England reach their first peak
The groundwork which enabled England to reach No. 1 in the Test rankings was put in place before the new millennium. The team had hit rock bottom, but even then, structures were being implemented that would eventually reap rewards. The climb wasn't always smooth, and there were plenty of hiccups along the way, but the rebuilding years were vital.
v New Zealand, The Oval, 1999: Bottom of the pile
When Alan Mullally skied Chris Cairns to mid-off, England had been beaten by 83 runs in the fourth and deciding Test and were, according to the Wisden rankings that predated the official ICC ladder, the worst team in the world. Nasser Hussain was booed as he made his way onto The Oval balcony for the presentation. The only way was up.
November 1999: From now on, this is how it works
Duncan Fletcher, at the time a fairly unknown name outside of his achievements for Zimbabwe, had been confirmed as England's new coach earlier in the year. However, he had a watching brief as the team hit rock-bottom against New Zealand and it wasn't until the tour of South Africa that he could start to change English cricket. On his first day in charge, England slumped to 2 for 4 against South Africa at Johannesburg, yet slowly, but surely, a strong relationship with Hussain began to form
May 2000: England first
A hugely significant moment in the bigger picture of English cricket's future came with the first batch of ECB central contracts. Some, such as Chris Schofield and Mark Ramprakash, faded away, but the principle of the leading players being managed by the England coach brought a new professionalism to the set up.
v West Indies, 2000: Regain the Wisden Trophy
West Indies weren't the force of old, but with Ambrose, Walsh and Lara they still had plenty of matchwinners. When they secured the first Test at Edgbaston it looked like normal service, but after producing a wonderful fight-back at Lord's to win by two wickets the momentum was with England. On a heady day at The Oval they bowled out West Indies to take the series 3-1. Hussain, who'd barely scored a run, sank to his knees. England were on the climb.
December-March 2000-01: Subcontinent success
This is a winter that doesn't get the acclaim it deserves. Firstly the team won in the dark at Karachi to secure a series victory in Pakistan after 39 years then, even more impressively, came from 1-0 down to beat Sri Lanka on their home soil. A core of experienced players, led by Darren Gough and Graham Thorpe, was forming alongside younger stars such as Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan. This was Hussain's finest hour.
July-September 2001: Ashes hammering
However, any thought that England were ready to make a challenge for the top was brought into stark focus by another Ashes hammering. The first three Tests were over within 11 days and only Mark Butcher's career-defining 173 saved face. Australia were still light years ahead.
July-August, 2002: Missed opportunity
Sri Lanka had been dispatched 2-0 in helpful conditions and when India were beaten by 170 runs at Lord's, confidence was high. However, inconsistency still dogged the team and at Headingley they were thrashed by an innings and 46 runs. A 1-1 draw was unfulfilling and, more crucially with an Ashes on the horizon, Andrew Flintoff had been stretched to breaking point with a double hernia.
v Australia, Brisbane, 2002: "We'll bowl."
It's a moment Hussain has never lived down, putting Australia into bat at the Gabba and watching them amass 364 for 2 on the first day. Worst still, Simon Jones suffered a career-threatening knee injury sliding on the sandy outfield. The Ashes finished 4-1 and, despite the consolation victory at Sydney, the team was still treading water.
v South Africa, Edgbaston, 2003: Hussain loses the team
Hussain had packed in the one-day captaincy following another poor World Cup campaign and Michael Vaughan made a promising start in the job with two early trophies. Hussain returned for the start of the Test series against South Africa and watched his team struggle to make an impression although the opening match was saved by a mixture of Vaughan and rain. Immediately after the game a tearful Hussain stepped down saying the side had moved on. But he had played a huge role dragging England off the bottom.
v South Africa, The Oval, 2003: A tone-setting victory
Vaughan's reign started with a crushing innings defeat at Lord's and England verged from the very good (winning at Trent Bridge) to the very bad (another defeat at Headingley) to leave the series 2-1 heading into the final match at The Oval. That's when the first signs emerged of the cricket the side could be capable of playing, having fought back from South Africa being 345 for 2. Trescothick hit a double hundred, Thorpe a comeback century, Flintoff bashed 95 and Steve Harmison rattled South Africa with pace. The series was levelled. It was the start.
ICC Test rankings were officially introduced in June 2003. In September, England were ranked No. 4
October 2003, Bangladesh: Hit the gym
This wasn't so much about the results, anything less than the eventual clean sweep would have been poor, but it was a tour when Vaughan laid down his marker. He wanted England to be fitter and stronger than ever before. They spent rainy days pounding away in the gym and bonding as a unit. The results weren't immediately evident, as a weary squad went on to lose in Sri Lanka, but they soon would be.
v West Indies 2004: The pace aces
Harmison blitzed West Indies with 7 for 12 in Jamaica, Simon Jones swung them out in Trinidad then Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard (with a hat-trick) secured England a famous series victory in Barbados. Thorpe made his finest century on a tricky pitch and Vaughan's team was showing the signs, especially in the fast bowling, of forming a formidable unit.
England ranking April 2004: 3rd
May-September 2004: Magnificent seven
A summer of complete domination as England wiped the floor 7-0 against New Zealand and West Indies. Harmison became the No.1-ranked bowler in the world, Flintoff became the leading allrounder and the batting line-up was formidable. Momentum was building for the greater challenges ahead.
England ranking September 2004: 2nd (20 points behind Australia)
v South Africa, Johannesburg, 2005: One of their best
The series was level following three Tests and after the two first innings at the Wanderers it was still even. Then Trescothick produced a scintillating 180 and Hoggard stunned South Africa on the final day with 7 for 61 to take his match haul to 12 wickets. The totality of their final-day performance proved they were ready to challenge Australia.
England ranking January 2005: 2nd (22 points behind Australia)
January-February 2005: Enter Kevin Pietersen
It's easy to forget that Kevin Pietersen wasn't in the Test side at the start of the 2005 season. Thorpe played against Bangladesh, but was pensioned off when Fletcher and Vaughan decided England needed an X-factor player. That player was Pietersen, whose scintillating arrival in the one-day side against South Africa had proven both his talent and big-match temperament. Three centuries in the series, in a sometimes poisonously hostile atmosphere, meant his Test call-up was a given.
July-September 2005: The Greatest Series
The summer became the ultimate contest between the two best sides in the world. They exchanged blows throughout the series with the famous two-run win at Edgbaston producing wonderful sporting emotion. Australia hung on nine-down in scenes of rare drama at Old Trafford then England went ahead with another nail-biter at Trent Bridge. It all came down to the final day at The Oval and England stuttered. Would old failings emerge at the crucial hour? Pietersen ensured they didn't with his spine-tingling 158. Australia's years of consistent success meant they remained top of the rankings, but the belief was England were genuine contenders for the years ahead. It didn't turn out that way ...
England ranking September 2005: 2nd (eight points behind Australia)
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo