False dawn then the real deal
England's 2005 Ashes team never played together again after the Trent Bridge victory and, following lengthy celebrations, the patched-up side was unable to reach the same heights again either. It also became clear that the depth wasn't available to cover injuries. The gap to Australia grew bigger as England slipped to mid-table, before a major leadership crisis prompted the changes that heralded the climb to the summit.
v Pakistan, Multan, 2005: The dip begins
It probably stretches the point to say England's post-2005 Ashes story rested on this one Test, but it was a game they shouldn't have lost. Instead, with their killer instinct dulled by the enormity of the Ashes win, they were bowled out by Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Akhtar. Michael Vaughan missed the game when his dodgy knees flared up and, although he returned, he was never the same. Meanwhile his stand-in, Marcus Trescothick, was already suffering with his stress-related illness.
England ranking December 2005: 3rd
February-May 2006: Captain Freddie
With Vaughan injured and Trescothick ill, England needed a new captain. They turned to their Ashes hero, Andrew Flintoff. Victory in Mumbai suggested he could lead by example, but his belief he could do everything himself didn't help his judgment. Bowling 50 overs in an innings against Sri Lanka at Lord's was the beginning of the end for him.
England ranking July 2006: 2nd (19 points behind Australia)
v Pakistan, 2006: Strauss leads series success
Flintoff had joined the injured-captain's list and so the mantle passed to the stand-in's stand-in, Andrew Strauss. He made a fine start with victory against Pakistan (a series overshadowed by the forfeited Test at The Oval) and the way England won at Headingley, with Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood to the fore, suggested the team had moved on from 2005.
England ranking September 2006: 2nd (11 points behind Australia)
November-January 2007: Five-nil
That series win wasn't enough to earn Strauss the captaincy for the Ashes tour as it was handed back to Flintoff. Fletcher and Flintoff never gelled - they were two vastly different characters - but it subsequently emerged that Fletcher told Strauss, "You'll thank me for this one day". From start to finish the Ashes series was a disaster and an embarrassment, with the defeat at Adelaide arguably the most catastrophic in England's Ashes history. The Schofield Review, implemented in its wake, was largely ridiculed. However, a number of key recommendations were made, perhaps most notably the creation of a new managing director role, solely responsible for England team matters.
England ranking January 2007: 2nd (20 points behind Australia)
April 2007: Fletcher resigns
The Ashes humiliation was followed by the usual disappointments at the World Cup. Before England's final match against West Indies an emotional Fletcher told the team he was quitting. The heady days of 2005 felt a million miles away. What direction would England take now?
May 2007: The county pro
Peter Moores was the man handed Fletcher's job. As a coach who'd made his name in the county game with Sussex, he had earned his stripes, but how would he deal with international demands? History won't record his time fondly, as England lost their first home series for six years against India, but he made a few decisions that are worth remembering. The recall of Ryan Sidebottom to face West Indies was one. Fletcher had never shown much faith in county cricket, despite his days at Glamorgan, but Moores felt it had a value. Sidebottom had spent years learning his craft and returned with great success, which was a trend that would be followed by more players in the future, not least Graeme Swann. Moores also introduced Richard Halsall as fielding coach and Andy Flower as his deputy.
England ranking October 2007: 2nd (30 points behind Australia)
March 2008: Changing of the guard
England suffered an embarrassing defeat against New Zealand at Hamilton. Although the batsmen were to blame, it prompted the decision to drop Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were both recalled to form the beginnings of their long-term pairing. Harmison played for England again, not so Hoggard. Meanwhile, Andrew Strauss scored 177 in the final Test when his place was again under threat, having missed the Sri Lanka tour. However, despite recovering to win the series 2-1, cracks were emerging in the Vaughan-Moores axis. All was not well behind the scenes.
England ranking April 2008: 4th
July 2008: Sir Allen lands at Lord's
It was a sight never seen before. A large, black helicopter landed on the Nursery Ground at Lord's carrying Sir Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire, and assorted cricket 'legends'. In a panic to compensate their players for shunning the IPL, the ECB looked for another path to riches. This was their solution. A Twenty20 match worth $20million (with, it has to be added, certain charitable aspects attached). Although not directly related to the success, or otherwise of the Test team, it showed how priorities were becoming skewed.
v South Africa, Edgbaston, 2008: Michael Vaughan resigns
England were inconsistent against South Africa while selection issues reared their head when the unknown Darren Pattinson was called up for the Headingley Test. The next match, at Edgbaston, developed into a cracking contest but Graeme Smith won the series with a monumental innings and it proved the end for Vaughan. The next day, at a press conference in Loughborough, he stood down. The end wasn't fitting for someone who'd done so much to make England successful but, as Steve Waugh said, there are no fairytales in sport. The reins were passed to Kevin Pietersen. It was never going to be dull.
England ranking October 2008: 5th
December 2008: England win hearts, but lose series
Pietersen led England back to India following the Mumbai bombings - the one-day series had previously been abandoned at 5-0 before the attacks - and the team gained great credit. Yet they lost a Test they should have won in Chennai and the series finished 1-0. However, Pietersen's relationship with Moores was now beyond redemption, with captain blaming coach for a lack of tactical insight during the crunch moments of the series. Neither man would take the helm of the team again.
