England's rise to No. 1

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

Andrew McGlashan

August 14, 2011

Comments: 18 | Text size: A | A

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.


A fraught Nasser Hussain faces the press after New Zealand beat England in 1999, England v New Zealand, 4th Test, The Oval, August 22, 1999
Not for the last time as England captain, Nasser Hussain was emotional after the team sank to bottom against New Zealand © Getty Images
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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.


Andrew Flintoff during his 95 at The Oval, England v South Africa, 5th Test, The Oval, September 7, 2003
By 2003 Andrew Flintoff was becoming a world-class allrounder and would be central to England's success © Getty Images
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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)


Time to celebrate: the victorious English Ashes-winning side of 2005, The Oval, September 12, 2005
England conquered the Ashes summit in 2005 © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by Valavan on (August 16, 2011, 9:59 GMT)

@Punoose: none compared England with Aussies of 90s or Windies of 80s, what you want to say good prepared indians are hard to beat in England, I can say well prepared England is hard to beat even in India. Indian No.1 gone above the heads of all Indian team and fans, once they receive a well prepared team they are exposed. This very same indian team lost to SL in 2008 for mendis magic.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2011, 9:05 GMT)

in the last 6 year england has always shown that it is a formidable side certainly there have been few ups and down they have realy produced few amazing cricketer during this period flintof evolved out big time, Kevin peteson, finn, broad, cook, troat, prior, swann and others the good thing is that they all have been team man, what amaze me most is their batting line this is one this which no other batting line up has in past, and wil be extremly difficult for any other team to do so in future they bat till no 10 which is amazing, this is what england X factor and helps it to score over others team their batting aginst spin will be tasted in comming series against pakistan and srilanka

Posted by Punoose on (August 16, 2011, 7:42 GMT)

Dear Andrew,

Like the Roman Empire all things will come to an end even for this English team.

It needs to beat India in India which looks unlikely even today with only Swann , no greentops and no Britsh weather. I even predict it will find it hard to beat a well prepared Indian team in England--not a team like this Indian one that has just turned up expecting to win. This English team is nowhere near the team of Hayden,Langer, Ponting, Gilchrist,Waugh M and S , Warne, and McGrath.

Regards Salil

Posted by mohsin9975 on (August 16, 2011, 2:22 GMT)

Excellnt summary of englands rise from bottom to the top with some deep troughs along their way. Most of the important events seem to b covered in this article. Good work gnasha. England regaining the ashes in 2009 helped not only them in the ranking with a windfall of points gained beating the top team but also helped india a lot to attain no.1 spot as australia lost crucial points and fell to no.3 with sa and india as 1 nd 2.After this, india continued winning against srilanka,australia at home nd nz,bangladesh away with sa suffering at the hands of aus at home after they they had thrashed the aussies in australia. India s succession to no1 depended on these crucial coincidences of losses suffered by aussies in ashes 09 and sa losing at home to aussies after getting the no1 spot and india playing most of the matches in the subcontinent

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (August 15, 2011, 22:44 GMT)

@zico123, I disagree with you. Not just India but England also had their fair share of injuries - Tremlett, Trott and to some extent Swann and now Anderson. Yes, Zaheer is a big loss and England would have crumbled like nine pins in front of him. But that only masks our deficiencies in the present and for the future as regards to bench strength. See the depth of English in the face of injuries and how they come out on top in the face of such adversities. That must be very pleasing and reassuring for the English fans. We can't say the same with our Indian team by any stretch of imagination. We have to live with it or plan meticulously to improve. Yes, Zaheer's absence crippled us. But that should tell you how weak we are as a squad. So, instead of saying that we are a depleted side (which I too agree) bigger question is why should our team become depleted unlike the English who also have their fair share of injuries? They are a stronger squad overall than us. That's the ballpark answer.

Posted by   on (August 15, 2011, 21:01 GMT)

@zico123: Sure, India ahave suffered more than England with injuries, but you have to remember that India only lost Sehwag for two tests and Gambhir for one and a half. England were without Trott for in the third test, and without Tremlett for the second and third tests. And they may be without Anderson in the fourth.

