ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Despite England being on cusp of cricketing glory, sport still takes backseat in football-mad nation

Cricket, once the epitome of mainstream Englishness, has slipped out of sight, out of mind in modern, mainstream England. Instead, it needs to be sought out.

Telford Vice, Jul 14, 2019 10:13:30 IST

The road to Lord’s is paved with leafiness, grand houses and a solidly-founded sense of entitlement. What you couldn’t see there on Saturday, less than 24 hours before the men’s World Cup final, was much evidence of cricket.

On Sunday there will doubtless be more, not least 30,000 spectators making their way to the ground, many of them helped in that quest by the 'Cricketeers', the cheerfully uniformed volunteer army that has been fighting the good fight for the game in the most warm and heartening way.

ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Despite England being on cusp of cricketing glory, sport still takes backseat in football-mad nation

The Eoin Morgan-led side one match away from achieving what no England team could in the past. AP

The voice of the BBC’s cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, will come down from on high at the nearest tube station.

“Hello everyone! ‘Aggers’ here! Welcome to St John’s Wood, the gateway to Lord’s. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform. Now, this is very important — to avoid being run out, please hold the handrail on the escalator. To avoid clogging everything up, please move away from the station. Lord’s is 500 yards to your left.”

But, on Saturday, aside from Lord’s itself looming into view, the odd banner attached to the odd lamppost was all there was to show that, in this very space, the champions of world cricket’s premier white-ball event would be crowned on Sunday.

For the rest, it was a typically dappled, muggy summer Saturday afternoon in London: tourists, taxis and tikka masala to go.

“Find some England fans,” the editor had instructed for this piece. “Ask them what it feels like for their team to be in the final.” Many apologies, Sir. If I had been able to find those fans I would have asked them.

They were unidentifiable despite the fact that England's men are within a game of winning the World Cup for the first time. And that they are in the final for the first time in 27 years. And also that it’s the first time they have come this far at home since not quite five weeks into Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as the UK’s prime minister.

Almost 11 years after the dark day of her elevation — for people of the Left, at least — one of her dangerous, despicable ilk, Norman Tebbit, questioned the patriotism of those who lived in England but continued to support cricket teams visiting from South Asia and the Caribbean.

Thatcher is dead but Tebbit is still stinking up the place at 88. Last year, he stopped attending services at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in protest at the appointment as dean of Joe Hawes, who is in a civil partnership with another male member of the clergy. To Tebbit, he was a “sodomite”.

You wonder what Tebbit makes of all that tikka masala. Just like you wonder what he thinks of cricket in England, his England having become quietly — smugly, even — satisfied that it has been excised from the popular imagination.

It’s difficult to shake the impression that, for the English, the game has become fox hunting minus the killing; that thing posh people go and watch when they’re not in their country houses drinking toasts to Queen and Empire.

For those whose forebears were subjugated by the colonial project, and who have come to this country as part of their effort to escape the consequences of the crimes it committed against humanity, cricket is a flavour of home. Just like tikka masala.

The game’s support here is sealed into those two silos. It is not played in almost all state schools. It is not broadcast on free-to-air television. It is taken seriously on radio and in the newspapers — where it is easily bumped off the back page by any story about anyone who may have kicked a football once in their lifetime.

Cricket, once the epitome of mainstream Englishness, has slipped out of sight, out of mind in modern, mainstream England. Instead, it needs to be sought out. So much so that the suits on all sides agreeing to broadcast Sunday’s final on a channel that does not demand payment for that privilege is being held up as a victory in itself.

But how much of the potential audience worldwide will be lost to the Wimbledon men’s final? And what does it say that the cricket will be shoved onto another channel to make way for the British Grand Prix?

It would have been cruel to ask questions like those while Eoin Morgan was trying to put into words what winning the World Cup would mean for English cricket. He arrived for his press conference on Saturday wearing an almost disturbingly beatific smile that soon gaped into the kind of grin you might see on a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Morgan is no dummy, and he seems a decent bloke besides. But watching him click through the clichés of attempting to lend the moment some gravitas made some of us cringe at least as much as many Irish people would have done when they learned that one of their own had become England’s captain.

Kane Williamson seemed far more at ease with himself and his role, perhaps because he isn’t Irish or English or anything else but a New Zealander, a place where rugby, good coffee, and weird facial hair mean more than cricket.

Asked about being underdogs on Sunday, he slipped effortlessly into soft power mode: “Whatever dog we are, it’s important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play. We have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody — regardless of breed of dog.”

Later on Saturday, a man outside the ground peeled off a wad of notes as fat as a small city’s telephone directory to buy a ticket from a tout. However much he shelled out, it was exponentially more than his prize’s face value.

If he gets in — the ICC is serious about nullifying scalping — he will be part of a crowd representing 41 countries. Eighteen percent of the total tournament tickets purchased were sold outside of England, and 324,000 went to supporters of South Asian sides. The four million applications for tickets came from 157 different countries. Fully half of the tickets sold in public were bought by people who do not want England to win.

And yet England could and, probably, will win. That wouldn’t do much to change how the road to Lord’s looks, but at least Tebbit would be happy.

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2019 10:13:30 IST

World Cup 2019 Points Table

Team p w l nr pts
India 9 7 1 1 15
Australia 9 7 2 0 14
England 9 6 3 0 12
New Zealand 9 5 3 1 11
Pakistan 9 5 3 1 11
Sri Lanka 9 3 4 2 8
South Africa 9 3 5 1 7
Bangladesh 9 3 5 1 7
West Indies 9 2 6 1 5
Afghanistan 9 0 9 0 0

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3462 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
6 New Zealand 4056 254