Leading up to England's 1000th Test, we look at their high and low points against each of their nine opponents in the format
Best: Edgbaston 2005
English cricket's sliding-doors moment. What might have happened had Steve Harmison's rib-tickler to Michael Kasprowicz been deflected slightly out of Geraint Jones' reach, and run away for four to seal a one-wicket Australian win and a 2-0 series lead with three Tests to play? Would the summer have retreated into itself, bracing for the inevitable whitewash of a dispirited England team who hadn't tasted Ashes victory since 1986-87? Happily (unless you're Australian…) we'll never know. With apologies to the ancient and illustrious history of Anglo-Australian cricket, the rivalry has never been so keen, so necessary and so utterly compelling as it felt that year. Jones. Bowden. Hello, massive.
Worst: Adelaide 1932-33
More than 85 years later, Bodyline still resonates like few other incidents in sport. The cold calculation of Douglas Jardine, the thuggery of his leg-trap field placings, the sense of betrayal that Australia felt as the mother country turned on its own and risked the fracturing of an empire for the sake of a terracotta pot, and the neutralisation of Don Bradman, the greatest batsman the game has ever known. Jardine believed that a bit of diplomatic frisson was a small price to pay in his bid to win back the Ashes, and by the standards of modern sporting campaigns, it's hard to deny that he formulated a red-hot plan - what England would have given for a bowler of Harold Larwood's pace, stamina and accuracy on their last tour down under. But when, in the flashpoint of the most notorious tour of them all, Bert Oldfield was hospitalised with a fractured skull and the genteel denizens of Adelaide were moved to a near riot, it was clear, as Bill Woodfull memorably put it, that there may have been two sides out there, but only one of them was playing cricket.
Best: Johannesburg 2005
Michael Vaughan's men would not have survived the rigours of the legendary Ashes campaign of 2005 had it not been for their bruising preparation in South Africa six months earlier. England's 2-1 series win, their first in South Africa since readmission, was an epic tussle against an outstanding opponent. England bossed the first two Tests, thanks in particular to Andrew Strauss' formidable form, but with Jacques Kallis at the peak of his powers, they were thrashed in Cape Town and seemed in serious danger of squandering their winter's efforts by the midpoint of a thunderous fourth Test. But then up popped two players with perhaps their greatest moments in an England shirt. Marcus Trescothick ignited England's tail with a brutal 180 in England's second innings, before the unheralded Matthew Hoggard swung his side to glory with seven wickets and 12 in the match all told.
Worst: Lord's 1994
The BBC missed the moment that Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten emerged from the pavilion to end three decades of South African exile at Lord's, but that was nothing compared to the manner in which England as a team missed the mood of an historic occasion. Kepler Wessels ground England's noses in the dirt with a five-hour 105, before the TV cameras spotted Mike Atherton doing likewise with the ball to ruin the narrative of a joyous event. The ensuing acrimony swept South Africa's triumph from the back (and front) pages, but not before Allan Donald's first-innings five-for had confirmed his burgeoning world-class credentials.
Best: Mumbai 2012
When the curtain finally falls on Alastair Cook's indefatigable career, the tour of India in 2012-13 will surely be recalled as his finest hour. His 766 runs in the Ashes triumph two years earlier attracted more populist acclaim, but nothing compares to the bloodymindedness he displayed in his maiden series as England's full-time captain. His second-innings 176 in Ahmedabad showed a beaten team what could be achieved with a bit of application, and paved the way for the miracle of Mumbai, where his 122 was the prologue to an outrageous 186 from the recently reintegrated Kevin Pietersen. India's façade crumbled as Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann claimed 19 wickets between them, and when Cook kicked in with 190 in the third Test, in Kolkata, he had turned the tide of the tour like a latter-day King Canute.
Worst: Headingley 1986
Less than 12 months on from his defining triumph in the 1985 Ashes, David Gower was relieved of the England captaincy after India's emphatic victory in the first Test, at Lord's, but that wasn't even the lowest moment of the summer. Nine days later the team reconvened under Mike Gatting at Headingley, and were condemned to a series-sealing trouncing. Ian Botham's absence due to a drugs ban had left a void in England's ranks that no one seemed capable of filling. Dilip Vengsarkar owned the conditions for his second century of the series, as England themselves were rolled aside for 108 and 179 by a diligent medium-paced attack led by Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Roger Binny - the same unfancied toilers, in fact, who had dethroned West Indies in the World Cup final three years earlier.
