This has been a week in which the sporting world has been united by the one single, astonishing, emotion. People around the world have expressed in unison how sick to bloody death they are of hearing about Leicester City, and how amazing their Premier League victory is (and not only because it shows that a sports team with a Captain Morgan can actually win something). After hogging all the news for months now, everybody is now thoroughly bored of the whole damn thing, and particularly of all the new, hype train-jumping, fans they seem to have attracted recently (especially our very own James Knight). Tall poppy syndrome meet Leicester City. We think you will make fine bedfellows.
But as thoroughly sick as we are of hearing about how utterly amazing Leicester’s success is, it does make for a somewhat interesting conversation piece when you consider whether the cricketing world could ever play host to such an unprecedented success. Leicester, as the headlines are so fond of reminding us, were 5,000-1 outsiders before the season began. Those are, you have to admit, pretty impressive odds. The largest odds you can find for the 2019 ODI World Cup are at 500-1, for the likes of Scotland and the Netherlands. Chances are neither of those teams will actually be there, given the ICC’s disdain for developing nations.
The reality is that there probably hasn’t been a team ranked at such long odds who have ever won a major cricketing competition. The Sydney Thunder won last season’s Big Bash, after finishing dead last three times in a row, and then second last, in the four years the tournament had run before this. In the midst of this stunningly shit run of form they, at one point, lost 19 games in a row, making them one of the worst, if not the worst sporting franchise the world has ever seen.
Yet whilst their victory in the last Big Bash tournament was pretty surprising, it wasn’t that much of a shock. It’s a close tournament, with very little separating the teams. The Thunder’s wage bill is probably the equal of any other side in the competition, which isn’t something you could say about Leicester City. You might make a better case looking at their cross-sport fellows Leicestershire, whose resources dwindle in comparison to the likes of Yorkshire or Middlesex. But even if Leicestershire were to win two titles on the bounce, claiming the second division then the first, probably on the back of Mark Cosgrove’s eating and Clint McKay’s grunting, it would still lack the sheer the audacity of Leicester City’s achievements. The odds certainly wouldn’t be comparable with Elvis Presley being found alive and working in Kirsty MacColl’s local chippy.
The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that there is no cricket competition that offers the possibility of a team equalling what Leicester City accomplished. Cricket just isn’t very accepting of minnows, and with the next World Cup format it appears to be even less accepting of them. Perhaps if Afghanistan were able to come through qualifying and take out the next World Cup, that might be considered similar. Although it would really be more akin to Greece winning the Euro 2004; an improbable result, but not a completely unthinkable one. Certainly nobody would call it a ‘miracle’, though Danny Morrison might describe it as an ‘event not explicable by natural or scientific laws, brought to you by DLF.’
It is a shame that cricket seems incapable, or at least unlikely, of producing a shock result on a similar scale. Such is the small pond in which cricket lives. Or maybe it’s a good thing, in that it indicates that on the pitch at least, there isn’t the same sort of gap between the haves and haves not in the cricket world. Nobody beating anyone else in a Test match would be that big of a surprise. Although admittedly the West Indies wining anything in Australia a few months ago would probably have caused a few tremors.
The gist of all this is that cricket lacks the sort of large-scale, long-term competitions, where the wheat is naturally expected to be separated from the chaff, and only the most well-resourced sides (usually) have a chance of winning. Any team in the top tier of the English county competition has a reasonable chance of winning it (unless you’re Somerset), and South Australia made this year’s Sheffield Shield final despite being utter rubbish for near on a decade previously. In a way, this is a good thing, and shows that the sorts of massive financial disparities which have historically defined the Premier League do not exist in domestic cricket at least.
At the international level it is another story, only one that is largely hidden because the minnows are not allowed to compete with the big boys, except in infrequent World Cups. Ireland or Afghanistan beating Australia in an ODI or one-off Test would be highly improbable, but not an impossibility (and if you throw England in to the mix, a nigh-on certainty). But for either of them to triumph in a proper series would be statistically closer to Leicester’s achievement. Until a World Test Championship is devised and actually enacted, we won’t even have a similar playing field as that offered by a 38-game football season. But of course we are never going to see that sort of series happen. Because the ICC won’t let us have nice things. So it seems the only freak results the cricketing world is capable of producing are on the scale of Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup win, or even when the 1997 Akai Singer Champions Trophy was lifted by little old England.