England has swept away South Africa in the first Test in Port Elizabeth to take a one-nil lead in the five Test series. They eventually won by a comfortable seven wickets, following a South African second inning batting collapse.
The match was won mainly off the bat of Andrew Strauss – the Englishman with the Austrian name. He anchored the English first innings with 126 and then became the second batsman within a week to narrowly miss out on a pair of centuries in the same match (joining Langer). Strauss was left 94 not out in the winning chase of 3/145. A chase that had the shakes at 2/11 and 3/50. A chase that was also threatened by encroaching bad weather.
Some good bowling also saw them through with Hoggard returning to form and Simon Jones taking an important four wickets in the second innings.
England has now posted eight victories in a row – a record for England and equal fifth on the overall list of consecutive victories – in a year that goes from exciting to euphoric for the English cricket team. And as it turns out, Strauss has played eight Tests and known only victory. Of course, the record holder for that is A C Gilchrist with 15 victories and nobody is going to beat that.
So where does that leave England? Officially, they are second on the ICC Test rankings and I don’t think there could be any dispute that on current form, they are easily number two. How big is the gap between first and second? I don’t think that there is an Englishman who would dare utter aloud that they might be the best. But I wonder how many are secretly thinking it? All I can say is thank goodness that 2005 is an Ashes year and in less than eight months we will no longer be wondering. One thing seems assured: The next Ashes series will be the best (as in closely fought) series since hmmm – I’m not sure when.
A lot has changed for England since 2001, and even 2002-03. And not much has changed for Australia except that the boys are all a few years older. And last time I looked, McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and even Kasper were bowling rather well. The English summer of 2005 should hold the answers to some intriguing questions. And whichever way you look at it, those answers will be hard to swallow for some of those involved.
And now a digression on the subject of the consecutive Test victories list:
Looking at the list, I was interested to see a couple of surprises. The last time I looked at that record was when Australia was setting its 16 match winning streak. At that time, the mark to beat was 11 – set by Clive Lloyd’s West Indies team. And the next best was 8, by Armstrong’s Australians in the early nineteen twenties. So I was astonished to see that there are two new entries with 9 straight wins. A lot has been said about the overall lack of depth in Test cricket and this probably adds to the argument. Both Sri Lanka (2001 – 2002) and South Africa (2002 – 2003) had winning streaks of nine matches! I have two comments to make:
1. The first eight of Sri Lanka’s nine were at home. And in fact, they had played 13 straight Tests at home. The first seven of South Africa’s nine were at home (and they played nine straight at home) and the last two of the winning streak were against Bangladesh. It’s interesting that those teams played so many straight at home – I can’t think of a time where Australia would have played more than six. Not a criticism but it is interesting.
2. Of Sri Lanka’s nine wins, three were against Zimbabwe and one against Bangladesh. Of South Africa’s nine, four were against Bangladesh. Four “walk overs” each. Enough said on that.