World Cup Day 17
London can never make up its mind. Often the mornings start out bright and clear. You leave the house and walk through rows of terrace housing in the sunlight, feeling that today will be brilliant and pleasant. Then by the afternoon the sky becomes blotchy with cloud and the light becomes washed-out and grey, while winds strip the warmth from the day.
I’m staying in the north of the city, near Alexandra Palace, which is a giant building on top of a large hill. The palace was never home to royalty: it was built as a public entertainment centre, and it’s where the BBC first started broadcasting television programs back in 1936. These days there is still a functioning theatre, and a large hall where touring musicians play concerts.
All of London is defined by its underground train lines. That’s how you mark which part is which: do you live on the Northern line or the District, the Bakerloo or the Victoria? You get to know the flawlessly enunciated recorded announcements as you board each train: This is a Victoria line service to Walthamstow Central.
The Oval has a tube station named after it, on the Northern line that comes down through Kennington. A thick black line on all the subway maps. But you can also take the Victoria line to Vauxhall and approach the ground from the other side. After all, “coming in to bowl from the Vauxhall End” is one of the classic lines of commentary, as evocative as the Vulture Street End.
Australia play Sri Lanka on exactly one of those changeable London days, which grows moodier as the day grows on. There’s a contest until halfway through the second innings, when the Sri Lankans follow Aaron Finch’s explosive century with a run chase that keeps pace for a while. But eventually it falls apart.
Jason Gillespie comes to the BBC commentary box for a guest spot on the radio commentary, and it’s great to hear his relaxed perspective on the game. It would be hard to find anyone more chilled out. He doesn’t buy into the granular detail of what players should or shouldn’t do. He’s about helping them to relax and be the best version of themselves.
After the match Adam Collins and I record the Final Word podcast and then rush for Euston train station to head towards Manchester. We have India and Pakistan tomorrow and we’re not being late for that.
World Cup Day 18
We wake up with a sense of anticipation. I’ve been to India-Pakistan matches before, at the previous World Cup and at the Champions Trophy in between. Once the cricket starts, the match becomes just a match. But the lead-up is the exciting part.
We’re exhausted, having arrived in Manchester around midnight and getting to sleep a couple of hours later. But a new surge of energy arrives as we approach the ground. The crowds, extending for what seems like miles. The mass of people you have to press through, people hoping for some unlikely chance of a ticket. Having a press pass, we realise how lucky we are to be allowed to see this.
A guy rides up to the ground on a huge white horse, with a long tail stretching almost to the crowd. He smiles and waves to everyone like he is Aladdin arriving in Aqaba to greet the Sultan. An open-top bus arrives packed with Pakistan fans. There are flags of blue and green in their thousands, wherever you look.
Inside Old Trafford, there are hospitality staff serving breakfast curries, and harried volunteers rushing everywhere. There is a sense of hustle that is bordering on panic. Clearly everyone who works here is worried about doing their best to make sure it goes smoothly.
No one is worried in the crowd though. There is one temporary scaffolding stand, which seems to tower 80 metres into the sky. It has thousands of parts and took weeks to build. It is packed to the very top, and when those people all cheer a Rohit Sharma pull shot that carries for six, I cannot explain the noise. You don’t hear it, you feel it. A wave through your body from toes to hair follicles.
The Old Trafford press box has a small balcony built into the side, where I can stand outside for most of the day and hear the crowd, feel the energy. Directly below me is the balcony for the Indian team, where I can see the players pace up and down as they wait, strapping and restrapping pads and gear. The support staff sit and pace and wait and chat. But they’re not too anxious, because their team is soon in control.
Getting out after the game is a mad crush as well, peoples streaming out and into queues for the very over-filled tram service, trying to get back to Manchester Piccadilly. We make our train in the end, the last train back to London. It is full of people who have been at the game, tired and rowdy after a long day. Scattered throughout the seats are commentators, cricket executives, officials, fans; the bigwigs and the punters together in this moment.
World Cup Day 19
After the late train back from Manchester, and before that the late train up to Manchester, all I want is to sleep for 24 hours. But it’s more like four hours, because we’re up at 6 am to film a television show. Then it’s time for a quiet day at The Oval again, watching Bangladesh beat the West Indies on television.
Shakib Al Hasan is fast making himself the star of this World Cup, shooting to the top of the runs list and passing 6,000 career runs in the process. The only other players with 6,000 runs and 200 wickets in one-dayers are Sanath Jayasuriya, Jacques Kallis and Shahid Afridi. Shakib gets there faster than any of them.
In recognition of the epic run chase, I ask someone to recommend a Bangladeshi restaurant. I get directed to Mohammedi’s, in north London. It is a tiny and low-key looking place, just a small wooden-panelled room with a counter and some menus. The kitchen is tucked away out back. It’s like a magic trick when they produce the food, which is delicious. A gorgeous pink sunset lights up the walk home. There are celebrations tucked away in shops and houses in all kinds of places across London, because Bangladesh are still in this World Cup.