England finally has a world class sporting side and it is not the national football team that the media love to hate. After Saturday’s crushing victory over India at Edgbaston, the English cricket team now top the ICC world test ranking, leapfrogging South Africa and India.
This follows the first retention of the Ashes on Australian soil since the 1980s, and the conformation of England as World 20-20 champions last year. We are the best cricket team in the world in both the longest and shortest format of the game.
Contrast this story of success to Fabio Capello’s English football side, who performed pitifully in their last opportunity to illuminate the world stage. The so called “Golden Generation” of Lampard, Gerrard et al put on an atrocious showing in South Africa. The pinnacle of our football achievement remains elusively in 1966. For the English cricket team success lies in the present.
England’s cricketers have displayed a master class at getting the job done. India may be weaker than in the past, but you can only beat the opposition in front of you regardless of their quality. The ability to do this is something that the English football team have struggled with perenially. They failed to beat minnows Algeria and USA at the World Cup. For them to beat current champions Spain seems unfathomable, yet their cricketing counterparts have just humbled their equivalents.
The killer instinct shown against India over the last month has been so “un-English”. It contained a fire and precision so often lacking in the traditionally “plucky” English team that reaches the quarter finals of a major tournament before inevitable defeat on penalties. They have shown that planning and endeavour produces results, as they have painstakingly climbed from the nadir of being the lowest ranked test nation just 12 years ago.
In order to explain the differing fortunes of these sides it is necessary to look at the respective administrative structures of the two sports – particularly the role of club vs. country. The adoption of the central contract system by the ECB ensures that players are obliged to perform for their country. These usurp any county commitments. When a cricketer hits a run of poor form they are often demoted to do “their time” on the county circuit in order to regain touch.
Imagine Fabio Capello telling Sir Alex Ferguson that half his side would be unavailable at the weekend due to international commitments. It is unfathomable. The central contract puts national affiliation above that of the club. In the case of football the contract is with the club, with all the lucrative benefits that are well documented. In cricket it pays to play for your country. For football it does not.
So long as the emphasis – both in financial and personal importance – lies with Premiership football then the FA will struggle to create a world beating side. They need to reprioritise the agenda of the English footballer or our source of football pride will remain stuck in the past, whilst our cricket team look forward to a dominant future.