At a press conference in New Delhi to unveil the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy, we were repeatedly told that the tournament, with 15 matches being played over a fortnight, would showcase the “best of the best”. Like Mr Rumsfeld and his mythical WMD, if you tell a lie enough times, you can convince yourself that it’s the truth. Fortunately, cricket has statistics to separate fact from fiction.
So, England and West Indies belong on the highest echelon, do they? Since January 2008, England have won 12 of 36 matches. Australia stand on the threshold of a 7-0 series sweep, and India beat them with embarrassing ease 10 months ago. Without Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, it would be charitable to call them even a second-rate side.
Where does that leave West Indies, who couldn’t even beat England? Their record over the same period is even more distinguished, with nine wins from 38 games. The second and third-stringers lost all three games to Bangladesh, but it’s not as though the Gayles, Sarwans and Chanderpauls were setting the world alight before that. Since reaching the final of the Champions Trophy in 2006, West Indies have been worse than useless. People might have a little more sympathy for the agitating players if they actually managed to perform from time to time.
As for poor Bangladesh, they continue to be the ugly sister of international cricket. Their win percentage (15 from 40 games) is better than both England and West Indies, and a couple of their players, especially the outstanding Shakib Al Hasan, would walk into both sides. Instead, they must watch events in South Africa from the sidelines, while two mind-numbingly mediocre sides make up the numbers.
With Flintoff and Pietersen in the ranks, England beat South Africa 4-0 at the end of last season. Without them, such a result would have been investigated by the Anti-Corruption Unit. And those with conspiracy theories on their minds would have kept an eye out for Hansie Cronje and $10,000 leather jackets.