One day before World Cup
The World Cup opening party. Let us never speak of it again. Cold and raining, of course. A handful of former cricketers and washed-up celebrities, plus one or two people who are far too good for that company.
Staged in the middle of an empty park, surrounded by a perimeter of fences that made it invisible and inaccessible. A quarter-hearted event with no one in attendance and very little ability for anyone to attend if they wanted to.
If you’re going to have a tacky and trashy and kitsch event, at least go all the way and make it big?
In other news, Chris from Love Island has a fair range of shots.
World Cup day 1
Thank God. Thank Providence. Thank all the spirits. The cricket begins at last. No more Chris from Love Island. No offence, Chris from Love Island. We love and respect you, Chris from Love Island. If you ever want to go to Respect Island, we would go there with you. But we’re ready for the lead-up to stop. So ready.
Taking the London Underground and emerging at Vauxhall station, the world feels different. The cold from yesterday has been cooked away. The morning is warm and friendly. There is light cloud overhead that isn’t enough to stop the sunshine. And down towards the Oval, the crowds thicken and the chatter increases and the lines begin to form.
England versus South Africa. People want to see it. They aren’t expecting Jonny Bairstow to get out first ball to a leg-spinner. But they get to watch Imran Tahir do a victory lap of the ground on the second ball of the World Cup.
They get to watch their batsmen put up a parade of half centuries, and they get to watch Jofra Archer bowl like a gel-smooth fright machine, and they get to feel their hearts explode in their chests as Ben Stokes on the ground hunts an object in the sky, traversing the outfield like a reverse hawk, before finally becoming airborne to reel in a high-art version of a catch, backhanded, not looking, landing inside the boundary rope.
In the still photos that emerge of the moment, there is a young chap of about 20 with both hands on his head, and his mouth open so wide that Stokes could have dived inside it to hide.
Cricket. It does the job.
World Cup day 2
Well, cricket does the job for a day. Pakistan do a great job to restrict the powerful West Indies batting line-up to 108. The only problem is that Pakistan batted first and got bowled out for 105.
Bouncers fly at Trent Bridge and no one emerges intact. The whole thing is done in about 30 overs, so fast that half the crowd is still stuck outside the ground in queues to pick up tickets.
A triumph for the logistical planning of the ICC, and vindication for the theory that a 10-team World Cup was essential to avoid one-sided matches.
Of course, this performance now means Pakistan are destined to win the tournament.
I watch all this unfold on a bus to Bristol, heading down for the preview day for Australia versus Afghanistan. The West Indies win is so efficient that the local TV channel can replay the match in full before the allotted time has expired.
Bristol is the best city I’ve visited in England. It’s full of artists and bars and street paintings and cafes and live music. There’s a bustle to the streets, and a giant mosaic sculpture of a bear in the middle of one of the roundabouts.
It’s a real student town, and they zoom around every on bicycles with artfully messed up hair, open to their approaching lives.
At centre-wicket nets, Afghanistan train with purpose. The young left-handed opening batsman Hazratullah Zazai hits a ball out of the Bristol County Ground. When the captain Gulbadin Naib changes his shirt, you can identify individual muscles from the grandstand. These guys are here to play.
A few of the Australian journalists check out the nightlife, ending up in what can’t be called a beer garden, because it’s a bunch of tables in a dark laneway, but it’s a very cheerful laneway nonetheless.
An equally cheerful chap named Dwayne appoints himself our welcoming party. “I’m Bristol born and bred,” he says a lot of times. A few tables down, a kid vomits all over his wooden trestle table. His much older brother announces that it’s the kid’s 18th birthday, then makes him drink another pint of beer. Family.
Some of my colleagues decide that it’s their journalistic duty to investigate Mbargo, the nightclub venue where Ben Stokes got himself into trouble at 2 am back in 2017.
I decide to give that a miss, and walk back to the accommodation. Bristol at night is quiet and calm, almost thinking about becoming warm, with waterways winding at unexpected angles, and bridges leading the way home, all lit up like a fairy garden.