Strauss’s side still not England’s best
According to International Cricket Council statistician David Kendix’s calculations, three England sides before Andrew Strauss’s present team would have topped the test world rankings too if the current format had existed.
In reverse chronological order, they are Mike Brearley’s side of 1979-80, Ray Illingworth’s 1970-3 team and the 1955-9 squad led first by Len Hutton then Peter May.
Brearley’s side had the young Ian Botham in his athletic prime when he scythed through opposition sides with quick late swing.
The opposition, though, did not that at stage include the best Australian and West Indies sides who had contracted to play for Kerry Packer’s World Series. England’s 5-1 Ashes win in Australia in 1978-9 was against a virtual second XI.
A similar reservation applies to Illingworth’s men. The 1970-1 Ashes win in Australia was a triumph for a tough professional bunch captained shrewdly and including Geoff Boycott and John Snow at the peak of their powers. But the Australians had just been thumped 4-0 by an undeniably great South African side who were then sent into 22 years of apartheid enforced isolation.
That leaves the 1955-9 England side, who retained the Ashes both away and at home.
An indication of the strength of English cricket at the time can be seen by the bowlers left behind when England won in Australia in 1954-5 where Frank Tyson bowled as fast as any man before or since.
There was no place for Fred Trueman, who was to become the first bowler to take 300 test wickets, and no room either for Jim Laker, who captured 19 Australian wickets at Old Trafford in 1956.
Nor did the selectors want Tony Lock, Laker’s spin partner at Surrey, who was unplayable on rain-affected pitches and a third Surrey man, the great cut and swing bowler Alec Bedser, did not play after the first test.
The batsmen included Hutton and Denis Compton, England’s two great players immediately after World War Two, and the two young amateurs May and Colin Cowdrey. Of all the batsman who started their careers after the war, May is still widely regarded as the best.
Individually and collectively the 1950s’ side deserve the overall number one ranking of England teams, with the usual caveats about drawing comparisons between eras.
England have assembled one other notable side since the war, the team who beat the 2005 Australians before immediately starting to disintegrate.
For one glorious summer England fielded their most potent and varied pace attack in history, including Andrew Flintoff who by happy coincidence touched the heights as an all-rounder.
These factors and the frequently inspired captaincy of Michael Vaughan lift them above the current XI in my reckoning into the number two spot, although their ambitions to take over from Australia as the top-ranked team were ruined by a cruel injury sequence.
In their favour, Strauss’s team are a work in progress under a relentlessly driven management who want to make their mark in cricket history. A final verdict is still a long way down the road.
PHOTO: England’s captain Andrew Strauss holds the npower trophy after England defeated India in the fourth test cricket match at the Oval cricket ground in London August 22, 2011. REUTERS/Philip Brown