Best: Karachi 2000
The defining glory of Nasser Hussain's emotional, tenacious reign as England captain. His team had competed with great diligence for two and a half Tests, grinding out bore-draws in Lahore and Faisalabad to "stay in the game at all costs", as per their captain's mantra. And then, on the final day of the final Test, opportunity knocked. Pakistan collapsed to 158 all out, leaving England a victory target of 176 in 44 overs. Moin Khan slowed the game to a crawl, confident that the fast-encroaching dusk would scupper England's chase. But umpire Steve Bucknor hoisted him by his own petard, refusing all petitions to call off the match as the winter light faded and England's 12th man, Matthew Hoggard, was dispatched to the boundary's edge to move the sightscreens between deliveries. By the time Graham Thorpe inside-edged the winning runs through fine leg, it was Pakistan's fielders who had given up trying to see the ball.
Worst: Faisalabad 1987
Mike Gatting brought many things to his tenure as England captain - among them, a glut of hard-grafted runs, a bulldog spirit, and a straightforward decency that engendered loyalty from his team-mates. But he was not a diplomat, and given that Anglo-Pakistani relations in the mid-1980s and early 1990s were a tinderbox to rival the Balkans, this could be described as something of an administrative oversight. And so, the sight of the England captain, nose to nose with a Pakistani umpire, Shakoor Rana, and finger-jabbing in fury, became a metaphor for everything that was wrong with the world. In fact, the only person to benefit from the sport's most unseemly row was Graham Morris, the lone photographer who had still been lurking late on that third day, who more or less established a pension fund with the image rights for his iconic pic.
Best: Headingley 1991
A triumph that had its origins in the Caribbean 15 months earlier. England's astonishing victory in the first Test in Kingston in 1990, Graham Gooch's first as full-time captain, had marked the end of a run of 14 defeats in 15 Tests against West Indies' mean machine. Even so, the ferocity with which the champion side had battled back to take the series 2-1 confirmed that it would take an extra effort to crack them open for good. Cue Gooch's finest hour, a formidable bat-carrying 154 in seaming, swinging conditions at Headingley. He withstood a world-class attack of Ambrose, Walsh, Patterson and Marshall, finding sufficient support in a pair of 27s from Mark Ramprakash and Derek Pringle to put the contest out of the visitors' reach, and produce quite possibly the greatest single innings by an Englishman in Test history.
Worst: Kingston 1986
A TV blackout adds a layer of mystique to one of the most legendary Test debuts of all time. On a dangerously two-paced track at Sabina Park, Patrick Patterson produced a spell of raw, life-threatening fast bowling that few who witnessed it believe has ever been surpassed. Gooch confided that it was the first time in his career that he had been truly scared, perhaps as much by Patterson's persona as his actual performance - his goose-stepping delivery stride presented the studs of his boots straight down the pitch, and his gap-toothed grin had more than a little in common with Hannibal Lector's mask. England were routed for 159 and 152 to lose in the space of three days, the parameters established for their second 5-0 blackwash in the space of two years.
Best: Lord's 2015
New Zealand's tour of England in 2015 was arguably one of the most important and instructive visits in recent memory. The greatest lessons were those that England's one-day side gleaned from a team that had just sparkled its way to the World Cup final, but the value of playing with joy and optimism were equally applicable to an England Test team that just returned from an underwhelming tour of the Caribbean and had still not fully recovered from the Ashes mauling of 18 months earlier. For five glorious days at Lord's, the two teams produced one of the greatest Tests of all time - an ebb-and-flow classic underpinned, in the final analysis, by an old-school 162 from Alastair Cook that provided Ben Stokes with the stage and stability to smash an 85-ball century, the fastest in Lord's Test history.
Worst: Oval 1999
England have arguably produced far worse performances against New Zealand, not least at Christchurch in 1983-84, when Richard Hadlee rolled them aside for 82 and 93 in consecutive innings. But for sheer symbolism, nothing can compete with the Oval Test in 1999, when England were condemned to a 2-1 series defeat that left them cut adrift at No. 9 out of 9 in the unofficial world rankings. It was, as the saying goes, darkest before the dawn, and as a rueful Nasser Hussain was booed from the Oval balcony, Duncan Fletcher was already taking notes. And one of the first things that England's soon-to-be-coach noted was the length of England's tail. The selection of three of the worst No. 11s in England's Test history - Alan Mullally, Phil Tufnell and Ed Giddins - was an error that would never again be countenanced.
