England are clearly in no mood to abdicate their No 1 Test ranking they have enjoyed now for almost a year. South Africa may be hot on their heels and in fact will be visiting England later this season. But the manner in which England are playing at the moment they will be starting firm favourites against the No 2 ranked side in the world.
It would be easy to dismiss the two England victories against the West Indies as no big deal. After all West Indies do not enjoy an impressive Test record and are currently ranked No 7. On the contrary Darren Sammy’s men have proved to be worthy opposition and under the circumstances it has been a creditable performance by England. They have shown that they have the personnel who can rise to the occasion in a crisis and that is why they should get the better of South Africa who of course will provide sterner opposition.
At the moment England have everything going for them. To start with they have an experienced captain in Andrew Strauss. Not many England leaders have two Ashes wins under their belt and this alone is enough to place Strauss among the best captains England has had in recent times – and they have had quite a few.
He is not a flamboyant character and prefers to lead with a quiet, calm efficiency. And this style has stood him and his team in good stead – he has now won seven successive home series which is a record for any England captain. During this period England have won 16 Tests and lost just two. The only blip was the fact that he had been without a hundred for long.
At Trent Bridge the century drought ended and with this he underlined one of the most cliched phrases in the game - form is temporary, class is permanent. With 21 three figure innings against his name, Strauss bids fair to soon go past the England record of 22 jointly held by three England greats Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott.
But Strauss is only one gem in an England batting line up that has several sparkling stones. His opening partner Alastair Cook averages almost 50 in a career spanning 79 Tests. With 19 hundreds and a highest score of 294 Cook has an insatiable appetite for runs and the two have formed one of the most durable and successful opening pairs in the history of the game.
At No 3 walks in Jonathon Trott and if Cook averages almost 50 here is a man who averages over 50. The one drop position is generally reserved for the best batsman in the side and in many ways Trott fits the description. Steady rather than spectacular he builds an innings and with the age-old qualities of dedication, determination and concentration he is a bowler’s nightmare.
If somehow the opposition can get two of these three batsmen out early they still have to contend with the formidable figure of Kevin Pietersen walking in at No 4. He is the opposite of those preceding him at the crease for he is flamboyance personified.
With dazzling strokes – and other shots not out of the textbook – Pietersen is able to demoralize the bowlers like few batsmen in the game can today. Given his robust, attacking style he has been remarkably consistent as an average of virtually 50 and 20 hundreds in 85 Tests clearly indicate.
Next in the order is a batsman who averages 47 so whichever way one looks at it there is still no respite for the bowler. Ian Bell is a class act and the perfect middle order batsman for he is capable of playing the rescue act should there be an early collapse as also to build upon quickly on a sound start.
At the moment the No 6 spot remains the weak link as Jonny Bairstow has not made the most of his opportunities but there are several claimants led by Ravi Bopara and Nick Compton ready to come in. And finally at No 7 we have Matt Prior and wicket keeper batsmen don’t come any tougher than this 30-year-old. Whether scoring consistently – he has six Test hundreds and averages 42 – or being quite spectacular behind the stumps Prior is a major asset to the side.
If anything the bowling matches the batting in skill, quality and experience. England have perhaps the best seam and swing attack in the game and to think that because James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan are performing so well, bowlers like Steve Finn, Chris Tremlett and Graham Onions cannot get a look in.
Anderson has been the pace spearhead for some time now and he is getting better every year. Bresnan and Broad are genuine all rounders and can be a major nuisance to the opposition coming in at No 8 and No 9. And to complete the happy picture in addition to having the best seam and swing attack England also have the best spin bowler in the game today.
In an era of ordinary bowlers and doubtful actions Graeme Swann is a joy to watch. The easy action, the loop, the flight, the turn, Swann has them all and his skill and subtlety is driven home by the figures – 188 wickets from 43 Tests at an average of 28. And he is no mean performer with the bat.
With this kind of line-up is it any wonder that England are No 1 and are likely to remain at the top for quite a while?