Are England’s cricketers the best in the world?
As they close in on another innings victory and an Ashes series win, England look untouchable
As England prepare to cap their triumphant Ashes campaign with an unprecedented third innings victory over Australia, they can lay claim to being the best Test side in the world.
According to the world rankings England are officially third, behind India and South Africa - but they have the chance to claim the official top spot when they face Sachin Tendulkar et al in England this summer.
And after their clinical destruction of Australia, who would bet against England or suggest they are not worthy of top spot?
They are already world champions in the Twenty20 format of the game, and will fancy their chances in the One Day world cup, which takes place in the spring. And after decades of average performances English cricketers can claim to be the best in the world.
The Ashes have provided ample proof of England's ability. While Australia have been dismal, apart from at Perth, it is extraordinary for a touring side to overwhelm the hosts in the manner in which England have managed this winter.
Assuming England do wrap up a 3-1 series win by taking the final three Australian wickets on the fifth day at Sydney it will be only the third time in 30 years the hosts have lost three Tests in a home series. The two previous occasions were in the 1980s against the mighty West Indian sides of that era.
If England can do it with an innings to spare it will be the first time in history that the home side has lost three Tests in a series by an innings - the most humiliating margin of victory possible in cricket. The Aussies had only suffered three such defeats in the 22 years of cricket before this winter.
Over the last few weeks the sound of Australian wickets tumbling has only been matched by that of records being broken.
In the final Test England heaped more and more misery on Australian shoulders, as Alastair Cook became the third highest run scorer in an Ashes series (behind Wally Hammond and Donald Bradman) as his side posted their highest ever total, 644, on Australian soil.
There have been record partnerships and record scores along the way. Five of England's top seven batsmen have averaged more than 50 during the Ashes, and all but Paul Collingwood, who has announced his retirement, have scored a century.
In the series so far the hosts have lost 88 wickets and, barring a miracle, will lose three more on the final day of the Test. By contrast, this series England have lost just 56 - and 20 of them came at Perth. Ignoring events at the Waca, that is 36 wickets out of a possible 80 in four Tests. The Australian bowlers have claimed fewer than half the England scalps on offer in those matches.
The English bowlers have also been exceptional. The danger men at the start of the series were touted as Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad. They are bottom of the bowling averages. Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett - who were not expected to play in the series - have both come into the side and excelled. They have 27 wickets between them. Jimmy Anderson, ridiculed for taking five wickets at an average of over 80 last time England toured Australia, has 23 scalps at an average of 26.7 this time round.
Even more impressive than the stats has been the attack's control of line and length that has strangled the Australian batsmen. 'Scoreboard pressure' has built up and wickets have tumbled.
So dismal has been the performance of the Australians that the powers that be have accepted the fact that no-one will be prepared to pay to watch them play. Entrance to the SCG to witness the last rites on the final day of the series will be free. But even so the crowd is likely to be mostly full of crowing English ex-pats and tourists, eager to see the most clinical cricketing side on the planet finish off the Aussies. ·
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