Best: Kandy 2000-01
A foul-tempered, surly contest that made the monks in the neighbouring monastery blush. England had been routed in the opening Test, but dug deep into their new-found mental reserves to turn the narrative of the tour on its head. Hussain led the way with a gritty, over-my-dead-body 109 - his first innings of note for more than 15 months, and one that benefitted from two huge let-offs in a match polka-dotted with miserable and contentious umpiring. Darren Gough bowled with passion and invention to transcend the conditions and set up England's shot at victory, but it took a dedicated team chase to keep a Murali-and-Vaas-powered Sri Lanka at arm's length.
Worst: Oval 1998
Sri Lanka had become accustomed to being treated as an afterthought on their visits to England, but by 1998 they believed they were worth more than just a one-off Test at the fag end of the season. They had, after all, beaten England on home soil in their previous encounter, in 1993, and could hardly believe their luck when they were presented with a straw-coloured bunsen at The Oval, on which Muttiah Muralitharan would teach their hosts the most timeless of lessons. His 16 wickets in the match included a second-innings haul of nine, and featured a succession of bewildered Englishmen unable to reconcile the tangle of limbs at the top end of the pitch with the venomous wristspinning offbreaks at the bottom. After that show-stopper, Sanath Jayasuriya - with a formidable 213 already under his belt - needed just five second-innings overs to seal a historic win.
Best: Chittagong 2016
Bangladesh's traumatic first decade of Test status meant that there was very little to write home about from England's eight victories in a row from 2003. But their ninth encounter was a bona fide classic, England's tightest Test victory since the 2013 Ashes match at Trent Bridge, and one that had to be earned in alien conditions against a pumped-up Bangladesh team whose reputation on home soil had been transformed in the intervening years. A thrillingly fluctuating contest was tilted England's way by a masterful all-round contribution from Ben Stokes - 85 with the bat and six wickets with the ball, including two inswinging lbws on the final morning, after Bangladesh's penultimate pair had resumed needing 33 runs for a historic victory.
Worst: Dhaka 2016
One match later in Dhaka, however, England's unblemished Test record against Bangladesh came to a shuddering halt. It had been telegraphed by the team's struggles to stay on top in Chittagong, but like all the best England debacles, it was sealed by a batting collapse of stunning totality. England had actually done the hard yards in the first three and a half innings of the match, absorbing a Tamim Iqbal century to secure a handy first-innings lead, before breezing along to 100 without loss in pursuit of a challenging target of 273. Cue Mehidy Hasan, a teenage spinner with a precocious control of flight and length, who bowled opener Ben Duckett with his first ball after tea on the third day, and pinned Steven Finn lbw with his last ball of the same session, to seal the spoils. England had lost all ten of their wickets for 64 runs in the space of 22.3 overs, and with them went whatever fragile belief they had been building ahead of the main event of their winter, a five-Test series in India.
Best: Lord's 2003
By May 2003, the writing was already on the wall for Zimbabwe as a competitive Test nation. The "death of democracy" protest during that year's World Cup had highlighted the country's pariah status under Robert Mugabe, and the team that had arguably peaked in reaching the Super Sixes at the 1999 World Cup was fragmenting at an accelerated rate. But for all its one-sidedness, the Lord's Test in 2003 still holds a special place in the annals of English Test cricket, for it marked the Test debut of a certain young speedster, James Anderson. Five wickets in his maiden innings earned him a place on the honours board at the very first attempt, and a jump-start on his journey towards becoming England's most prolific Test bowler of all time.
Worst: Bulawayo 1996
David Lloyd has evolved into a national treasure since he swapped his coaching (not to mention his playing and umpiring) career to become Sky Sports' most quirky and engaging broadcaster. But as he found out to his cost in December 1996, the witticisms and off-the-cuff remarks that work so well on commentary don't tend to go down quite so well when trying, as national coach, to explain away the shortcomings of England's Test team. Zimbabwe's tactics towards the end of the first Test were cynical in the extreme; they fired countless deliveries wide down the leg side to stymie Nick Knight's spirited chase and secure a unique draw with scores level off the final delivery of the match. England's tourists had become so miserable and moody in the course of a winless campaign that sympathy was in short supply. And so when Lloyd declared on camera that "we flippin' murdered 'em", his comments became as stripped of nuance as they would have been in an acid bath.