Their captain is Irish. The ticking bomb in their middle order is from New Zealand. Their most threatening bowler is Bajan. Two others in their 15 were born in South Africa, one to Zimbabwean parents.
But it is England who are the World Cup champions, and it is to England, its people and its cricket that this triumph belongs. Finally, in England’s fourth trip to the final, cricket — one-day cricket, at any rate — has come home.
Eoin Morgan paused proceedings in front of the Mound Stand as he and his team took their lap of honour after Sunday’s outrageous, ridiculous, absolutely bloody bonkers match at Lord’s.
He spotted someone in the higher reaches of the stand, someone he knew. And he raised the trophy to them and shook it in salute. This, mate, is for you!
It was, in fact, for all of us. I am South African, and I have lost hope that the team who come from my country — they do not represent me or anyone but themselves — are ever going to do right by their own talent and skill. I don’t care whether they win or lose. I do care that they don’t make idiots of themselves; that they don’t let themselves down. I will try to rekindle my hope, but I can’t promise.
So, thank you, Mr Morgan and company. And Mr Williamson and company. You have given all of us something to treasure forever.
It was the perfect movie moment as Morgan, stationery and sublimely calm, smiled so wide it seemed as if the top half of his head would topple to the turf. The Mound Stand was soaked in the kind of sunshine only seen in England. From his clock tower nearby, Father Time looked down on the scene, as gobsmacked as the rest of us by what he had seen. Or what he thought he had seen. Had he really seen it? He had. We had.
As Morgan stood there, the trophy aloft and honeyed by the sunshine, “This Is The Sea”, the stirring title track of the Waterboys’ 1985 album, hit the right emotional note as it swayed around the ground.
“These things you keep,
“You’d better throw them away,
“You want to turn your back,
“On your soulless days,
“Once you were tethered,
“And now you are free,
“Once you were tethered,
“Well, now you are free,
“That was the river,
“This is the sea!”
Up in the pressbox a feral electricity had crackled through the air as the equation veered this way and that like Hunter S. Thompson in his Pontiac on the motorway after too many drugs and too much bourbon. None of us had ever covered a match anything like this one, and it showed in desperate yawps and skittish jolts.
Once things had settled down, a reporter from one of the most august newspapers of them all was spotted shopping online for an England replica shirt. Good on ’em. This was not a time for pious protestations of the preciousness of objectivity. This was a time to feel your heart racing and your blood rushing along with every other cricket-minded child, woman and man, a time to shell out £60 for a thing of love. Besides, the price is only going to go up.
But this, too, shall pass. Once all the drinks are drunk and the players meet the queen and the highlights lose their sheen and it all fades to something like grey and what happened with each and every ball bowled is no longer instantly recallable, English cricket will ask itself: now what?
Even immigrants in this country are more interested in football than cricket, and that includes people from places like Bangladesh. The more they assimilate, the more English they become. And so the less attached to cricket they become.
Sunday’s match will change that. But for how long? The Springboks won rugby’s men’s World Cup in 1995, and Nelson Mandela himself handed over the trophy.
That, too, was the perfect movie moment. Indeed, the movie, “Invictus”, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, was made.
And at its heart was an untruth. Sport can unite a nation, but that unity is easily squandered — as South Africans, freshly emerged from the awfulness of apartheid, discovered when they all retreated back into their respective physical, mental and political encampments a week or two after the tournament. Nothing changed and, 24 years on, not nearly enough has changed. Most black people are still poor. Most white people are still affluent. Apartheid is officially dead but, in reality, it stalks our streets like a zombie.
“Now I can see you wavering,
“As you try to decide,
“You’ve got a war in your head,
“And it's tearing you up inside,
“You’re trying to make sense,
“Of something that you just can’t see,
“Trying to make sense now,
“And you know you once held the key,
“But that was the river,
“And this is the sea!”
Do not waver, England. Tell the suits you want cricket back on terrestrial television. Tell state schools to start offering the game to their students. Tell the newspapers that football doesn’t deserve the back page just because it’s football.
Tell those who have stolen your game from you that you want it back.
“Now I hear there's a train,
“It’s coming on down the line,
“It’s yours if you hurry,
“You’ve got still enough time,
“And you don’t need no ticket,
“And you don't pay no fee,
“No you don't need no ticket,
“You don’t pay no fee,
“Because that was the river,
“And this is the sea!
“Behold the sea!”
Come on in. The water’s lovely.
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