Penrose Stairs is an optical illusion. It is a two-dimensional depiction of a structure representing a flight of steps, but, as Lionel and Roger Penrose described “the connexions are such that the picture, as a whole, is inconsistent” the steps continually ascend in an anti-clockwise direction. Thus a person could climb Penrose’s Stairs forever and never get any higher. An impossible staircase; an impossible climb.
There may well have been moments this summer when members of England’s cricket team felt as if they were climbing Penrose’s Stairs. However well they’ve played, whatever they’ve done, whoever they beat, whatever they’ve said, it has not seemed to be enough to fulfill the seemingly insatiable demands of fans and sections of the media. Another impossible climb.
The origin of criticism directed at England is largely their attitude to winning. Winning should always be the primary motive of every team in sport, and England have taken this mentality to the very edge of its limits. They’ve disregarded morality, disregarded media opinion and disregarded entertainment for victory. And indeed, so they should. Such steadfast commitment to winning must be commended. Winning, as long as it is achieved within the laws of the game should always be regarded above any form of defeat, however valiant or inspired.
England’s problem is that it hasn’t been.
Sanctimonious notions such as the "Spirit of Cricket" and "entertaining the paying fan" have been drawn upon as angles from which to criticize England. As too have more frivolous stories such as players smoking on a night out and urinating on the Oval pitch after the final Ashes Test. It’s not hyperbolic to refer to a minority of this summer's Ashes coverage as tantamount to a smear campaign.
The Australian media’s approach can be put largely down to age-old Antipodean raillery, but the response of some of the English press is more difficult to decipher—although it’s hard to believe that the off-hand manner with which England’s players occasionally deal with the press has nothing to do with the criticism.
Admittedly there are certainly areas in which England can improve. Their batting this summer was far from satisfactory, their bowling at times looked panicked against Australia’s lower order and, in limited-overs cricket, the feeling that a batting collapse is imminent is difficult to shake off; but such flaws pale into comparison in the face of England’s proclivity to seizing the moment and most importantly their knack of finding a way to win.
Happily, Andy Flower can rest comfortably in the knowledge that it is victories, not coziness to the media, that will ultimately be the barometer of his team’s success. Victories being something his England team aren't too shabby at producing.
This is probably the most distinguished era in English cricket history. Since 2009 England have won the Ashes three times, beaten India 4-0 at home and 2-1 away, reached the top of the Test, ODI and T20 rankings, won the World T20 and reached the final of the Champions Trophy.
The team England selected for the fourth Ashes Test at Chester-le-Street contained three players with more than 20 Test centuries and three with more than 200 Test wickets; a feat never before achieved by an England team and only one other team in history.
It is likely that Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell will occupy the top three spots in England’s all-time Test run scoring list by the time they retire. James Anderson is one good year away from becoming England’s leading Test wicket-taker.
Pietersen is England’s leading run-scorer in international cricket; and Anderson the leading wicket-taker. Graeme Swann is England’s most successful spinner and Matt Prior is not far off becoming England’s most successful wicketkeeper. More recently England are unbeaten in 13 Tests; seven of which they have won.
This England team is a team of winners; a team of icons and a team with greatness still within reach. Indeed, some of England's players seem destined to be regarded as great already.
More over, not only are they a team of winners, but a team of highly professional, dedicated winners. Planning is rigorous, proficiency is unwavering, commitment is abiding. They are not ostentatious or pretentious, nor pusillanimous or reserved. They play cricket hard but fair. They control what they can control and they play cricket extremely well.
This England cricket team are a team that their country should be immensely proud of.