This is a piece I wrote last year for my ‘sports columns’ module. It’s about the England cricket team who had just become the worlds best test side, thanks in large part to their captain’s inspirational guidance. Andrew Strauss has played a massive part in the success England have enjoyed over the last few years. He has been an influential captain and leader and his retirement from professional cricket today highlights his selfless dedication to that role.
My Team of the Year
It might shock many people that as a proud Scotsman, I’m even considering writing this next sentence but here goes. The current England cricket side is without doubt one of the best teams of the last decade and one which transcends their sport. I know it’s a big statement. You may think it’s silly to try to compare players in a non-contact sport with those who play rugby or football but the effort needed to have success in cricket is just as great, although it can often be achieved in a more subtle fashion. There is no crunching tackle to set the tone of a match or piece of dogged determination in the midfield to rally teammates for one last push to score a match-winning goal or try. Very often a bowler may have to bowl for half a day just to wear down a stubborn batsman, only for his partner to make the vital breakthrough and take a wicket that could be the catalyst to swing a five day test match. It might not be as instant an action as a 30 yard screamer into the top corner but his teammates will have appreciated his hard work just as much.
England made a statement of intent back in January of this year with a convincing Ashes win in Australia. But it wasn’t until the summer when they destroyed India in a 4-0 series whitewash that I understood how good a unit they really were. Yes, India were a poor lot but their inadequacies were highlighted because of England’s professionalism and winning mentality. The two teams were polar opposites. Andrew Strauss’s men didn’t have to be at their best to beat the bedraggled tourists but they had already set their own standards and compromising those was not an option. That’s the mark of a quality team. Of course the incentive of winning the series was that England would become the number one test side in the world. However, even after that milestone had been achieved with one match remaining, their standards never slipped one bit.
While India’s lethargic body language in the field and their ineptitude both with the bat (Rahul Dravid apart) and the ball, amounted to a very one sided series, England were utterly ruthless. Before a ball was bowled, you could see they meant business. Their warm-ups were more like mini training sessions and their effort to back up their teammates when times were tough was inspiring. Even when the game was over as a contest, England looked sharp when fielding and chased lost causes all the way to the boundary as if their lives depended on it. It’s obvious that the set-up behind the scenes and the team’s hunger to stay at the top has a lot to do with their success. Former England batsman, Graham Gooch must take a lot of credit as batting coach but the hours of practice and analysis overseen by team director Andy Flower definitely shows.
With just over two weeks to go until the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, the England test cricket team have got to be team of the year. Captain, Andrew Strauss and team director, Andy Flower have already been rewarded for their roles in transforming England into the top cricket team in the world in a relatively short space of time. Both accepted OBE’s from Her Majesty while the latter recently won Coach of the Year at the UK Coaching Awards. Alastair Cook was the most recent visitor to Buckingham Palace when he picked up his MBE for his outstanding achievements as England‘s opening batsman but this team isn’t about the individuals. Even the flamboyant match-winner that is Kevin Pietersen would have to admit that he is part of a well oiled machine where the sum is greater than its parts.
The team complement each other, and on the occasions when things aren’t going their way, they seem to be able to dig themselves out of a hole. Players like Pietersen and Cook can single-handedly win test matches while Ian Bell, who is a joy to watch on his day, has battled back from obscurity to be considered one of the top batsmen in the world. When these three are having an off day Jonathan Trott has the ability to build an innings from nothing. While further down the batting order Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan have often saved the blushes of this quartet when called into action earlier than expected. With a bowling attack that includes plenty of pace and swing courtesy of Anderson, Bresnan and Broad, with a bit of guile from the effervescent spinner, Graeme Swann, thrown in for good measure, England are a formidable outfit. Even when Strauss is having an off day with the bat, his presence and decision making in the field influence those around him and that is a sign of a great captain.
Their togetherness is there for everyone to see in their celebrations whenever a wicket is taken or a hundred is made and with characters like Swann in the dressing room, the team spirit will never be in question. It goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to see blood and guts to appreciate the determination of a team but England’s cricketers have it in spades. It’s something I never thought I’d hear myself saying, but an England team is my team of the year.