England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval August 20, 2013

Cook leads England to brink of history

25

England stand on the cusp of history as they go into the final Test of the Investec Ashes series at The Oval on Wednesday.

In a rivalry stretching back over 130 years, no England side has ever won a home Ashes series 4-0. But, having won three out of four Tests this series, England have earned the opportunity to exploit Australia's brittle batting and even more brittle confidence by rounding off this series with another victory. It is a situation that, for many years, would have seemed unthinkable.

For a team that was so comprehensively outplayed through much of the 1990s, in particular, to have won four Ashes series out of five is almost an unprecedented level of success. For Alastair Cook to have enjoyed series wins against India, New Zealand and Australia within his first year of Test captaincy is remarkable.

In years to come, it may be appreciated more. For now, Cook and his side remain somewhat grudgingly praised. There is something about their no-frills style - Kevin Pietersen aside - and the uncompromising professionalism of their approach - described as "un-English" by Stuart Broad on Tuesday - that does not capture the imagination like some of the fine sides of the past.

But there is something deeply impressive in an England attack containing three men with over 200 Test wickets and an England batting line-up containing three men with 20 Test centuries or more. Their cricket, at its best a relentless brand of attrition, might not always be pleasing on the eye, but it is pragmatic, effective and has led to a run of 12 successive unbeaten Tests and four successive unbeaten series. To England supporters, at least, there is a certain beauty in that.

There has been, at times, a temptation to explain away England's successes in recent years. When they won the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia against a team containing Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey - winning three Tests by an innings, unparalleled margins of defeat for Australia in Australia - it was dismissed as a freak result achieved against the weakest Australia team in 30 years.

When England defeated India, then the No. 1-ranked Test team and containing several great batmen, 4-0 in England in 2011, it was dismissed as another freak result achieved on doctored pitches and against a declining side.

Even when they won 2-1 in India - a remarkable result given they lost the first Test - it was seen more as a result of India's failings than England's strengths.

So if they do win this series 4-0, a result that even teams containing Hobbs, Hammond or Hutton couldn't manage, it really may be time to appreciate that this is, by England's standards, a once in a lifetime period.

"The best thing about this side in this series is we haven't quite hit our straps totally at all times. There's a lot more to come from this side. As a captain that's very encouraging"
England captain Alastair Cook

"It would be very special to win the Investec Ashes 4-0," Cook said on the eve of the game. "It has never been done before so that is our motivation as a side.

"We have a lot of record breakers in this team and the chance to add another little notch is a great motivation. Any time you can beat Australia is a great feeling.

"The best thing about this side in this series is we haven't quite hit our straps totally at all times. There's a lot more to come from this side. As a captain that's very encouraging. The players know that as well. Just watching the training session now, you wouldn't know we're 3-0 up. They're still going on strong now."

The similarities between the England side in 2010-11 and now are significant. Indeed, nine of the likely 11 here played in the final Test of the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia. Only five of Australia's XI did. And, while Australia have changed their top six and bottom four in every Test of the series, England have made only one selection change for form rather than injury all series. The shared experiences, values and methods of the England team are clearly a key factor in their success.

Cook provided a strong hint that Chris Tremlett would be the man to replace the injured Tim Bresnan for this game. While Tremlett may have lost some of the pace that made him such a dangerous proposition, he can still be relied upon to maintain control with his high action and bounce. As such, he fits into England's game plan better than the quicker but less consistent Steven Finn.

"He's got a good chance of playing," Cook said. "He has had a tough year with injury. But we all saw in Australia when he was fully fit what a hard bowler he is to face. It's very hard for a batter to score from him when he gets it right."

Pitches at The Oval this summer have tended to be disappointingly slow. Part of the square will be re-laid this winter in a bid to recover some of the life that used to make games on this ground such a pleasure. While the groundstaff hope this pitch will have a little more life in it than those used in county matches, it is unlikely to offer too much encouragement for seamers.

Dry, flat and even paced, it is clearly a bat-first wicket that should provide some help for spinners as the game progresses in weather that is expected to remain warm. A batsman or two is likely to enjoy it greatly over the first couple of days.

Cook hopes, naturally, that it will be him. His form, and his captaincy, had come under some scrutiny this series, but the signs were he was rediscovering his touch in Durham and he remains insistent that his batting has not been adversely affected by the burden of captaincy. Indeed, in India, where he scored centuries in three successive Tests, it appeared to do him the power of good.

"A few times in this Test series we've lost early wickets up top," Cook said. "I've been the casualty a few times so I bear a lot of that responsibility. That's a clear area we can get better. If we get that right, we become a very dangerous side.

