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Hopelessly optimistic?

Cricket’s World Cup kicks off this afternoon at Sabina Park in Jamaica, and I’m looking forward to it with equal measures of excitement and hope.

Excitement because World Cups in cricket, as in football, only come around once every four years. Not to mention the fact the event is being staged in the cricket-mad tropical paradise that is the West Indies, where the sport is still followed with undiluted passion.

And hope because I genuinely believe England have a chance of winning the whole shebang. Yes, that’s right: they can.

Am I mad?

Possibly. Notwithstanding the recent 2-0 series win against Australia, the defending World Cup holders, there is little logical evidence to support an English triumph.

After all, England are ranked a lowly seventh in the ICC one-day rankings; of the major cricketing nations, only the West Indies are below them, and they at least have the advantage of playing at home.

Injuries, retirements and other problems have deprived the squad of veteran campaigners such as Steve Harmison and Marcus Trescothick, and their replacements lack experience. The form of those who remain, such as captain Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and the talismanic Andrew Flintoff, has been patchy at best over the past year.

And, apart from Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, there aren’t any obvious examples of England players who are capable of consistently dominating in the limited overs format. The statistics bear this out: England has just one of the top 20-ranked ODI batsmen (Pietersen, 4th), and only one entry among the top 20 bowlers (Flintoff, 15th).

In short, pretty much any way you choose to analyse the squad, England simply aren’t good enough to win the tournament.

So why am I still optimistic?

In truth, there are plenty of good reasons. Pietersen has been in tremendous form for the past 18 months, and he is one of a tiny handful of players in world cricket who is genuinely capable of single-handedly transforming a match. Flintoff can do likewise with both bat and ball, and the return of Vaughan to release him from the burden of captaincy may be all that is required to unleash the man who dominated the Ashes series in 2005. The squad is full of great team men like Paul Collingwood and Monty Panesar, who will lift spirits and make telling contributions. And last, but by no means least, a World Cup tournament is all about establishing a head of steam early on and riding the momentum that creates. England’s qualifying group is by no means the toughest. If they can defeat New Zealand in their opening match on Friday, their subsequent games against Canada and Kenya should be relatively straightforward, and after that who knows? If Vaughan, Strauss and Ian Bell can manage some confidence-building knocks, if Panesar, Liam Plunkett and Saj Mahmood can bowl with both threat and discipline, if Pietersen and Flintoff can just meet expectations, then 28th April 2007 might just become one of those dates that becomes etched in the collective national consciousness, like 22nd November 2003 or 30th July 1966.

I’m not saying it will happen. I’m not saying even saying it’s a high probability. But can it happen, and do I have hope? You betcha. Only time will tell whether or not my optimism is hopelessly misplaced, but for now I’m keeping April 28th clear in my diary – you never know.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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