England top in world cricket – at last!

England's cricket team have done what England's footballers haven't managed since 1966 – become the worlds's best. It's great to be the global number one! How did they do it?

With hundreds wearing fancy dress, the crowd were singing and dancing in the stands. On the pitch earlier this summer, eleven men in white were united in a joyous huddle. What had happened? By defeating India at Edgbaston, England were now officially the best cricketing nation in the world.

It's the first time England have achieved 'best team' status since the world cricket rankings began in 2003 and their captain Andrew Strauss was understandably proud: 'There's been a lot of hard work that's gone into this over the past couple of years,' he said. 'What we've aspired to, we've reached.'

This achievement marks a dramatic turn-around of fortunes. For years, England have been fairly hopeless at the sport they invented and exported to several countries around the globe. Less than two years ago, England were ranked as low as sixth in the world.

So who have been the big fish in international cricket until now? Down the years, the sport has been dominated by two nations. In the 1970s and 1980s it was West India with their fearsome fast bowlers and brilliant batting who terrified everyone. In the mid-1990s, Australia stole their crown and kept it for the next 15 years, displaying skill, aggression and determination in equal measure.

But now England are top of the tree, replacing India who held the position for 18 months, and many say physical fitness is crucial to their success.

As England selector Asley Giles observes, 'Sport is always moving on; everyone's getting better. People run faster, jump further, throw further. At the top level, a 3% improvement in fitness levels can have a huge impact. Cricketers must now be athletes.' With strict attention to diet and physical conditioning, there is now no fitter team in the world than England.

National barometer

Does being cricket champions signify anything beyond cricket? There are those who believe it does. They say that cricket is 'a reflection of the national psyche and a barometer for a nation's moral, political, economic and spiritual health'. They think that countries who win at cricket are revealing deep currents of confidence and dynamism that extend into every area of life: for example the great West Indian sides were a reflection of the triumph of the civil rights movement and Australia's dominance showed the vigour of a resurgent country newly released from its colonial shackles.

Others pour cold water on this theory. They argue that at best there might be a link between rising prosperity and general sporting success since more money gets invested in sport. But to talk about the national psyche being especially linked to cricket is highly unlikely in an age when people follow hundreds of different sports and increasingly support different national teams even when living together in the same country.

You Decide

  1. 'England taking the No.1 spot in world cricket gave the nation something to cheer about after the riots.' Do you agree?
  2. 'Everyone should be ambitious and aspire to be the best at what they do.' Do you agree?

Activities

  1. A friend of yours suddenly decides they want to get fit for sport. Design a health programme for them which includes attention to diet, life style, physical exercise and psychology.
  2. The defeated Indian cricket team are getting a lot offlakback home where cricket is a religion. Write a letter to the team. What do you feel they need to hear now? Will you mix encouragement with criticism? What would you need to hear in their shoes?

Some People Say...

“If you're not the best, you're not anything.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Which countries in the world play cricket?
Cricket is played at some level in many countries around the world and Holland, Canada and Ireland all have good national teams. But five-day Test cricket, a step up, is played by only ten: Australia, the West Indies, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and England.
Who decides the cricket rankings?
The International Cricket Council. The best team receive the ICC Test Championship mace, which is passed on whenever a new country becomes No.1.
How are the rankings done?
It's a simple points system. When two countries play a series against each other they get points for wins and draws. But only matches in the last three years count while extra weight is given to matches in the last 12 months, so a team can't live long on their history.

Word Watch

Pedestal
To 'put someone on a pedestal' is to admire them greatly and to believe they're better than those around them. When people we admire disappoint us, they fall off their pedestal!
Flak
The original meaning is shells fired from artillery. This has given rise to the second meaning which is strong or abusive criticism, which can feel like gun fire.

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