"I've given my batting just as much attention as if I wasn't captain. That's certainly not why I haven't scored the runs I'd have liked in this series. Sometimes it's the natural ebb and flow of form.

"All I can do is know that my record suggests that I will score runs. I've done that in the past. I'm hammering my basics - I'm doing the good stuff - and it's just a matter of time hopefully before it turns and I get a little bit of luck which you always need at the top of the order and get that score."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on August 20, 2013, 19:14 GMT

    It is pretty amazing how Cook has done well as a Captain and as a Batsman.Believe me he's not naturally this talented but his hard work has gotten him to this point where he's show the world that he's not just a good batsman but a Thinking cricketer as well. There's a huge difference between a good player and a thinking player. A thinking player is the Man for the future who can lead by his good performance as well as by getting the best out of the players and He's been successful in it. Hard work pays off seriously. Best wishes lad from Pakistan.

  • AJS007 on August 21, 2013, 10:56 GMT

    RGK1974: The scoreline reads as 3-0 in favour of England. But the fact is excepting the 2nd test, aussies were in full dominance. Ist test the loss was by only 14 runs and oz taken 1st innings lead. The game would have won by them with 3 good hits. 3rd test rain saved England. Had Clarke allowed Haddin and Starc to play another 10 overs in the 1st innings, even rain would not have saved England. 4th test, oz taken 1st innings lead and dominated the full 3 days test and in the 4th day because of the heroics of Bresnan England won the match with the help of rain and Hotspot controversies. It should have been 3-1 in favour of OZ instead of 0-3.

  • liz1558 on August 21, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    with regard to great historical wins for England, no English team has won successive Ashes series in Australia since they won the Bodyline series in 32/33 4-1- England won 4-1 in 1928/29, but lost 2-1 in 1930. Ashes victories in Australia have been rare for England ever since - 54/55, 70/71, 78/79, 86/87, 2010/11. During the same period, Australia have won 9 series in England.

    The last time England went to Australia as overwhelming favourites (58/59) they got tanked 4-0.

    History is therefore stacked against England retaining the Ashes Down Under - although this ought to be the merest slither of hope for Australia.

  • on August 21, 2013, 10:19 GMT

    The main difference between the sides is Ian Bell. Bell is the man of the series.

  • colc on August 21, 2013, 9:54 GMT

    Ref calcu; A fine example of one eyed optimism totally at odds with the facts.

  • on August 21, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    I would have accepted this England side to be a great one, if they had shown some fight against SA. They lost badly 2-0. They lost 3-0 to Pakistan . they almost lost to NZ. Aus is a confused side now, India can never play well outside Asia and NZ are unpredictable. To sum up, they Right now, are best among the mediocre sides that are playing. I would agree if they beat Pakistan and South Africa comfortably, which will not happen .

  • on August 21, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    may be England need to play tests with Pakistan in UAE to prove they are not just good at their backyard

  • liz1558 on August 21, 2013, 8:00 GMT

    @ Liquefierrrr - good assessment of England's strengths and main weakness - tedious tactics and lack of flair, KP apart.

    Somewhere in Zimbabwe there is a perfect hybrid of Andy Flower and Duncan Fletcher, in which the former's love of consistency over unnecessary risk is combined with the love of fire and untamed pace preferred by the latter. Find that man and give him the England job.

    I like this England side, but they aren't as likeable as the more swashbuckling Vaughan side that beat SA in SA and then beat Aus in 2005. We need a couple of great bowlers - Broad and Finn have it in them, but they need to find consistency. Adam Gilchrist admitted that two great bowlers was the main thing that separated Aus from the rest; having just one currently sets SA apart.

    Only time will tell.

  • Harlequin. on August 21, 2013, 7:45 GMT

    'an almost unprecedented level of success' - from England perhaps, but as the sentence before alluded to the fact that Australia have often beaten England by this scoreline, it's only unprecedented if you think the cricketing world revolves solely around England. And apart from being so one-eyed, it is amazing just how dull this article makes England out to be.

  • Dadders on August 21, 2013, 7:07 GMT

    Comments on these articles just show tired old prejudices. Teams don't like England so when they win their style is "boring" or "lucky". Indian cricket supporters try to cover the decline of their team as a Test team by criticising others. Reality is England beat them home and away. To their credit the Aussie fans have largely acknowledged their decline and, admirably England's strength and dominance, evident from this series. Fact is England haven't shown their best in this series. Worringly for opponents its clear there is more to come. With good young players coming through their is no sign of a decline on the horizon. SA are top of the tree for good reason, but Eng can challenge that over next 2-3 years

  • on August 20, 2013, 19:14 GMT

    It is pretty amazing how Cook has done well as a Captain and as a Batsman.Believe me he's not naturally this talented but his hard work has gotten him to this point where he's show the world that he's not just a good batsman but a Thinking cricketer as well. There's a huge difference between a good player and a thinking player. A thinking player is the Man for the future who can lead by his good performance as well as by getting the best out of the players and He's been successful in it. Hard work pays off seriously. Best wishes lad from Pakistan.