As for how long England will remain at the top, well we'll see - it's all very exciting! I'm sure that India will come back strongly soon enough, and South Africa probably see themselves as the next number one side. Australia aren't far off being contenders either, although Sri Lanka seem to have slipped a little.

Posted by addiemanav on (August 15, 2011, 20:07 GMT)

cont..dravid had resigned & kumble took over from him!he had a tough tour of aus,ind lost 2-1 but held the head high!!the Sl series was lost mainly due to one man ajantha mendis!then aus came back to ind and were beaten comfortably 2-0!this was followed by win vs eng 1-0,in NZ 1-0 & by end of 2009 few more series wins were added as india became the icc no.1 team!drawn series in SL and SA followed!then came the big one,the 2011 WC!at home ind were under huge pressure & without a gr8 bowling line-up dhoni managed his resources well that lead to the great win!in between these intl commitments ind plyrs hav to give time to ipl as well!the lack of preparation,planning,fatigue/injuries,not setting priorities,a bit of arrogance has lead india to lose this test rank to a very good english side who are hungry for more!losing to a good team isnt bad,but the inability to fight has been missing!!this was the saddest thing!but with better planning india will again rise,atleast do well if not no.1!

Posted by addiemanav on (August 15, 2011, 19:55 GMT)

cont..lost the chance to become 1st team to beat aus in aus since 91'!last game at sydney was drawn & series ended 1-1 with ind dominating most of the series!this was the period where ind from a decent team became very good and tough team!after the high of beating pak in pak,ganguly started losing his touch!this was followed by series defeat at home vs aus!2005 was a slow period when greg chappell bcame the coach,ganguly went out & dravid became the captain!intially this partnership gave results as ind won 16 consecutive ODIs chasing,but test performances were dropping!then came series win in WI after 35 yrs!but the team became less consistent & poor performances by youngsters forced a ganguly comeback!ind won their 1st test in SA,but again gave away the advantage losing 2-1!then followed WC disaster!this was the lowest period in 10 yrs!chappell left the job,& ind went without a coach for 10 months!but during this period ind won test series in eng,then vs pak and T20 WC under dhoni..

Posted by addiemanav on (August 15, 2011, 19:45 GMT)

cont..at leeds ind probably registered their most clinical victory ever!On a green track with overcast conditions ind opted to bat first!dravid-bangar,dravid-sachin,sachin-ganguly, 3 consecutive 150+ partnerships helped ind score more than 600 and bowled out eng twice to win by inngs margin on 5th day!the series was drawn 1-1!the eng bowling attack was extremely good but ind managed to share the honours!this was a huge step forward!this was the time when dravid became a legendary player(scored 4 successice test 100s)..then had an easy series vs WI at home,but shocking in NZ!!lost 2-0 in test 5-2 in odis on green tracks!Not much was expected in 03 WC,but ind again surprised everyone by reaching the finals in SA conditions beating everyone but AUS! The next big performance came in aus(who were without mcgrath& warne but had lee,gillespie,bichel which wasnt that bad)!Ind took the lead in the series at adelaide after aus score 550!due to 1 batting collapse at mcg ind lost the chance cont..

Posted by Fair-Cricket on (August 15, 2011, 19:41 GMT)

@zico123: It sounds like a pretty lame excuse!

Posted by addiemanav on (August 15, 2011, 19:35 GMT)

cont..with this 2001 series,the great ind-aus rivalry began!but the team still had lots to prove outside sub-cont!ind then went to zim,& won a TEST outside sub-cont after 15 yrs(in 1986 ind beat eng in eng 2-0)!zim was a mcuh better side then than it is now!it may not look big but it was a step ahead!however zim pulled one back & series was drawn!few months later in Sl ind without sachin and laxman lost 2-1!then ind lost 1-0 in SA in a highly controversial series(mike denness controversy),but the positive was a debut 100 from sehwag!By this time indian bowling line-up had 2 left arm seamers!then ind had a comfortable win at home vs eng & zim!in 2002,ind travelled to WI & won the test at trinidad which was a huge win!only 2nd outside sub-cont in 1 year!but the series was lost 2-1 again!then came eng tour!ind won the tri series in a thrilling chase thanks to young yuvraj-kaif partnership!the 1st test at lords was lost as usual,as sehwag bcame opener!ind drew the next,then came leeds..

