Alastair Cook rapped out a warning to cricket yesterday as he contemplated leading the world's best one-day side. All England have to do to reach the summit and thus be ranked No 1 in all formats of the game is beat Australia 5-0 in the series which starts at Lord's today, and Cook was in no doubt that his side have what it takes.
True, it was necessary to read between the lines to some degree as he pondered the notion. But presumably that is what he meant when he said: "It would be an amazing achievement but I don't want to be quoted saying stuff which gets blown out of proportion.
"We're going to have to be at our absolute best to try to win the series. We are very much a developing one-day side and we're desperate to keep going up the rankings. But let's not get too carried away. We have got plenty of stuff to keep improving on, trying to get good results. Over the next 10 days we have a chance to do that."
Despite worries of overkill, the series appears to have caught the public imagination. Tickets have sold well and there is no sign at present, it seems, of the longest surviving international contest in sport losing its allure. In anybody's book, whatever its real pertinence, this is a precursor to the Ashes next summer.
Perhaps Cook, who looked like he had swallowed a fly, was as astounded as everybody else at England's potential climb up the rankings. But according to the International Cricket Council predictor, a clean sweep will see England leap from fourth to first.
It requires a leap of faith and imagination to think it may be possible, which is probably why Cook was so careful in declining to be drawn on the matter. England have beaten Australia 3-0 at home before and in 2010 led a three-match series 3-0 before losing the final two matches.
Under Cook's leadership they are making progress, having won their last six matches and their last six series at home. But it also has to be remembered that this is the side who were defeated 5-0 in India last autumn. Only the rankings, which contrive to make the Duckworth-Lewis System look as easy as 1-2-3, could suggest that England are the No 1 side.
For now that title belongs to Australia. Michael Clarke, who took over the captaincy permanently after the World Cup last year, has won 11 of his 18 games since then. They remain nobody's mugs. But this Australia are different. They are a young team trying to hang on to their status while in the process of being rebuilt. Of their probable XI at Lord's today, five have never toured England before. Clarke was as sober in his judgment as Cook. If the sides play with the reserve they talk, we could be heading for dullsville by the time the series is done.
Clarke said: "England are playing some really good cricket and they've had a lot of success in their own backyard so we know it's going to be really tough cricket and we're going to have to be at our best to compete with them. I guess it's been a little bit colder here these last few weeks than these young guys are accustomed to."
Poor lambs. What this really needed was Glenn McGrath to walk in from one wing and say that obviously Australia would win 5-0 and he was astounded that anyone could think otherwise, and Nasser Hussain from the other wing wearing his heart on his sleeve and saying Australia would at the least know they had been in a fight.
England's recent form, and pitches that continue to grant some movement, should give them the edge. Australia's bowling attack contains some bright young talents in Patrick Cummins at 19 and James Pattinson at 23 but they are still learning how to play the game in different places. England's attack is the real deal anywhere.
Three of the tourists stand out before a ball is bowled. Cummins has abundant amounts of that raw pace which has excited observers throughout history. In his only Test, he bowled out South Africa, and the air of expectancy surrounding him is undeniable. It would be marvellous to see him accompanied by Brett Lee, who has retained the speed and the lust for life which has always made him compelling viewing. David Warner at the top of the order has blazed a trail wherever he has gone since his transformation from being a club player two years ago. When he hits the ball it stays that way and he has defied most observers by taking his brand of batting into the Test arena and making it work. But he will never have experienced anything like the relentlessness of England's attack, and whatever they say about this not being a dress rehearsal, he can make Ashes points or lose them.
England may win, if not 5-0, though Cook, eventually, showed a rare moment of candour when asked if the World Cup was more important than the rankings. "I don't know. Actually I do know. If someone said do you want to be No 1 in the world or win the World Cup I would take the World Cup."
Lord's details: First One-Day International
England (probable): A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, R S Bopara, E J G Morgan, C Kieswetter (wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Australia (probable): M J Clarke (capt), S R Watson, D A Warner, G J Bailey, D J Hussey, S P D Smith, M S Wade (wkt), B Lee, C J McKay, P J Cummins, X J Doherty.
Umpires A Dar (Pak) & R Kettleborough (Eng)
TV Sky Sports 1, 10am-7pm; Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm.
Weather Dry and overcast all day, brighter later. Max temp: 19C.
Pitch report Drier than it probably has the right to be, much closer to the Mound Stand than the Grand Stand, with a short boundary going with the slope. But bowlers must still fancy their chances.
1 England 117pts; 2 South Africa 116; 3 Australia 112; 4 India 111; 5 Pakistan 108; 6 Sri Lanka 99.
1 Australia 123pts; 2 South Africa 118; 3 India 117; 4 England 112; 5 Sri Lanka 112; 6 Pakistan 103.
1 England 130pts; 2 South Africa 122; 3 Sri Lanka 115; 4 New Zealand 114; 5 Pakistan 108; 6 Australia 107.Reuse content