Key factors that hold us back in the World Cup

ASHES GLORY? Jimmy Anderson has a great chance to close in on Sir Ian Botham at the top of England's leading wicket-takers during the forthcoming Ashes series
ASHES GLORY? Jimmy Anderson has a great chance to close in on Sir Ian Botham at the top of England's leading wicket-takers during the forthcoming Ashes series

So just under a week ago our favourite international sports teams – you know the one I mean, the one that can actually win things – set off on a 20-hour flight for an antipodean adventure which will, hopefully, see them retain The Ashes.

There are few things I like better than England winning The Ashes.

Part of the reasoning behind that is the fact that success in this particular contest was denied us for a while.

Another key factor is the fact that these Ashes will give our very own Jimmy Anderson the chance to take a giant step towards becoming England’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Test matches.

And I also like to see the smile wiped off the face of sport fans from Australia.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Australia or Australians per se.

I have many friends who have lived there for a spell and have met many other Australians.

They are all decent blokes, but it would be fair to say that if there was a world championship for gloating, they would win it hands down.

And that is why recent Ashes series have been so special.

It is not just the winning, it is the manner and style of those series wins which has made me wish I had kept a few phone numbers I have long since parted with.

But all this set me thinking about a sporting conundrum which has baffled me for a while.

We are still competitive on a global scale at cricket and rugby union.

And the next few days will show how competitive we are internationally at rugby league.

All have mass appeal to the nation’s sport devotees.

But none of them has the sort of appeal that football has – and yet we will start next year’s World Cup fancied to get only as far as about the quarter-finals, if we play well.

So why should this be?

I think there are two key factors, leaving money out of the equation.

The first is probably the one that holds rugby league back from becoming a national team capable of being ranked number one in the world ,but allows both cricket and rugby unior to be capable of it.

And it is something that is hurting football more and more each year.

For a cricketer or a rugby union player, international honours are what it is all about.

Centrally contracted players, especially in cricket, mean that the cream of the crop play very little sport other than for their countries.

In both football and rugby league the club is the heart of the game and, to many, international games are a nuisance.

As Danny Baker once put it in the early years of 606: “International friendlies ... most players would rather go to a PTA meeting.”

The second reason that we are still capable of being a dominant force in some sporrts, and not others, is the fact that not everything is actually a game contested all over the world.

Look at the list of teams capable of trying to make a Test match against England last into a third day or beyond and you will see they have one thing in common – they are all nations, or combinations of nations, who have been part of teh British Empire or are still part of the Commonwealth.

And had we drawn the line at sharing football beyond those imperical boundaries, we might still be top dogs.

The first World Cup I actually remember is Mexico 70.

We went to win, even knew we would win, but someone forgot to tell Pele and his Brazilian team-mates.

Such was the shock that we forgot to qualify for the next two World Cups and with a couple of exceptions, have underperformed in just about every World Cup since.

Will next year be any different?

I am not sure that we have enough truly international class stars to do it.

Of course I want us to win the World Cup, but I am realistic enough to realise that we probably won’t do.

And until Greg Dyke and is happy band of brothers get to grips with the club-v-country problems that have beset a succession of England managers, that will probably remain the case.

• One of my colleagues challenged me to write a column about American sport, but that was never going to happen as it is too easy to dismiss.

But here goes ...

American Football: Rugby Union without the violence, where forward passing is allowed. Also the only game called football where you need a specialist kicker who is not allowed to touch the ball otherwise.

Ice Hockey: A game summed up best by someone much funnier than me as simply 10 man chasing an angry spider around a field of ice. Nothing to see here at all, unless the gloves come off.

Basketball: Netball without the violence and a sport reserved for insomniacs.

Baseball: Rounders with added violence and a lot of spitting.

That just about sums it up for me, safe in the knowledge that it must really irk Americans that all the best ice hockey players are Canadian, all the best basketball players are Afro-Caribbean, all the star baseball players are from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and no matter how many NFL games are played in this country each season, there will still be more interest in the Grand Finals of One Man and His Dog.

You can also blame America for the game of pool.

It is a shame that snooker was just too complicated for them.

And it is also a surprise that billiards, with just three balls in play, was not snapped up in place of snooker.

But pool is not sport in the same way that darts, snooker, shove ha-penny and dwarf-throwing are not sports.

But all of that can be saved for another day ...