World Cup day 34
Do you remember Day 34 of the World Cup? I don’t remember Day 34 of the World Cup. The World Cup is eternal. The World Cup has always been and will always be.
No, wait, the reason I don’t remember Day 34 is because I wasn’t at the World Cup very much on Day 34. After briefly stopping in at Edgbaston for the start of India versus Bangladesh, I drive over to Leicester for the first match of the Women’s Ashes.
This is not an ideal piece of scheduling from the England Cricket Board, with so much attention already focused on the end of the group stage. Bangladesh are playing for their lives while Australia and England start the most significant women’s bilateral series in the sport.
Leicester is your classic nondescript Midlands city: pleasant, quiet, and where not too much ever seems likely to happen. England play like they’re not expecting anything to happen, losing their top order within a few overs. At Edgbaston, Bangladesh’s chief tormentor Rohit Sharma gets dropped and then makes another hundred. Everyone has a bogey team
Shakib al Hasan ends one of the great individual World Cups, having fallen short of a half-century only once in the tournament on his way to more than 600 runs plus 11 wickets thrown in. You just wish England, Australia and India would give him a chance to play on their shores.
Shakib has toured England once in 2010 and Australia once in 2008, along with a solitary Test match in India in 2017. In a career spanning 14 years, that totals three Tests and six ODIs.
World Cup day 35
Today is different, and you’ll have to forgive a digression, but this tour diary is accurate. When I planned out the World Cup schedule months ago, one date was immovable. Janelle Monae was touring.
If you don’t know Monae, she blew up the stage on Letterman in 2010 as a young unknown, turning in a performance the like that late-night TV never sees. Her record meshed a vintage swing style with R&B hooks and a futuristic narrative concept. She channelled the funk of Prince, the scope of Bowie, and the voice of Aretha. In the years since she’s become a campaigner for equality, and she can rap as well as anyone who does it as a primary pursuit.
So I’m going to Dublin to see Monae. I won’t write a concert review, but I will say it’s as immense and life-affirming an experience as one could hope for. And that Dublin in blue sky and sunshine is as beautiful a town as there could be. Everyone who lives there makes me very aware that today is not representative.
The sky stays light until 11 pm, and the show is in the grounds of Trinity College, whose giant old stone buildings line the courtyards and walkways like a film set. The crowd is full of young uni students who seem happy and hopeful and welcoming. The streets are busy with revellers, making the most of the brief kiss of summer even on a weeknight. The pubs are full of drinkers and fiddle music, living out the cliché. A river passes through town like a memory.
Somewhere over in Durham, England have beaten New Zealand.
World Cup day 36
After early Irish buses and planes and English trains and walking trails, I’m back in Leicester for the next women’s game. England get smashed again. Speaking of World Cups, they won the last one. Now they’re getting demolished in 50-over cricket.
Afghanistan have been pretty well demolished too. Their final effort today against the West Indies is their most convincing with the bat, but by then they’ve given away too many runs with their fielding mishaps. They end up with four or five games they could have won but thrown away.
There are plenty of stories circulating about the chaos and dysfunction within the camp, and the lack of meaningful ICC action to address it. Their coach and some players are promising that parts of the story will come out in time. It’s no surprise Afghanistan didn’t win a game if all the supposed distractions were real.
World Cup day 37
After driving from Leicester back to Manchester late the previous night, Day 37 is just about seeing Pakistan beat Bangladesh at Lord’s, watching from the press box at Old Trafford. There’s the usual pre-game press conference for tomorrow’s game, with Faf du Plessis and Aaron Finch both explaining that they would quite like to win.
There’s this look that players sometimes give when you pass each other in a hallway or somewhere. Almost a fractional nod of greeting, but internally a rolling of their eyes. Like they’re thinking: God, these guys again.
And fair enough. I often wonder how weird it must be for players having all this attention. Imagine if a plumber had someone watching every move he made during a shift. Imagine if a plumber having a good day at work got written about like a Greek god, or after a bad day had every newspaper in the country sacking him.
Aaron Finch walks past me on his way to the nets, his pads bunched up and held under his arm, his spikes scraping on the bitumen. He gives me the look.
World Cup day 38
At last, we see what a good batting pitch can do. Aiden Markram plays a series of the cleanest and crispest drives that we’ve seen in the tournament. Mitch Starc has an off day. There’s a joyousness as du Plessis makes a hundred in what might be his last limited-overs match for South Africa. And exhilaration as Rassie van der Dussen nearly joins him.
Imran Tahir is leaving. JP Duminy is leaving. Dale Steyn has gone. Hashim Amla, out injured, is surely done. This is a poignant moment for so many South African players, especially if Faf goes too. Tahir has the chance for one more celebratory run to long-off, having taken the wicket of Finch. Warner looks back to his confident counter-punching self, taking Australia close to a tall total but not enough.
The night game works well, with the sky fading out as the final frantic overs ramp up. It’s good theatre, one of the best contests of the lot. India have already won over in Leeds, meaning they go top of the table when South Africa get the upset here. And with that, the World Cup group stage is done. Horns sound, trumpets blare. It is 11 pm, Adam and I get in the car, and start a six-hour drive to Canterbury for the third women’s ODI the next day.
World Cup day 39
It’s worth it, after a diet of wine gums and 80s playlists keep me awake on the road. Ellyse Perry takes 7 for 22. Andy Bichel took seven. Glenn McGrath took seven. Shelley Nitschke took seven. And here’s one more on the Australian list. We saddle up back towards Manchester. Englands women are a shambles and so are we.