  • AJS007 on August 21, 2013, 10:56 GMT

    RGK1974: The scoreline reads as 3-0 in favour of England. But the fact is excepting the 2nd test, aussies were in full dominance. Ist test the loss was by only 14 runs and oz taken 1st innings lead. The game would have won by them with 3 good hits. 3rd test rain saved England. Had Clarke allowed Haddin and Starc to play another 10 overs in the 1st innings, even rain would not have saved England. 4th test, oz taken 1st innings lead and dominated the full 3 days test and in the 4th day because of the heroics of Bresnan England won the match with the help of rain and Hotspot controversies. It should have been 3-1 in favour of OZ instead of 0-3.

  • liz1558 on August 21, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    with regard to great historical wins for England, no English team has won successive Ashes series in Australia since they won the Bodyline series in 32/33 4-1- England won 4-1 in 1928/29, but lost 2-1 in 1930. Ashes victories in Australia have been rare for England ever since - 54/55, 70/71, 78/79, 86/87, 2010/11. During the same period, Australia have won 9 series in England.

    The last time England went to Australia as overwhelming favourites (58/59) they got tanked 4-0.

    History is therefore stacked against England retaining the Ashes Down Under - although this ought to be the merest slither of hope for Australia.

  • on August 21, 2013, 10:19 GMT

    The main difference between the sides is Ian Bell. Bell is the man of the series.

  • colc on August 21, 2013, 9:54 GMT

    Ref calcu; A fine example of one eyed optimism totally at odds with the facts.

  • on August 21, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    I would have accepted this England side to be a great one, if they had shown some fight against SA. They lost badly 2-0. They lost 3-0 to Pakistan . they almost lost to NZ. Aus is a confused side now, India can never play well outside Asia and NZ are unpredictable. To sum up, they Right now, are best among the mediocre sides that are playing. I would agree if they beat Pakistan and South Africa comfortably, which will not happen .

  • on August 21, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    may be England need to play tests with Pakistan in UAE to prove they are not just good at their backyard

  • liz1558 on August 21, 2013, 8:00 GMT

    @ Liquefierrrr - good assessment of England's strengths and main weakness - tedious tactics and lack of flair, KP apart.

    Somewhere in Zimbabwe there is a perfect hybrid of Andy Flower and Duncan Fletcher, in which the former's love of consistency over unnecessary risk is combined with the love of fire and untamed pace preferred by the latter. Find that man and give him the England job.

    I like this England side, but they aren't as likeable as the more swashbuckling Vaughan side that beat SA in SA and then beat Aus in 2005. We need a couple of great bowlers - Broad and Finn have it in them, but they need to find consistency. Adam Gilchrist admitted that two great bowlers was the main thing that separated Aus from the rest; having just one currently sets SA apart.

    Only time will tell.

  • Harlequin. on August 21, 2013, 7:45 GMT

    'an almost unprecedented level of success' - from England perhaps, but as the sentence before alluded to the fact that Australia have often beaten England by this scoreline, it's only unprecedented if you think the cricketing world revolves solely around England. And apart from being so one-eyed, it is amazing just how dull this article makes England out to be.

  • Dadders on August 21, 2013, 7:07 GMT

    Comments on these articles just show tired old prejudices. Teams don't like England so when they win their style is "boring" or "lucky". Indian cricket supporters try to cover the decline of their team as a Test team by criticising others. Reality is England beat them home and away. To their credit the Aussie fans have largely acknowledged their decline and, admirably England's strength and dominance, evident from this series. Fact is England haven't shown their best in this series. Worringly for opponents its clear there is more to come. With good young players coming through their is no sign of a decline on the horizon. SA are top of the tree for good reason, but Eng can challenge that over next 2-3 years

  • on August 21, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    Hobbs and Hutton couldn't win 4-0 because of the strength of the opposition

  • rgk1974 on August 21, 2013, 6:40 GMT

    Plenty of LOLs from the Indian comments here, how they are absolutely sure that Australia would have won the OT test, yet refuse to believe in DRS as no-one can know for sure if the ball would hit the stumps. Yes Aus were in a strong position, but if the game was rained off at tea on day 4 at Durham, you might have said they would have won that game too. And are people really suggesting that Aus have been the better side in this series? LOL!!

