Of patriotism and green suede jackets
Last year there were people (cricket journalists admittedly, but I've checked and they still count as people) who believed that England were one of the greatest sides in Test cricket. That's okay, though. People believe all sorts of things. R Kelly, like Icarus, believed he could fly. It's only when you act on your irrational beliefs that the problems start. For R Kelly, it was an execrable song. For Icarus, the consequences were even more unpleasant.
But in the afterglow of last summer's walkover against Team BCCI, one or two hacks committed their crazy notions to paper. There it was, set down in black and white, an ill-advised love letter we knew they would one day regret: England were one of the greatest Test sides ever. The team of Cook, Trott and Bresnan wedged into the cricket pantheon next to Bradman's Immortals, Clive Lloyd's Invincibles and Steve Waugh's Disintegrators.
So, in the light of recent and not-quite-so-recent events, we are now presented with a conundrum. On the one hand, England's current lot are one of the greatest teams ever. On the other, they've lost five of their last 11 matches. As Mr Spock would tell you, logically one of these can't be true. Perhaps it's the second one. Maybe they haven't really lost five Tests this year? Hang on, I'll check. Yep. Turns out it was six.
Is it cruel to remind people of their past follies? Quite possibly, but on the other hand, does it do them any good to let them get away with it? I once bought a green suede jacket and then, to compound the problem, I wore it. The hilarity this provoked served as a sartorial wake-up call. Had people just coughed politely and said nothing, I would have persisted in my folly. I might even have bought the matching shoes.
We need better from our scribblers. Middle-aged sports journalists should not be cavorting around in short skirts spelling out Andrew Strauss' name one letter at a time while waving metaphorical pom poms. If I want to partake of patriotic eyewash, I can easily unmute the television when Ian Botham starts commentating. From journalists I want the facts, the juicy scoops, and above all, some sober, objective analysis.
So to help them out, here's some sober, objective analysis. Feel free to cut and paste, chaps. England climbed to the top of the rankings by beating the following:
Australia 2009: Ordinary collection of has-beens, maybes and Mitchell Johnson
Australia 2011: As Australia 2009, only worse
Pakistan: The most shambolic overseas venture since the Sex Pistols' 1978 US tour
Bangladesh: It's Bangladesh
Sri Lanka: No Murali. No Vaas. No Malinga.
West Indies: Seriously?
India: 4-0 win ever so slightly undermined when India lost to Australia (see above).
And this doesn't include losing a series in the Caribbean in 2009, being completely outplayed in three out of four Tests in South Africa, and collapsing to big defeats against inferior opponents with a series still alive in Perth 2010, Headingley 2009, Kingston 2009 and The Oval 2010. So: England, a good team, not a great team, who got lucky with the fixture list and enjoyed a pleasant interlude at the top of the heap.
Lesson learned, chaps, we hope. Patriotism isn't just the last refuge of the scoundrel; like a green suede jacket it can also make you look extremely silly.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England