Looking down my 'labels' to the right, I see that "cricket" is coming last in terms of number. We can't have that, can we?! With so much cricket on around the world at the moment, here are my (prw) cricket rankings.
These rankings come as I stand outside myself and watch who I support as the top eight nations play each other. And then I sort through the various permutations to create 'most favoured' through to 'least favoured' country, in terms of my own support.
ONE New Zealand
With each passing year I become a less and less nationalistic and patriotic person. And the latter years of Stephen Fleming's captaincy hastened this process in the cricketing sphere. I was not a fan of the arrogance he tried to convey. He wanted to be like Steve Waugh but he lacked the team to give such an attitude any credibility. For example, his confrontation with Sangakkara and Jayawardena, towards the end of his career, was a low point in NZ cricket. It was despicable. However, I am a Kiwi and I will always support NZ on the cricket field above everyone else.
Ahh, the country of my upbringing. The country which nurtured my love of this, the greatest game. Gavaskar and Vishwanath, Solkar and Abid Ali were the names I lived with as a child. Yes, India has to be #2. However it is no longer straightforward. In my view Indian money - and with it, Indian power - is ruining the game. The only sport which fosters both professional 'club' teams and playing for your country is football/soccer. And how does FIFA do it? With an iron fist! With windows in the club schedule for international fixtures. The ICC is no FIFA and it shows. If FIFA has an iron fist, the ICC has a clay pinkie. India runs cricket. No country will be hurt more by the professional Indian club game (IPL) than NZ. I am not sure how long India can stay at #2.
THREE West Indies
Again the influence of my childhood shines through. Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards?! Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts?! These guys had style and they had skill. Unless they are playing NZ or India, I still find myself cheering for the Windies. But they are a shadow of what they once were. It has been sad to watch their decline and the IPL will lubricate that decline at test level, just as it will for NZ. I'd love to see someone wave a wand and have the current group of players suddenly become the 1980s revisited. It ain't going to happen.
FOUR Sri Lanka
Here is a more contemporary choice. Like it was with many others, it started with the Jayasuriya:Kaluwitharana show opening the batting - with my wonder only increasing when I walked past 'Kalu' one day and he was just a slither of a man. But such power in his hitting... While I did not care much for Ranatunga, those who have followed in his wake have had such grace, such intelligence and such a joy in playing the game. The aforementioned Sangakkara and Jayawardena are two of my favourites. I know India's hold on the #2 spot is tenuous because when India play Sri Lanka I find I lean the way of the latter increasingly.
NZers are not great fans of the 'mother country' on the sporting field. The press here is so biased against England. Time and again, a successful England will not make it into the news - but a failing England will almost always make headlines (particularly on the rugby field, it must be said - but with cricket as well). It is a pettiness in the Kiwi press for which I have little patience. Not so for me. England leads the second half of my rankings which I guess means I like to see them win about half the time! I will enjoy watching Broad develop as much as I enjoyed Flintoff and Botham before him. As is the case with Sri Lanka, I think England is on the move upwards...
Being Indian-by-upbringing, this is a big call for me to make - but I think it reflects the contemporary global situation where Pakistan has so few opportunities to play. [And the fact that I am visiting the country a bit and developing a fresh heart for it]. I still find the level of sulking and rivalry and power-plays that goes on inside Pakistani cricket to be a bit playground-ish - but their talent matures so early and so young and I have always loved watching it surface (usually in games against NZ, it must be said ... Wasim Akram? Miandad? Inzamam? Umar Akmal?)
SEVEN South Africa
I felt genuine and lingering compassion for the Hansie Cronje mess and this impacted the way I viewed their cricket for a season. Jonty Rhodes was something special. I admired the way they founght their way to the top in these years after readmission. But really - supporting them is not part of my past (as they were still banned in those years) and I do not find that their teams tug away at any heart-strings at all. While I see the place of 'affirmative action' selection policies, I think they have tended to overdo it and give the impression - a bit like Pakistan - that cricket is really a projection of national politics. Plus, they frequently choke on the big stage which says something.
When I stand outside myself and watch the Aussies playing any one of the teams from #1 through to #7, I never find myself supporting them! :) So I guess that means they are #8. I don't think the trans-Tasman rivalry has a lot to do with it as I don't readily subscribe to it. I like and follow many Aussie sportspeople (their golfers, for example). They are the world's most prolific sporting nation and I admire this in them. Maybe they are #8 because they are just so successful and I like the underdog... Steve Waugh's biography was one of the best I have ever read. But there is an ugliness in their cricket over there that many Aussies themselves dislike. With sledging they misapply the words of Jesus, finding it far better 'to give than to receive'. And then there is the perennial irritant for NZ cricket fans - those sycophantic cricket commentators! Ugh?! When I need some balance from across-the-ditch I shut my ears to Mark Nicholas and go and read another Peter Roebuck column!