This English cricket team is exceptional. Who could have picked that they would beat the #1 side in the world 4-0 in a four Test series? Remarkable! And as was the case against the Aussies last summer, a number of the victories have been substantial.
The rise of English cricket is great for the global game. Not only did they bring the dominant Aussie era to a close, they have humbled the Indians as well. India has far too much power and when they won the World Cup, the Indian lad in me said "oh yes", while the cricket fan in me said "oh no". Things appear more equal now as the great game is reinvigorated (aided also by the new Test Championship). But can the English enjoy an era of dominance like the Aussies and the West Indies before them? I doubt it. Talented and balanced and youngish though they may be, they don't intimidate like the mental toughness of those Aussies and the swagger of those West Indians used to do.
I like my statistics. But one comparison has always made me grumpy. It has to do with batting averages. How can the comparison between English/Kiwis and Aussies/Indians ever be fair when the quality of the pitches and the conditions in which the game is played are so different? Aussies and Indians have slightly inflated averages, while the English and the Kiwis have slightly deflated averages. I'll go to my grave believing that Martin Crowe was far, far better than 45.36!
But this is where the English team is so impressive. While pitches have improved, they do not play on batting paradises like is usually the case in Australia and India. And yet their Top Seven average, 49, 42, 58, 50, 49, 38 and 44. Four of them rank in the best fifteen of all time in terms of English batsmen (5th, 9th, 11th, 13th). WOW!
The playing conditions in New Zealand are similar and the comparable statistics give ample evidence for the weakness in the NZ game. The Top Seven from NZ's most recent series averaged 27, 37, 35, 41, 45, 33, and 30. Sure, there is a big gap in experience - but still that suggests that the English team will average 80+ more runs from their top order in each innings - and 160+ over the course of a Test. You will win a lot of test matches with that kind of advantage. And where do the best four in our top order rank in the history of NZ cricket? It is not that dissimilar (3rd, 7th, 13th, 17th) which provides some evidence for our perennial weakness on the global stage.
[NB: With the Indian Top Seven they average almost exactly the same number of runs as the English and the best five in their top order rank 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th in the history of Indian cricket].
Then there are the pace bowlers in the English cricket team. I do not have the time to check the history - but when was the last time the front-line pace attack averaged just 13, 16, and then 25 when playing against the best team in the world, stacked with batting legends of the game, over at least a four game series? How is that your bowlers are taking such cheap wickets on the very same pitch that your batsmen are making such big runs? Amazing!
The English will need to win well in India and beat the South Africans convincingly to be seen as a great team - but it will not surprise me if they do so. I am not sure who will eventually humble the English - but I suspect it will not be the Kiwis.
But then, of course, there is always the rugby...