  • jmcilhinney on August 21, 2013, 6:05 GMT

    @calcu on (August 21, 2013, 5:44 GMT), I assume that you're taking into account the 92 runs that Agar scored after he probably should have been given out stumped (based on the precedent of Bell's almost identical dismissal in the DT final) and the runs that Trott was unable to score after being wrongly given out LBW because it would seem a bit biased otherwise. Also, since when is losing by 74 runs considered almost winning? Australia were in a position from which they could have won but they didn't almost win because they couldn't bat well enough. As for the third Test, the statistics for the series actually suggest that a draw was the more likely outcome. Sure, England have had some luck but to imply that everything has gone their way and that they've only won for that reason is a gross exaggeration.

  • calcu on August 21, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    This has been one of the most luckiest series wins ever in test history! Aus would have won the 1st test had correct decisions beeen made, They would have won the 3th test by 200 runs with 30 overs to spare had it not rained and almost won the 4th test!

  • Patchmaster on August 21, 2013, 3:45 GMT

    The Australian fans were so so so quick to say Eng were a spent force and how they didn't have a decent fast bowler, how Anderson was over rated, how Broad was spent, and how Bell was 'on his last test' or how fragile the batting was.......so if they do speak the truth, this must be the worst Aus side in the history of the Ashes.....hmmm... actually......come to think of it........

  • humdrum on August 21, 2013, 3:21 GMT

    A result which even teams containing Hobbs,Hammond or Hutton couldn't manage-it seems that the quality of opposition in those days was a wee bit better.A point reinforced when cook says it has never been done before. If england were all that hot not losing for 12 consecutive test matches and so forth,why not have a proper perspective and say that,oh ,by the way,they got thumped by SA only last year and appeared clueless, both on and off the field? It seems self congratulations are the order of the day.

  • crick_sucks on August 21, 2013, 3:03 GMT

    stuart broad summed it fine..."un-english". That's what it is...enjoy it as long as it lasts. england side helped by some outside effort have a decent side and the rest of the test sides except SA are not having such a good combination of players. soon things will change and eng eill return to their usual level and things will be normal.

  • Liquefierrrr on August 21, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    There truly isn't anything spectacular or pretty about this English side - they rely on boring and grinding their opponents down and, as the fortunate 3rd test showed, lack creativity when things don't go according to their very specific and structured plans.

    But this England side is good, very good. As their recent results show they've made a habit of winning, and an even larger habit of not losing.

    Knowing what you are, and what you are not, is a key in all facets of life. This English side doesn't talk about outsmarting their opponents, they aren't flashy in their personas, playing styles or media soundbites/interviews and appear to be very team-focused, valuing culture and specific roles over accolades and fame.

    It has been hard watching my Australian side this series. Once the undeniable 'king of the jungle' we are now meek, horrid and inconsistent. Rebuilding takes time and patience, and we're a while off yet. For now, we'll be lucky to escape 4-0 to this determined Eng side

  • on August 20, 2013, 23:34 GMT

    Cook is turning out to be a very self assured captain. He has obviously embodied Strauss's exceptional leadership qualities, but he still has a long way to go before establishing his team as "the team" of world cricket. England are nowhere near the stardom and strength of the great Australian team of the mid 1990's and early 2000's, and its hard for a cricket fan to fathom Cook, Bell, Prior and their friends as legends of the game, except perhaps for Peterson and Anderson. So Cook has at least 2-3 more years of work to do, to prove greatness. His first mission should be to retain Ashes and then win the World cup - if he misses one and faults on any other series, England will just be one more successful ordinary teams around. Indian would be a fluke.

  • sailboatmike on August 20, 2013, 22:04 GMT

    Whilst the English team lacks the superstars, its a good working class line up, that believes they can win through just hard work, toil and graft.

    Great qualities and makes them a real team that dont rely on one player to fire and make runs or take wickets.

    My hat goes off to them for their work ethic and having that extra bit of belief that no matter what the situation they can still win

  • on August 20, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    winning three Tests by an innings and another by 267 runs, unparalleled margins of defeat for Australia in Australia -

    Unparalled because it's not true. Australia (not England) won a test by 267 runs - the third test in Perth.

  • HumzaRafaqat on August 20, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    Bfrank england is not best through out the series infact many time australia is best in this series despite 4 ining of 4 test,else aus is best in this series,i am england fan but i dont see them in best infact there is also luck factore,No cook,No trot,No andy seen in this series,same with root and baistrow.

