World Cup day 3
Bristol on the fourth day dawns sunny and clear. Australia will play Afghanistan here in the afternoon. You can walk along the River Avon into a neat and pretty town. If you follow the Avon to the west about ten miles then you’ll reach the English coast and the town of Portishead, which provided the name of the early 90s trip-hop pioneers who wrote the famous song Glory Box.
From the middle of Bristol, you can catch a double-decker bus and watch from the upstairs window as you edge up through the narrow streets of this town, streets that twist and turn their way up hills. When you get off the bus and walk, the shops of the main street give way to neat rows of English terrace houses.
Bristol’s cricket ground is full. This is surprising in the best possible way – this isn’t a marquee match, but people have entered the ballot for tickets and come down regardless. On paper, it’s a sell-out, and over the course of the day, only a few pockets of seats are left unfilled.
I’m commentating the match for Test Match Special on BBC radio, so I’m in early to prepare and to watch the first half of Sri Lanka versus New Zealand from Cardiff. The two matches are supposed to overlap by about three hours, but Sri Lanka collapse so quickly that it’s all over by the time our match is due to start. New Zealand try to boost their net run rate by mowing down the tiny target in 16 overs, but they can’t quite catch West Indies.
The match at our ground is more competitive. Both of Afghanistan’s aggressive opening batsmen make ducks, but there is plenty of fight from the middle order, and some entertaining hitting at the end from Rashid Khan. Australia chase 207 without trouble, but without much in the way of entertainment. It doesn't inspire confidence in their batting.
On the radio broadcast. Graeme Swann enjoys the chance to get stuck into Australia once again. Vic Marks and Mel Jones are a lot more forgiving. But we all enjoy the swing of Mitchell Starc, the tenacious counterpunching of Najibullah Zadran and Gulbadin Naib, and the fast start of Aaron Finch.
After the match, Adam Collins and I have to record our daily Final Word podcast in the back of a car on the M4 motorway back to London. We want to get back for the match the next day and if we don’t catch a ride then we might be stuck there until 3 in the morning. So we make the most of our portable recording equipment, with the help of some snacks from the petrol station, and produce the show on the move.
That’s on top of writing articles about the day’s play, for a night match that didn’t finish until the evening. We’re back to London about midnight and collapse to sleep in no time.
World Cup day 4
You might not have anticipated it as one of your highlights before the tournament, but Bangladesh versus South Africa is both the best contest and the most fulfilling day of the World Cup so far. I catch the tube down to The Oval and find the whole ground packed full. The crowd are all in green, but only about one person in five has the green of South Africa.
The South Africans on the field aren’t in green though – they have to obey the ICC policy about clash strips, and wear a lime-yellow shirt along with their green trousers. They look like they’ve all packed half the wrong kit.
They’ve packed half the wrong skills too, as they win the toss, invite Bangladesh to bat, then bowl in lacklustre fashion while losing strike bowler Lungi Ngidi to a hamstring injury. Bangladesh get off to a fast start, lose their openers, then cruise through the middle of the innings for what seems an age.
Their supporters love it. In the stands, the flags keep waving. As the innings wears into the final ten overs, the intensity ratchets up. Every boundary gets a huge cheer, of course, as Mahmudullah smacks plenty. But towards the end, every single is cheered. When the umpire extends his arms belatedly for a wide, the response makes it sound like Bangladesh just won the World Cup.
And so on through their bowling innings, with wickets falling regularly enough to leave South Africa well behind the pace, while always remaining just in the game. In the end, the South Africans only fall short by 21 runs, but it never looked like they would get there.
The excitement at this result is palpable. Bangladesh are not the Easybeats of old. They’re a settled, confident team with huge amounts of experience. But for them to beat one of the traditionally big sides first up, and to do it so comprehensively, that really spices up the competition in terms of who can make the semi-finals.
We record the Final Word for that day on the street outside The Oval, occasionally pausing to let some loud supporters or London buses pass by. We’re only four days in, with over 40 days to go, but it already feels like so much has happened.
World Cup day 5
Adam and I are up at the crack of dawn today, to film a TV studio chat show with our BBC colleague Daniel Norcross. We all spend a lot of time talking about how Pakistan can’t possibly turn their fortunes around in the short space of this tournament. We leave the studio and go home to watch Pakistan smash 348 against England, then hold the home team 14 runs short.
Suddenly this World Cup is really alive. England the team will be approaching every game from now on with the tension of knowing that another loss could really cause them trouble. England the sporting nation will have the same nerves as well. Bangladesh and Pakistan now both have points on the board against notionally stronger opponents.
Today we get the luxury of watching a game on television instead of travelling. There will be enough travelling soon enough. We’re elated by the end of the match: Jos Buttler’s century, the bowling of Wahab Riaz. We head to The Oval in London afterwards for the podcast and interview New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham for our longer weekly podcast.
We sit out in the grandstand with him, and the sky is beautiful and clear, and the air is cool but mild as the start of summer promises what is to come. The World Cup is promising so much as well. Only five days in, and it’s hard not to get swept away.