Out of the Ashes emerged world’s No1 Test team

Graeme Swann and the England cricket team audition for Strictly Come Dancing after securing the Ashes - but most want them to continue with their cricket for a while yet

JOHN STERN believes that there can only be one serious set of contenders for the 2011 SJA Team of the Year award: the England’s men’s team that won the Ashes and finished as world No1

It all started at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January with the completion of a comprehensive Ashes victory, followed by the inevitable sprinkler dance, and it finished at The Oval in August with England’s Test side officially No1 in the world for the first time since the rankings were introduced.

They even followed up their 4-0 Test thrashing of India, who arrived in England the world’s top side, by beating them 3-0 in a rain-affected one-day series. Over the course of three months India, the world leaders in the five-day and 50-over forms of the game, failed to beat England in a single fixture.

England had not won a Test series in Australia since 1986-87. In the following 24 years they had been ritually flogged in five rubbers Down Under, losing 18 of 25 Tests and winning a measly three.

Their 3-1 defeat of Australia at the start of the year did not do justice to the gulf between the sides. It was 1-1 with two to play but only one team truly believed in themselves and for once it wasn’t the one wearing the baggy green caps.

England’s three victories were all by an innings. Led by the immoveable objects, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, their batsmen piled up totals the size of Ayers Rock. And the bowling attack had every based covered.

At the start of the 2011 summer, they dealt with an unmotivated Sri Lankan side adequately but without suggesting that they were on the threshold of greatness. They would have to beat India by two clear Tests to claim top spot, a result that seemed unlikely before the series got under way.

It soon became apparent that India were ill-prepared and, more to the point, ill-equipped for the relentless excellence of England’s cricket. India were hit hard in the first Test at Lord’s and were staggering around the ring for the rest of the summer.

A sign which will stay with Australians for a very long time

Every one of the 13 players England used in the series contributed a match-shaping or match-winning performance. Stuart Broad re-emerged from the doldrums and Ian Bell matured into a batsman of significant substance as well as style. Jimmy Anderson swung it round corners while Graeme Swann, officially the best spinner in the world and a spectator through much of the series, delivered in the final Test at The Oval when conditions were in his favour and expectation was at its highest.

Cricket is an individual sport within a team context so it is perfectly possible to be carry one or two players or be less than the sum of your parts. But this England side is a collective on and off the field. They enjoy each other’s company off the field and appreciate each other’s success on it, which has not always been the case in recent times.

They are marshalled with authority, intelligence, determination and sensitivity by what has become known as the “Andocracy” – Andy Flower, the team director, and Andrew Strauss, the captain.

The pair were thrown together in early 2009 amid the rubble of Kevin Pietersen’s brief reign as captain and his falling-out with the coach Peter Moores. The No1 status was always their goal but always with a “long-term” label attached because it was a steep climb. They have reached the summit quicker than they or anyone else could have imagined. No one is arguing with their new-found status, other than the Australians of course.

John Stern is a freelance cricket writer. He was editor of The Wisden Cricketer from 2003 to 2011