This piece originally appeared at The Cricketer
As a general rule, global sporting tournaments featuring England as one of the favourites are not very good tournaments.
Why? Well it’s very simple, dear reader. For any English team to be a favourite in a tournament, the field must be incredibly small or be of shallow depth. And this is what we have in this year’s World Cup.
There are about 200 countries on the Earth – according to my sixth-form geography teacher – yet only 10 have been given the courtesy of an invite to this tournament by the “International” Cricket Council.
Of those 10, only two of them are any good – hosts England (and technically their partner Wales, although, like your incarcerated uncle, no one acknowledges they exist) and India.
The other eight teams are only there to either escape the southern hemisphere winter or try to get a glimpse of the new royal baby.
When you google “English World Cup wins in any sport since the beginning of time”, you get 14.5million pictures of Bobby Moore, a handful of Martin Johnson and one of Heather Knight. This is despite England being one of the richest nations on earth, despite permanently borrowing players from all over the Commonwealth and despite inventing most of the games we play.
Compared to England’s record of repetitive global sporting failures, Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations look like an overachiever.
India should enter this World Cup as favourites, irrespective of what the bookies say, because as we all know, what the bookies say and what the bookies have control of are two different things.
India play Pakistan at Old Trafford in mid-June, generously stepping away from their commitment to never taking on their near neighbours in bilateral series – as they do every other year.
So rarely do the two teams meet, when they do the concept of the game often causes the Indian team great confusion. The last time that they entered the field together, India ended up collapsing faster than a pile of pancakes, handing Pakistan a Champions Trophy.
Speaking of Pakistan, they won’t win the World Cup because their Prime Minister isn’t playing. But they will drown out social media with cries of nepotism every time Imam-ul-Haq fails, or succeeds, or gets hammered on the elbow by Mark Wood.
My favourite Pakistani pastime is listening to the debates about Mohammad Amir’s selection/non-selection/performance/non-performance/he-was-only-a-young-man-when-it-happened-so-let’s-just-ignore-that-he-took-the-money.
At least now we can talk about his viral infections, too.
Everyone will be talking about Steve Smith and David Warner, and how the hell Justin Langer knows anything about what any of his players get up to in the shower, but probably the most interesting thing to come from the camp will be the bromance between Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see them elope to Estonia sometime during the pool matches and adopt a puppy. They’ll probably name it Richie. Wouldn’t that be cute?
Word coming out of South Africa is that team management are reluctant to let the squad get on the plane and fly from Johannesburg.
They are justifiably concerned only three will return without Kolpak contracts. Apparently England are considering Tabraiz Shamsi as a replacement if Adil Rashid goes down injured. Did anyone say fast-tracked?
West Indies will be the most fun to watch. Their swagger is slowly returning and that’s a great thing. Don’t be surprised to see Chris Gayle become the first man in World Cup history to be leading runscorer while claiming his pension.
Sri Lanka… yuck.
The squad is riddled with horrible selections, out-of-form players and a lingering stench of corruption. But at least they’ve won a World Cup, so based on any objective rationale, that makes them a greater nation than England.
Bangladesh made the quarter-finals at the last World Cup. That also makes them a greater nation than England.
Yes, I know that was over four years ago, so means absolutely nothing, but I need to fill my word count quota so I hope you’ve enjoyed this sentence (very enjoyable, Ed).
The reality is that Bangladesh is cricket’s version of elevator music. They are there in background, perfectly pleasant, and then the doors to the main event are flung open and, well, you can’t really remember what you heard.
The Afghan story is one of the all-time great sporting fairytales, and if any country deserves a fairytale to come true it is Afghanistan, given what those people have endured.
But it won’t.
Because you still need to be good at cricket to win a World Cup.
Finally, there’s New Zealand, who will be well represented by Ben Stokes.
I would roll into a series of punching-above-their-weight puns but no doubt the editor will cut m…