  • Yevghenny on August 20, 2013, 18:55 GMT

    it was seen more as a result of India's failings than England's strengths. =========== nonsense! England outplayed India on their own pitches, there were some incredible hundreds from Cook and Pietersen. And the bowlers had the beating of the Indians

  • king78787 on August 20, 2013, 18:43 GMT

    Why is everyone having a go at Cook? He has made 3 half centuries this series which is better than Root or Bairstow or Trott. 1 big innings doesn't mean you suddenly has a good series. A ton here would turn a shocking series for him into a acceptable one. A ton for Trott would turn a shocking series into a poor series. There is a small but important difference.

  • arpitgarg on August 20, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    "winning three Tests by an innings and another by 267 runs". Correction, Aus won by 267 and not Eng. Margin 3-1.

  • arpitgarg on August 20, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    "winning three Tests by an innings and another by 267 runs". Correction, Aus won by 267 and not Eng. Margin 3-1.

  • king78787 on August 20, 2013, 18:43 GMT

    Why is everyone having a go at Cook? He has made 3 half centuries this series which is better than Root or Bairstow or Trott. 1 big innings doesn't mean you suddenly has a good series. A ton here would turn a shocking series for him into a acceptable one. A ton for Trott would turn a shocking series into a poor series. There is a small but important difference.

  • Yevghenny on August 20, 2013, 18:55 GMT

    it was seen more as a result of India's failings than England's strengths. =========== nonsense! England outplayed India on their own pitches, there were some incredible hundreds from Cook and Pietersen. And the bowlers had the beating of the Indians

  • HumzaRafaqat on August 20, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    Bfrank england is not best through out the series infact many time australia is best in this series despite 4 ining of 4 test,else aus is best in this series,i am england fan but i dont see them in best infact there is also luck factore,No cook,No trot,No andy seen in this series,same with root and baistrow.

  • on August 20, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    winning three Tests by an innings and another by 267 runs, unparalleled margins of defeat for Australia in Australia -

    Unparalled because it's not true. Australia (not England) won a test by 267 runs - the third test in Perth.

  • sailboatmike on August 20, 2013, 22:04 GMT

    Whilst the English team lacks the superstars, its a good working class line up, that believes they can win through just hard work, toil and graft.

    Great qualities and makes them a real team that dont rely on one player to fire and make runs or take wickets.

    My hat goes off to them for their work ethic and having that extra bit of belief that no matter what the situation they can still win

  • on August 20, 2013, 23:34 GMT

    Cook is turning out to be a very self assured captain. He has obviously embodied Strauss's exceptional leadership qualities, but he still has a long way to go before establishing his team as "the team" of world cricket. England are nowhere near the stardom and strength of the great Australian team of the mid 1990's and early 2000's, and its hard for a cricket fan to fathom Cook, Bell, Prior and their friends as legends of the game, except perhaps for Peterson and Anderson. So Cook has at least 2-3 more years of work to do, to prove greatness. His first mission should be to retain Ashes and then win the World cup - if he misses one and faults on any other series, England will just be one more successful ordinary teams around. Indian would be a fluke.

  • Liquefierrrr on August 21, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    There truly isn't anything spectacular or pretty about this English side - they rely on boring and grinding their opponents down and, as the fortunate 3rd test showed, lack creativity when things don't go according to their very specific and structured plans.

    But this England side is good, very good. As their recent results show they've made a habit of winning, and an even larger habit of not losing.

    Knowing what you are, and what you are not, is a key in all facets of life. This English side doesn't talk about outsmarting their opponents, they aren't flashy in their personas, playing styles or media soundbites/interviews and appear to be very team-focused, valuing culture and specific roles over accolades and fame.

    It has been hard watching my Australian side this series. Once the undeniable 'king of the jungle' we are now meek, horrid and inconsistent. Rebuilding takes time and patience, and we're a while off yet. For now, we'll be lucky to escape 4-0 to this determined Eng side

  • crick_sucks on August 21, 2013, 3:03 GMT

    stuart broad summed it fine..."un-english". That's what it is...enjoy it as long as it lasts. england side helped by some outside effort have a decent side and the rest of the test sides except SA are not having such a good combination of players. soon things will change and eng eill return to their usual level and things will be normal.

  • humdrum on August 21, 2013, 3:21 GMT

    A result which even teams containing Hobbs,Hammond or Hutton couldn't manage-it seems that the quality of opposition in those days was a wee bit better.A point reinforced when cook says it has never been done before. If england were all that hot not losing for 12 consecutive test matches and so forth,why not have a proper perspective and say that,oh ,by the way,they got thumped by SA only last year and appeared clueless, both on and off the field? It seems self congratulations are the order of the day.