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August 23, 2004
At The Oval on Saturday, England completed an unprecedented summer of success with their seventh win in a row. Andrew Miller runs his rule over the performers and gives them their marks out of ten:
Marcus Trescothick - 7
Trescothick enjoyed one glorious match, in which he scored two centuries of such upright, effortless majesty that no bowler could live with him. But this was offset by three indifferent performances, when all those old frailties could be seen bubbling just beneath the surface. At present, he's the only England batsman who can't be relied on to deliver when it matters. But we'll just have to get used to that, and revel in his success when it all comes together.
Andrew Strauss - 8
Strauss's 90 at Old Trafford was an invaluable knock that demonstrated he is no one-pitch wonder, and now - like Australia's Adam Gilchrist - he has begun his Test career with a spectacular string of victories. Unlike Gilchrist, however, confidence can only take Strauss so far, and towards the end of the series, it was in fact detrimental to his minimalist game. At Old Trafford and The Oval, he was twice dismissed playing expansive pulls - haphazard shot selection from a batsman who plays the percentages so effectively.
Robert Key - 7
It's quite a reflection of England's current potential that a man with a Lord's double-century and a matchwinning 93 not out to his name can still divide opinions to such an extent. Key is never going to be the purist's cup of tea - his technique and, well, physique do not invite instant praise, and may not stand up to the highest scrutiny. But he has an indomitable spirit, he clearly revels in the mateyness of Michael Vaughan's England, and any doubts about his athleticism were dispelled by that blinding catch at square leg in the fourth Test.
Michael Vaughan - 8
His team may run itself in the field, as he is so fond of telling us, but it has not been an easy summer with the bat for Vaughan. By stepping down from the opener's role, he has also forfeited the right to play with that carefree approach that served him so handsomely in the 2002-03 Ashes. His twin hundreds at Lord's were glorious, but scored from a platform of invincibility. His struggles in the next three Tests were more indicative, as England were in a spot of bother on each occasion, and Vaughan is not so adept at scoring ugly runs as his predecessor at No. 4, Nasser Hussain. Nevertheless, his final two knocks of the series were vital - 33 at Old Trafford, and 66 at The Oval.
Graham Thorpe - 9
Masterful once again. Thorpe is one of the greatest batsmen for a crisis that England has ever produced, and since his return to the side last summer, he has been instrumental in the upturn of the team's performance. His 114 at Old Trafford was every bit as gutsy as his series-clinching century in Barbados, but unlike the rest of the top-order, he was also prepared to dig deep for the unglamorous performances as well - his second-innings 54 at Edgbaston for instance, where no-one other than he and Trescothick exceeded 20. He wasn't missed at The Oval, but he might well have been.
Ian Bell - 7
Instant success for the new boys is becoming a feature of this England team, but even by the standards set this summer by Strauss and Key, it would be hard to imagine a more composed and reassuring arrival as this. Bell was the only one of the three not to mark the moment with a century, but in overcoming a fearful grilling from Fidel Edwards, and the pressure of three early wickets, he more than justified the hype that has followed him since his fleeting appearance in the England squad three years ago. That diving catch at point merely gave an added sheen to his halo.
Andrew Flintoff - 10
What more needs to be said? With the bat, with the ball, on the field and off it, Flintoff epitomised England's crushing superiority throughout the series, and what is more, he did so without once letting the success go to his head. The champagne moments flowed throughout the series - his clean-hitting was so keen-eyed that he could pick out his parents in the stands, and whether it was with the yorker or the throat ball, he seemed capable of dismissing Brian Lara on demand. If only that troublesome ankle could be as reassuring as his bucket hands at slip.
Geraint Jones - 6
After the high of his Headingley century against New Zealand, Jones slipped back into relative anonymity during the visit of the West Indians. This is no bad thing for a wicketkeeper, although his one big splash of the series - his 74 at Edgbaston - was another of those vital jugular-seeking innings that, in harness with Flintoff, killed all prospect of a West Indian revival. His keeping clearly benefited from a masterclass with Jack Russell - after conceding 51 byes in the first two Tests, he let a solitary lapse slip through his gloves at The Oval. Still has that happy knack of clinging onto the important chances.
Ashley Giles - 9
"Where is Plan B?" Lara famously asked at the start of the series. Twenty-two wickets later, Giles had answered that query in the most emphatic manner possible. His stunning success caught all of his critics on the hop, and probably even the man himself. After months of spearing the ball in, in the manner of Chris Gayle, Giles rediscovered his loop and dip, and caused havoc in West Indies' ranks of left-handers - most notably Lara himself, who was bowled gloriously out of the rough to give Giles his 100th Test wicket. He even capped his series with an invaluable 52 at The Oval - a late reminder of his allround worth to the side.
Matthew Hoggard - 8
Every hog has his day. He is a long way from being the most glamorous player in the side, and on the face of it, his series stats of 16 wickets at 30 apiece were a very workaday return. And yet, Hoggard's contribution transcended mere stats. His buzzing pace and subtle movement was the perfect foil to the full-tilt onslaughts provided by Flintoff and Harmison, and on occasions, such as the third morning in Manchester, he was the only man who stuck to the gameplan as the others allowed their pace to go to their heads. He is rapidly developing a highly lucrative sideline as the most reliable nightwatchman in the game.
Steve Harmison - 7
Not a particularly spectacular return, his nine-wicket demolition at The Oval notwithstanding. But Harmison retained an air of menace all the same, and it was reassuring to discover that England's attack is not a one-trick pony. His ascent to the top of the PwC ratings was due reward for a fantastic six months - three quiet matches in a row is not a cause for alarm.
James Anderson - 6
After being overlooked all year, Anderson remained a marginal figure even when recalled to the side, as he bowled just 16.3 overs at both Edgbaston and Old Trafford. But then all of a sudden, along came The Oval, and back came his confidence. He remains some way behind the rest of England's attack in terms of attitude and effectiveness, but given time, he'll make up the difference.
Simon Jones - 5
Jettisoned after one ineffective Test, Jones suffered the double indignity of being overlooked by Glamorgan as well. But bounced back from that affront with five wickets in a pacy performance against Somerset. After coming back from that grievous knee injury, it'll take more than this temporary setback to derail his progress.
Andrew Miller is Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth
Plays of the Day from the third ODI between India and West Indies, in Kanpur