Archive for August, 2011

Rugby, cricket, but not football

August 14, 2011

This is no fluke. England has the best five-day cricket playing team. And the style by which this has been achieved, an innings and 242 run spanking of India, is distinctly un-English, for those who bleated for Tim Henman at Wimbledon or who persist in dreaming that “passion” will win the football team a World Cup.

Let’s be clear how much better England were than India: add another (third) Indian innings and they probably wouldn’t have equalled England’s first innings. Take away Alastair Cook’s 294 runs and his team would have needed 53 runs to win, which is how many Tim Bresnan, the bowler who comes in at No 8 to bat, scored. And India couldn’t get Bresnan out.

I warned that this England cricket squad is as good or nearly as good as the very best in the modern era.

It isn’t a fluke. The foundations for the achievement of becoming test cricket’s number one rated side go back beyond 2005, when England first mugged the then supreme team Australia in an Ashes series which was celebrated like winning a football world cup. There were some slip ups, but since the appointment of the South-African-born Andrew Strauss, this climb up the rankings (England was listed as the worst test playing team at one point) has been the result of the right attitude, preparation and keeping the “passion” to celebrating actual achievements, unlike soccer.

Now cricket joins rugby union as a sport in which the England team have, within the past decade, achieved global superiority. Football, a sport with vastly more money, more spectators and a depth of players, has, by contrast been an utter failure.

Here is England’s World Cup and European Championship record since 1966:

England (World Cup 4th [1990], European Championships 3rd [1968, 1996])

And here are some comparable achievements by countries not rated highly by English soccer fans, commentators or players:
Belgium (World Cup 4th [1986], European Championship 2nd [1980], 3rd [1972])
Bulgaria (World Cup 4th [1994])
Croatia (World Cup 3rd [1998])
Czech Republic (European championship 2nd [1996], 3rd [2004])
Czechoslovakia (European championship 1st [1976], 3rd [1980])
Denmark (European championship 1st [1992], 3rd [1984])
Greece (European championship 1st [2004])
Hungary (European championship 4th [1972])
Poland (World Cup 3rd [1974, 1982])
Russia (European championship 3rd [2008])
Sweden (World Cup 3rd [1994], European championship 4th [1992])
Turkey (World Cup 3rd [2002], European championship 4th [2008])
USSR (European championship 2nd [1972, 1988], 4th [1968])
Yugoslavia (European championship 2nd [1968], 4th [1976])

The teams with better records than England since 1966 also includes Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, all of which have at least reached a final.

The first problem for English football is the difficulty in accepting what reasonable expectations to begin with and to work (as opposed to emote) to improve this. It’s hard to accept that Belgium is a more successful footballing country at World and European championships. But investigating why and how to improve on this is the way forward.

It’s a good idea for team spirit if all the players sing the National Anthem with feeling before a game. But it’s not a sufficient skill for winning.

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England the best (nearly)

August 2, 2011

There is a tendency among English (and to a certain extent British) sports commentators and supporters to consider national teams either complete rubbish or world class. I’ve written an analysis of the England soccer team at the 2010 World Cup, compared with major rivals which goes into this in some detail. Some time (Real Soon Now, hopefully) I’ll publish it as a page here.

But for now, I want to take issue with Derek Pringle, a former Test player for England, and presently a commentator for the Daily Telegraph. He writes about yesterday’s England win over world number one India:

It was a pounding, delivered with the swaggering elan of the two finest sides of the last 30 years: the West Indies under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards; and Australia under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.
They are not yet as consistently ruthless as those teams but successive wins against India appears to have given them an appetite for world domination judging from the one-sided nature of the cricket here.

Now I would bet that any English reader of the quote is going to assume that I want to criticise the comparison with the great West Indian or Australian sides. But that isn’t my complaint. It’s that Andrew Strauss, the South African-born England captain has already matched or surpassed the standards set by the four great captains listed above.

Here’s the record:

Andrew Strauss (England): Captained 37 times, won 19 (51.4%), lost 5 (13.5%), drawn 13 (35.1%).

Clive Lloyd (West Indies): Captained 74 times, won 36 (48.6%), lost 12 (16.2%), drawn 26 (35.1%).
Viv Richards (West Indies): Captained 50 times, won 27 (54.0%), lost 8 (16.0%), drawn 15 (30.0%).
Mark Taylor (Australia): Captained 50 times, won 26 (52.0%), lost 13 (26.0%), drawn 11 (22.0%).
Steve Waugh (Australia): Captained 57 times, won 41 (71.9%), lost 9 (15.8%), drawn 7 (12.3%).

Now it is clear that Strauss can claim to be more successful than Lloyd, in a near dead heat with Richards and Taylor and behind Waugh. But consider the starting point. The West Indies under Lloyd and England under Strauss did not start from a position of undisputed world’s top test cricket teams. And Steve Waugh’s loss rate is worse than Strauss’ even though he started with the top team in the world.

The simple truth is this. A team coming up against Andrew Strauss’ England does not expect to win (his loss rate is the lowest of the five). Which is precisely what it was like to face those other great captains. I think it’s time to recognise this fact and enjoy it while it lasts.

As a result of the 319-runs win in the second test, taking a 2-0 lead in the four match series, England are on course to take over from India as the top test playing team in the International Cricket Council rankings. Already, Strauss’ team is guaranteed at least second place, leap-frogging South Africa.