in our grumpiness we might now conclude that we cannot possibly preen ourselves as top nation until we have beaten the South Africans or won in the sub-continent.

Well, a bit of perspective can be a good thing and Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower always insist that feet must be kept firmly on the ground. But – hallelujah - this is a truly remarkable England side.

It is not so much the number of wins that Strauss and his side are clocking up. It is the margin of those victories. Against India the tightest match was at Lord’s and yet England won that one by 196 runs. Innings victories have become commonplace: there were two against India, one against Sri Lanka at Cardiff, three against Australia in the recent Ashes series. England are not just beating their opposition; they are thrashing them to the point of humiliation.

Strauss’s side has a ruthless streak. With the destination of the Ashes decided back in Sydney last January there was no suggestion of taking the foot off the jugular. Instead they delivered what was almost the perfect performance in the final Test.

At the Oval this week, with the series long since decided, the sun out and Sachin Tendulkar cruising along, they might have settled for a draw. Yet they were scrapping like terriers on the final afternoon as if the series depended on that session’s outcome. Moreover when they scent their chance this team moves in for the kill as clinically as an assassin.

The victory at the Oval offered the most encouraging sign that England might be number one for some time. For the first three Tests against India they had the luxury of playing on surfaces that suited a pace attack, which is the envy of most international sides – currently only South Africa might be able to match whichever trio England puts on the field.

But at the Oval the pitch was dry; it lacked much pace and by the end it was offering encouragement only to spin bowlers. In other words it had the properties of a sub-continental pitch. And it is in the sub-continent, where England’s next challenges lie. They have not won in Asia since the winter of 2000/01 when they triumphed in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They have not won in India since the 1984/85 tour.

To prevail in Asia – or the Middle-East, where they play Pakistan this winter – England will probably have to change the balance of their side. Traditionally spin bowling becomes more important and they will have to consider a second spinner in their final eleven. Yet this need not disrupt or dismay England too much.

Graeme Swann may not have had a prolific series against India but he was there when England needed him in the final Test. He knows how to take Test wickets all right. Now with 154 to his name, he has sprinted past some esteemed English spin bowlers. Indeed, only Derek Underwood, Jim Laker and Tony Lock are above him.

This winter England may need a Panesar or a Patel or just conceivably a Briggs alongside him, which will require a little juggling. Currently the likeliest way to achieve that change would be to replace the sixth batsman with a spinner and trust in the all-round capabilities of Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan, who has never tasted anything other than victory in his Test career.

It may be that Bresnan – unwittingly – personifies everything that is so good about this England side. He has performed well enough for Yorkshire over the years. But put an England shirt on him and he becomes a colossus. And the wonderful thing is that he is only one of the colossi in the current England team. We should enjoy them while we can.

*Vic Marks, the former Somerset and England off spinner, is cricket correspondent of The Observer and an associate editor of The Cricketer

This entry was posted in England, England home, Featured Articles, Opinion, OpinionAlerts, Vic Marks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Vic Marks: England look set to be long-term success story

  1. Hugh Faulkner says:

    The worst no 1 since 1960? Fast forward another 11 years to the end of the England v Pakistan series in the first half of the 1971 season. The English had then won or drawn their last home & away series against every other test playing country (discounting the South Africans, whose ostracism from test cricket had then begun, though they did have a series in Australia scheduled for the following winter that was never going to happen) so England could then be said to be the undisputed no .1 test team. However the second half of that summer saw this champion England side lose to an Indian team that was surely inferior to the 2011 indians, thus making the English team of July 1971 arguably the weakest no 1 since the music loving populace was shelling out its spare cash on ditties about polka dot bikinis.