World Cup day 6
This is the day that India open their tournament and take out South Africa, but I can’t travel to watch the game today. Last year I wrote a book called Steve Smith’s Men about the Australian ball-tampering episode, and tonight it’s shortlisted at the Telegraph Sports Book of the Year awards.
Wandering around Lord’s Cricket Ground when there’s no match being played is a strange experience. Such an old place with so much history, and such an idiosyncratic place. It’s a strange collection of buildings that don’t really belong together, somehow grand and ramshackle at the same time. On the nursery ground out the back of one pavilion, where the practice wickets are laid out on a huge grass square, the dinner event is taking place.
Cricket duty comes first, though, so I go to the press box to watch India’s run chase, then Sri Lanka narrowly bowling out Afghanistan short of a small target. I don’t mind going into dinner late – I don’t exactly carry a tuxedo around in my travel kit, so I’m underdressed for this company. The shortlist competition is fierce, and the prize is taken home by ‘Arlott and Swanton: The Soul of English Cricket.’ Not winning things is an excellent lesson in pretending that you don’t care about winning things.
World Cup day 7
I’m on the train next morning to Nottingham, to get to the preview press conferences and training for Australia’s match against the West Indies the next day. The great thing about a World Cup in England is that you can be on a train from London and reach almost any venue in two or three hours.
The bad thing is that you have to buy train tickets, which in an era of privatised rail can involve truly criminal price-gouging. Where travelling a couple of hours in Australia would barely take you to a different town and would accordingly cost a few dollars, travelling a couple of hours in England is treated as interstellar transport to a brave new land, and can cost literally hundreds of bounds. At these times literal highway robbery would be cheaper, and the only reason you don’t choose it instead is because of how long it would take to reach Manchester by horse.
Nottingham, of course, is also near where Robin Hood used to hang out, and perhaps the train companies have just confused his method of stealing from the rich to give to the poor. These days it’s a neat and quiet town with rows of neat and quiet terrace houses, in a city that gradually climbs a slope away from the River Trent and up a rising hill.
I am going to assume that the river is named after Trent Boult. I’m going to assume the same about the proposed team name for The Hundred, which is the Trent Rockets. If anyone does, the New Zealander deserves it.
World Cup day 8
If we’re honest, the West Indies should have beaten Australia while bowling, then should have beaten them again while batting. They throw away both chances, and Australia pulls a win out of the fire. But it’s a thrilling day, laced with Andre Russell bouncers, Nathan Coulter-Nile bludgeons, Russell’s Exocet responses, and of course Sheldon Cottrell’s freakish catch.
The sun shines gloriously on Nottingham all day, and the ground is packed full of mostly neutral fans. They almost all get in behind the West Indies, and cheer every run in the chase. The Australians play the role of villains perfectly, swooping in late to steal the match.
I spend a fair bit of time on BBC radio commentary with Curtly Ambrose, who blows me away by being even taller than me, and by being Curtly Ambrose. I don’t tend to get star-struck, but meeting a legend live on air and then keeping up a conversation for an hour? That’s intimidating. I don’t ask about his wristbands. I don’t even look at his wrists. I wouldn’t dare.
Adam Collins and I record the Final Word podcast for Firstpost and then join the queue of people at the train station signing over their first-born children in exchange for a ticket. On the way back to London we meet a couple of fellow travellers who listen to the podcast.
They have had a very long and well-refreshed day at the cricket, and regale us at length about plans to open a wrist-spin academy with Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep does not know about this yet, but the assumption is that he will be a keen participant when he does. Lawrence, one of these gentlemen, is a left-arm wrist spinner, and talks unstintingly of his admiration for Brad Hogg.
When we get off the train at Paddington, who should walk past but Brad Hogg, heading home after a long day’s work. We introduce him to Lawrence, and leave the pair deep in conversation.
World Cup day 9
I’m up early in the morning to record the BBC podcast Stumped with Alison Mitchell and Prakash Wakankar. We meet upstairs at the Fentiman Arms pub, just around the corner from the Oval in Kennington. It’s a classic old English pub, all warm wooden surfaces and gleaming racks of glasses. The walls are covered in old cricket memorabilia and images from ages long past. There’s something comforting about all of this. There’s something comforting about being in a pub at 10 am, which I’m probably more accustomed to than either of my colleagues.
I spend the day working at the Oval while waiting for play in the Pakistan versus Sri Lanka match, but we have our first washout of the tournament. I think that Sri Lanka might be secretly pleased to get a point for the table without having to risk a loss.
The travelling Australian journalists have dinner that night with Malcolm Conn, a former journalist himself who has been in England for a few weeks helping Cricket Australia with communications – basically being a bridge between the media and the team.
We meet up in a tiny cramped pub called the Lamb & Flag, which is on Rose Street, and creates a lot of confusion at to whether it’s the Lamb & Rose on Flag Street. There’s a really nice camaraderie among the travelling media – we’re all on the road for long periods, trying to do the best work we can, and there’s a nice sense of everyone looking out for each other. It’s on display again tonight.
World Cup day 10
It’s a Saturday, and another double-header. England get back to their ominous best against Bangladesh, while the Kiwis comfortably do over Afghanistan. This time the pub I check out after work is called the Black Dog, which is comfortingly depressing and familiar in its connotations. But the food is great.
As best I can tell, London pubs either offer nothing but tiny packets of crisps, or have reinvented themselves as fancy palaces of gastronomical delight. There is no middle ground. There is no spoon. No, wait, there is a spoon. It’s for your clotted sea salt passionfruit crème brulee, sir. Enjoy.
World Cup day 11
India versus Australia, one of the biggest contests of the World Cup, and the Oval is heaving. Absolutely heaving. There are about 30 Australian shirts in the crowd, best I can count. Occasional flashes of yellow. They might be CSK shirts anyway.
India wins. The whole crowd erupts blue at every wicket, every boundary, every single or every stop. Commentating the final overs of the Indian innings, when Hardik and Dhoni are going for gold and the noise of the crowd floods us through the headphones and through the window, is spine tingling.
World Cup day 12 and 13
Adam and I are up early for our studio show with Daniel Norcross, then the washouts begin. South Africa are probably relieved to get a point from West Indies, after being 29 for 2 in the handful of overs played. The next day Sri Lanka grab another point, this time against Bangladesh, while we catch a coach for several hours from London to Taunton ahead of Australia versus Pakistan.
Hilariously, Sri Lanka have been absolutely obliterated in one game, fell over the line against Afghanistan in another, and have had two abandoned. Which has left them with four points, just outside the semi-final spots on net run rate. If they can qualify without playing another game, it would be quality humour.
Taunton is an old strange town, with cobbled streets and broad open squares, and the towers of churches punctuating the skyline of what still looks a very vintage place to live. The river Tone is modest and pretty, winding through the town centre with footbridges everywhere. The forecast starts to improve. The following day, Australia will take on Pakistan, and it’s safe to say that no one has the faintest clue what might happen next.