England secured an unassailable lead in the current Test Match series against the West Indies on Monday, comprehensively demolishing their opponents with a nine-wicket win at Trent Bridge. Placed in the Test Match rankings as the top team in the world, England’s performance against a decidedly subdued Windies side temporarily puts to bed some of the worries concerning both the batting and bowling side of England’s current team. Traditionally weak when playing on the sub-continent, the England team, under the guidance of Andy Flower, have come under attack for their dismal performance against Pakistan in their ‘Winter of Discontent’. But does this recent success against the West Indies, which Andrew Strauss will be hoping to build on with a third and final win at Edgbaston, indicate an England side which is ready to take on the likes of South Africa this summer, and India in the autumn?
The current three-match series against West India has seen a resurgence in quality among both the top order batsmen and the killing instinct that was so lacking during the tour of Pakistan in the winter. Faced by solidly good bowlers who do not represent the strongest team that Pakistan has had in recent times, England’s batsmen failed miserably against conditions that they could simply not adapt to. Andrew Strauss, the England Captain, managed one half century in 8 innings, whilst Alastair Cook, faring only a little better with an accomplished 94 in the second match, similarly failed to impress, with high or supporting scores coming only occasionally from the middle ranks. The argument that centuries were hard to get was negated by the fact that the third match saw two Pakistan players (Azhar Ali and Y Khan) reach 157 and 127 respectively. England left Pakistan with the insults of the media ringing in their ears, and the knowledge that the three-nil whitewash could well result in their loss of the top spot in the test rankings. It was only South Africa’s failure in attempting to beat New Zealand 3-0 that England just clung on to their position.
Sri Lanka, too often an underestimated side, then beat England in Galle, bringing to the forefront yet more questions about England’s capability on a pitch that appeared to be relatively docile. Although England came back to level the series with a shaky 94-run chase, the doubts about England playing middle-of-the-road teams in unfamiliar conditions continue to be present, with batsmen in particular attempting to play in the frame of mind which more accurately befitted the 20/20 format.
However, rather predictably England’s fortunes have now improved with their return to home soil. Andrew Strauss hit two centuries in two matches to appease supporters of his suitability to bat at the top of English cricket, whilst the batting attack as a whole provided solid score from which the England bowlers, lead by the three-prong attack of Anderson, Bresnan and Broad, kept the bowling tight and disciplined to effectively remove the West Indies openers with minimal scores being amassed.
Understandably, then, optimism is rife for England to perform well against South Africa later in the summer, and ensure that by defeating their closest rivals in the test match league table, England cement their position as the top team in the world for test matches. However, I do not see the beating of South Africa here in England as proof of England’s world-beating capability. Instead, as my Indian friends remind me, it will be how England perform against India, in India, that will determine how many of England’s demons still exist. Then, and only then, will I and many other test-match fans fans be convinced, whether at home or abroad, that England are worthy of their prestigious world title.