Posted by 5wombats on (August 15, 2011, 19:31 GMT)

@zico123; are you still bleating about "unfair". Give it a rest. It's unfair that England didn't have Tremlett or Trott - otherwise india would have got an even worse thrashing, if that's possible to imagine. It looked to me as if india had a full strength batting line up against England and they still weren't as good as Alistair cook on his own.

Posted by addiemanav on (August 15, 2011, 19:21 GMT)

cont..now the next big challenge was the aus series at home!steve waugh said that it was the final frontier,but most of us in ind felt that it wont be that difficult for his team as they were on a 15 match winning streak,& ind wer without srinath & kumble!this sentiment was reaffirmed after 1st test & 2days of 2nd test at kolkata as ind were made to follow on!its not easy to actually pin-point a day when the attitude of a team changes,but in this case its very obvious that day 4 of kolkata test will be remembered as one of the biggest turning points in indian cricket's history!275 behind,laxman-dravid batted the whole day & added 376!they saved the game & in the post tea session day 5 bhajji & sachin ran though Aus batting order to become the 3rd team to win after following on!this team was against the best side,& had no expectations at all(whereas in 2005 eng was on a high & ppl expected the series to be tough which it was)..then chennai test was won & the series from behind 2-1 cont.

Posted by addiemanav on (August 15, 2011, 18:50 GMT)

Very good points mentioned in this article!i remember when eng lost to nz,even i thought they were the worst!but next season they thrashed windies,then won in sub-cont(1-0 pak,2-1 sl but lost 0-1 to ind)!sl series was terrific,coz no team had been able to beat them..even ind struggled in SL & to be honest eng fans shud keep that win right along with the ashes victories!i still feel the bowling line-up in 03-05 was better but most of them were walking wkts while current line-up has batsmen disguised as bowlers!Eng hav never been a gr8 odi team,but always done well in tests!they have put tests as a priority! i wud like to make a similar comparison of how ind reached the no.1 rank! Throughout the 90s ind was a great team at home but ordinary abroad,there are no questions about it!Ind was beating aus & other top teams almost every series at home!Then in 99 when Aus started dominating the world ind toured down under with probably the most inexperienced side..ind got hammered 3-0 and contd!

Posted by Aamir_Javed on (August 15, 2011, 18:42 GMT)

@zico123 u must understand that india became no.1 just because of Australia's decline, not because of its own performances............... india was never a deserving no.1 team

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (August 15, 2011, 18:30 GMT)

@zico123, I disagree with you. England had their fair share of injuries - Tremlett and Trott and to some extent Swann and now Anderson. Indians who are complaining that Zaheer's injury crippled us should understand that they are only half correct. The complete story is that Zaheer's injury tilted the scales in favour of England because we didn't have the depth in our bench strength. England would have crumbled like nine pins if Zaheer was playing. But, that would only mask the deficiencies of India's present and future as regards to bench strength. This England team has the bench strength to come out on top in the face of injuries. That should be so nice and reassuring for the loyal English fans to see. Can't say the same by any stretch of imagination about our team. We have to accept that reality; live with it or plan meticulously to overcome such practical hurdles.

Posted by SmellyCat on (August 15, 2011, 17:40 GMT)

How about 2005 till 2009...

Posted by zico123 on (August 15, 2011, 14:17 GMT)

it is unfair that India lost their no. 1 ranking in a series where they are without their best bowler Zaheer and 2 best batsman Sehwag and Gambhir for the most part, it is unfair to judge a depleted Indian side against a full strength England side. i am sure the result would have been other way round if India was at full strength and England was without Peterson, Bell and Anderson. England's bowling is not good enough to win in sub-continent, so their stint at top will be shorter than that of India

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Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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