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August 4, 2011
Andrew Flintoff, the man whose greatest years as a Test cricketer coincided with England's last sustained run of excellence in five-day cricket, believes the team of 2011 is a better outfit than the 2005 side that won six series in a row and regained the Ashes for the first time in 18 years.
England's current run of form has carried them to a 2-0 series lead against the current No. 1 Test team in the world, India, and if they maintain or improve that two-match margin in the remaining two Tests of the series at Edgbaston and The Oval, they will themselves climb to the top of the world rankings.
In Flintoff's estimation, however, that handover has already been achieved. "England are the best team in the world already," he said. "Not just in ranking, but also in strength. They have got everything. I don't see why they can't dominate for a long time. They have strong enough players to do it. Australia and West Indies did it and England should be able to do it for the next few years."
The key difference between 2005 and 2011 is the breadth of the squad that England are able to call upon. Six years ago, England's first XI was formidable, with players such as Flintoff and Simon Jones peaking at precisely the right moment in their careers. However, they lacked the reserves to maintain their rise towards the top. Jones went lame with one Ashes match remaining and never played again, while the subsequent losses of Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan and Flintoff himself for long periods led to a long slide back towards mediocrity.
"This is a better side than the one we had in 2005," said Flintoff. "The strength of it and the depth is incredible. In 2005 we had 11 players who had a memorable few weeks and played at their best for a period, but we never played together again."
In the past 12 months, England have demonstrated a formidable pack mentality, particularly when it comes to their fast bowlers. When Stuart Broad was injured during the Ashes, he was replaced superbly by Chris Tremlett, who had himself risen to become the leader of the attack by the end of the recent Sri Lanka series. Then, when he suffered a back spasm on the eve of the Trent Bridge Test, Tim Bresnan - another Ashes reserve - stepped in to seal the match with a career-best 5 for 48.
"This side have a squad and they are so strong in and out of the side," said Flintoff. "We've seen them replace players without blinking and it has made no difference to the performance and that has been happening for a while now.
"There are no weak links. They are playing with a confidence and a swagger that goes with being the best. They've got every department covered and if someone gets injured then another one comes in and does a job."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala