Why England Can't Enjoy Being The World's Number One Test Team

Why do we look at other sides shortcomings instead of our own greatness? Is English cricket too neurotic to enjoy being the best in the world?
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Why do we look at other sides shortcomings instead of our own greatness? Is English cricket too neurotic to enjoy being the best in the world?

Test cricket has been a lifelong passion. My memory goes back as far as Boycott and Brearley opening the batting for England, and Boycs' 100th first class hundred at Headingley in 1977.

As a school kid I recall waking up in the early hours and, with great trepidation, tuning into Test Match Special on a crackling transistor radio for live coverage of the last few overs of the day during an Ashes series Down Under. Praying England would be going well but then clutching my head with despair after Gower invariably hooked recklessly in the last over of the day and was caught on the boundary.

For the most part it has been a story of anguish and heartache, firstly at the hands of the great West Indies sides of the 80s, then having to cope with Australian domination through the 90s and early Noughties. There was brief euphoria, in 2005, during that epic Ashes series win, but now, in 2011, it feels like that moment I've been waiting for my entire life has finally arrived. An England test team that has been deservedly, and rightfully, crowned number one in the world.

It is the best England team I have ever seen. They are magnificent in all departments. And given the history of our test side, and the emotion I've invested over the decades, I find myself loving this side like a father loves a son.

It's a side that has all bases covered. With perfect balance. And strength in depth in the seam department. And a world class spinner in Swann. And a run-scoring machine in Alastair Cook. And the flair of KP and Bell counter-balanced by the obstinacy of Trott. And the best wicketkeeper/batsman in world cricket in Prior. And a side that bats all the way down. And Strauss and Flower at the helm, ensuring no one gets ahead of themselves, and the team doesn't rest on its laurels but continues to strive for improvement. And the mickey-taking camaraderie of Swann and Anderson representing everything that is right and marvellous about this England side. A side with a wonderful team ethos based on collective achievement; a team that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

I've waited a lifetime for this moment. Why do I have to have my joy sullied in this way? Not to mention the fact England's cricketing success is buried away in the newspapers, as 10 pages of Premiership football coverage dominates the back pages.

We've just whitewashed India 4-0, who arrived here, lest we forget, as the world number one. A side full of batting greats like 'The Wall', Rahul Dravid, who has batted longer in test match cricket than anyone else in the history of the game, and VVS Laxman, known as 'Very Very Special', and the Little Master, Tendulkar. Over the course of the series, England have broken their will; buried them into the dust as mercilessly as the great Australian sides did to England.

And yet, as I watched the final day of the last test at the Oval yesterday, there was a part of me that felt uneasy. There was a nagging sympathy for India. I wanted to see Sachin get his 100th hundred, as I was happy to see Dravid carry his bat in the Indian first innings. Yes, I wanted to see England wrap up the series 4-0 but I couldn't help myself feeling sorry for India.

It's bizarre. It's as if it is not in our nature to be ruthless, cold killers. We are too nice to be dominant champions which makes me wonder, is there something in the psyche of the English whereby being number one in the world doesn't sit entirely comfortably?

There has been a similar reaction among the cricket pundits, and the former test players. During this series, they've spent an inordinately long time dissecting and scrutinising England's current success. I've heard every possible reason, bar England's greatness, churned out as an explanation for the side's supremacy.

'India have arrived here under-cooked', 'India have under-performed', 'India are missing Zaheer Khan', 'India are past their best'. 'The strength of the sides in world cricket currently isn't very good', 'Bowling attacks aren't what they were'…

Any opportunity to undermine England's achievement has been seized upon, while the England team continues to court criticism. Strauss is too conservative in his field placings and declarations. Alastair Cook plays too much for himself and scores too slowly. Eoin Morgan's batting technique is utterly flawed. Stuart Broad spits his dummy out too often. Jimmy Anderson can only bowl well when the ball is swinging…

Would the Australians, during all those years of Ashes domination, have been racked by the same inward- looking anxiety, and neurotic self-doubt, and gone around thinking, 'Yeah, but we're only winning cos England are no good'?

For fuck's sake. I've waited a lifetime for this moment. Why do I have to have my joy sullied in this way? Not to mention the fact England's cricketing success is buried away in the newspapers, as 10 pages of Premiership football coverage dominates the back pages.

When England won the Ashes in Australia last winter for the first time in 24 years, the same thing happened. Some of the former test players were keen to point out the Australian side was a shadow of the one that had McGrath and Warne in it, while the local media could only deal with the crippling blow of being hammered on home soil by the Poms by painting Ponting's side as the worst ever in the history of Australian cricket.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for objective sports reporting. In comparison to the blinkered jingoism you see over there, it's good we have more balanced coverage here, but even so, the criticism goes too far; the discussions belittling the current England team are too forthright, and too much to the fore.

Few gave England a chance in Australia last winter. Our bowling attack would be exposed, claimed the critics, yet we pulverised them, winning three tests by an innings. Ah, yes, but the true test will only come in the summer against India, those same critics stated. Now, we've thrashed India, it's the exact same reaction. Well, India haven't turned up in this series, they say. The REAL test will only come next summer, against South Africa, and when we play away on the sub-Continent. And so it goes on. It all points to a nation that struggles with the notion it is the best in the world.

Can we not just allow ourselves the thought we have a great England cricket team right now, period? Would the Australians, during all those years of Ashes domination, have been racked by the same inward- looking anxiety, and neurotic self-doubt, and gone around thinking, 'Yeah, but we're only winning cos England are no good'? No. They fucking revelled in it, and were convinced by their absolute brilliance, as we should be now.

So please let us all enjoy it. Some of us have waited over 35 years for this. I won't hear a bad word said against this team. This is a great England test side and it can dominate test cricket for the next six years or more. Shout it from the rooftops. Not with crowing arrogance but with genuine delight, and pride.

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