England ranking December 2008: 5th
January 2009: New Year fall-out
On New Year's Eve a story emerged on a newspaper website reporting a 'crisis' meeting between Pietersen and the ECB. Pietersen was on holiday in South Africa and by the time he returned to the UK, both he and Moores had been sacked. The speed of the decision showed the writing was already on the wall and it left England, two weeks before a major tour to West Indies, without a captain or coach. Andrew Strauss, overlooked three years previously for the job, agreed to fill the gap for that tour while Flower, who was Moores' deputy, became interim coach but admitted he was unsure whether he'd want the job full time. The ECB were unsure he'd even cut it as a top-level coach.
v West Indies, Jamaica: 51 all out
This was Ground Zero in terms of England's journey to the top. The rankings stated they were not as low as in 1999, but it was an equally desperate state of affairs as Jerome Taylor took 5 for 11 to crush England by an innings. The morning after, by the pool of the Hilton Hotel in Kingston, Flower spoke calmly and with authority about what had taken place. "Playing for England is a proud moment, they are not only playing for their team or themselves, but also their country and the people that came out here to watch them," he said. "People are not proud of what happened."
This was the day that Flower secured the job as England coach. When the team arrived in Antigua they had a clear-the-air meeting where all the players were given a chance to speak their mind. There were some harsh truths but it started the cleansing process for a dressing room that had become insular and individual.
England ranking March 2009: 6th
February 17, 2009, Antigua: Stanford arrested
As England were regaining pride on the field, an extraordinary story evolved off it as Stanford was arrested on suspicion of multi-million dollar fraud. The ECB were pulled in a messy legal minefield but, in the longer term, it ensured the ill-fated deal was dead in the water.
v Australia, Cardiff, 2009: Clinging on
Having returned from West Indies with a 1-0 defeat, Ashes success appeared a long way off, and even more so when Australia piled up 674 for 6 by the fourth day in Cardiff. England then slumped to 159 for 7 and defeat looked inevitable. However, Paul Collingwood played one of his finest international rearguards to bring safety within sight only to fall with 11 overs remaining. Step forward James Anderson and Monty Panesar. Each delivery of their 69-ball stand was cheered as though it brought victory. England's escape felt that important.
v Australia, The Oval, 2009: Ashes regained
England carried their Cardiff momentum into Lord's where Strauss, Anderson and, finally, Flintoff helped secure a famous victory. Headingley, though, again brought the worst out of England as, with the Ashes in sight, they crumbled to a two-and-a-half day thrashing. Pietersen was already sidelined with a serious Achilles injury and Flintoff, who missed Leeds, could barely walk yet was jabbed up for one final hurrah at The Oval. Stuart Broad, though, set up victory with 5 for 37 on a crumbling pitch before Jonathan Trott, in one of the finest debut performances, hit 119 and Graeme Swann continued to develop into the game's finest spinner. Australia handed back the Ashes despite dominating almost every statistical aspect of the series.
England ranking September 2009: 5th
September 2009: Flintoff retires
A day later Flintoff gave what would become his final press conference as an England player. Before Lord's he'd said this was his final Test series and after further surgery he never played professional cricket again. No one can ever doubt what he contributed to the team, but privately the squad relished the chance to develop without his massive personality dominating the agenda.
v South Africa 2009: A drawn series, but progress made
Winning away is the mark of all the best teams and, while England couldn't hold on to a hard-fought series lead, 1-1 against South Africa was a notable achievement. Their victory in Durban was an outstanding performance, led by a resurgent Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, while Graham Onions was twice the final-over hero for saving Tests at Centurion and Cape Town. That second escape, at Newlands, also featured a defining match-saving innings for Bell and another rearguard from Collingwood. This was becoming a tough England team.
England ranking January 2010: 5th
February 2010: Strauss takes a break, over to captain Cook
A hallmark of this England regime is their planning. Strauss and Flower knew the demands the next 18 months would bring so thought of ways to keep players fresh. Controversially, but correctly, Strauss was rested for the Bangladesh tour along with Anderson. While giving Strauss a break, it also allowed Cook to have a taste of the captaincy, and he responded with twin hundreds in the two Tests. The tour was where England's depth of pace bowling began to emerge with Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan both earning their chance.
August 2010: Victory overshadowed
Results largely went to plan during the summer although Bangladesh were hard to dismantle and there was a slip-up against Pakistan at The Oval. Then came the very sour twist. Trott and Broad had produced a record-breaking stand of 332 to rescue England at Lord's when, on the third evening, the news broke that alleged three Pakistan cricketers - Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt - had been involved with spot-fixing related to no-balls. A bitter atmosphere greeted the final day as England won easily yet with no sense of joy. However, the subsequent media storm provided a timely test of the squad's cohesion, and an emotional 3-2 win the ODIs showed they had passed another acid test.
England ranking September 2010: 5th
v Australia, Melbourne, 2010: Ashes retained
Ashes victories will always hold a special place for cricketers on both sides regardless of rankings but this crushing win for England, by an-innings-and-157-runs, had the hallmarks of a team ready for the top. Australia crumbled for 98 on the first day and there was no way back. Bresnan and Chris Tremlett, neither in the team at the start of the series, played key roles to provide further evidence that England had the depth of resources to sustain their Test match development.
England ranking January 2011: 3rd
v Sri Lanka, Cardiff, 2011: Something from nothing
There were 922 people in the ground for the final day of a forgettable Test ruined by the weather. Yet England created their own intensity and during a manic 24.4 overs ripped out Sri Lanka for 82 despite being a bowler down after injury to Anderson. It was another example of their hunger for success.
England ranking July 2011: 3rd
v India, Edgbaston, 2011: Top of the world
England's crowning moment could not have come in more comprehensive style with a performance they will rarely have bettered. There had already been huge victories at Lord's and Trent Bridge, but in both India had moments where they made an impression. In this match they didn't provide a contest. England bowled them out for 224 and 244, and in between whiles piled up 710 for 7 as Cook broke more records with his 294. At 3.05pm Bresnan took the wicket that lifted England to No. 1. What happens next will determine whether they can leave a lasting legacy.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo