World Cup day 27
An Australia-England day always feels a little bit different. It shouldn’t, perhaps. It’s a World Cup and every game matters as much as any other. No game is worth more than two points. But with all the history you can’t help feeling it. And even leaving aside the long-term history, recent connections are enough. This England team flogged various pale imitations of Australian teams in 10 of the last 11 times these countries met.
But this time feels different. The day is incredibly sticky, humid. The air feels like Kandy more than London. It’s not exactly hot, but the atmosphere is wrapped around your face. The crowds of people all around Lord’s don’t help.
Lord’s is a strange sort of place. It’s in St John’s Wood, which isn’t exactly a hub of activity most of the time. It’s basically a quite residential area of mostly extremely wealthy homes, though there are some much less privileged neighbourhoods very close by. As with so many places, wealth and poverty sit side by side.
The residential nature of the area means that the residents tolerate rather than embrace having the cricket on. Night games are very rare because there are complaints about the noise and crowd and floodlights.
The nature of the area also means that there’s not exactly a welcoming feel to the streets around Lord’s. You arrive on the tube, walk to the ground, and that’s it. There’s a shortage of pubs and meeting places in the general facility, meaning that after a certain hour of the night, any function at the ground tends to disgorge a group of wandering miscreants vainly hunting their next drink.
But when you get inside the ground on a match day, it couldn't be any more different. It is absolutely heaving, as it always is. The Members fill up their own pavilions. Everyone else does the rest. There are bands and stalls and food trucks and vendors and crowds, crowds, crowds. Picnics and dressed-up groups and family outings. People having the most jovial time. And the best bit is that when the match is on, people fill up their seats and watch.
The Australia-England rivalry is a test for all those England fans to view how nervous they are, and a test for England players to see as well. Eoin Morgan was very snippy in his press conference the day before, which gives an impression that all is not well in that camp.
They played that way today too, never in it. Some impressive looking bowling early from Woakes and Archer, but too short and never taking the edge or threatening the stumps. Finch and Warner are surging towards 3000 ODI runs as a partnership, and have nearly a thousand between them at this World Cup. They make the target good enough, and Australia’s bowlers bowl fuller and do the damage.
The English crowds roar at the start but grow quieter as the day wears on. Out in the grandstands, there are not many Australian shirts to be seen, but lots of Australian voices to be heard. As I talk to various people, I realise that most of the Australians are here quietly, because they live in London. There is a huge community in various parts of the city. But they cheer more conspicuously as the day goes on. The tension for England will only continue.
World Cup day 28
On the 28th day of the World Cup it’s time to head up to Manchester. First I have to record a cricket podcast at The Guardian, which includes a quiz on Billy Joel songs given I went to the concert a few days earlier. I’m glad about this subject because I’m also doing the Final Word podcast every day for Firstpost, and I’m not sure if I have anything left to say about cricket.
Not true, there’s always something left to say about cricket.
The train to Manchester only takes a couple of hours. Sometimes it goes so fast that you feel your whole body shifting back in your chair, and a strange pressure comes through you. Maybe this is how astronauts feel. It must be. What I don't understand, when I get off the train, is why some soldiers are towing around an artillery cannon in the middle of town. Do they want to put it on a train? Well, have they packed its lunch and written its address on a piece of paper in its pocket?
The trip down to Old Trafford is by tram from the middle of town, which is a nice change of pace. It moves very slowly, and rings its bell as it manoeuvres through the middle of town, dodging pedestrians and buses and cars that all cross over its tracks.
Old Trafford is one of the best-looking grounds in England, with its bold red grandstands in their thick-edged boxy design. There’s something quite lush about it all. I suppose the idea is to match the red rose logo of Lancashire. After the media previews for India’s game the next day, the ground is soon deserted once again.
A good friend of mine lives in Manchester so it’s nice to be able to stay in a friendly home. You miss these kind of environments when you’re travelling all the time. You also miss cooking proper meals, but we eat a huge amount of Chinese takeaway which is almost as good.
I wish I had more time to explore this city, with its rich music history and its nightlife. Live music is such a big part of things here, and on a previous trip I spent a lot of time in a venue called Night and Day, where lots of small bands make their early steps.
One of the contradictions of travelling a lot for work is that when something like a World Cup is on, the work stops you from being able to make use of the travelling. But at least there's a lot of cricket.
World Cup day 29
Something really strange is happening when I wake up on Day 29.
The sun is out.
The sun! You giant yellow deity. What have we done to displease you? Why have you hidden your face from us? What must we do to please you know, so that you won’t destroy us all with your glorious fiery face?
Look, if the sun needs a sacrifice then I’m not going to refuse to find one.
It’s beautiful to look up and see blue sky. No cloud anywhere. No chance of delays. No Duckworth Lewis Stern. Just India taking on the West Indies.
From the press box I can count two West Indies shirts in the crowd, and one flag. Safe to say that India dominate this day, on and off the field. The train back to London starts with a train to Crewe, which has only two tiny carriages and is so crammed that people are squashed up and down all the aisles. But it is full of cheerful India fans who want to chat cricket all the way, so we make some new friends and keep ourselves busy in the process. The nomadic hordes of cricket lovers wandering this country are worthy of love.
World Cup day 30
Even London has half caught up with the memo about summer arriving, because it’s supposed to be hot the following day. This is also the last quiet day day before the final crazy push. I attend the media commitments and Australian training session at Lord’s ahead of their Saturday game against New Zealand.
In the meantime, Sri Lanka are being knocked out of the tournament by South Africa, who are already knocked out. It’s a sad performance from Sri Lanka given how good they were against England a week before. But we’re almost to the business end of the Cup now, so more teams will drop off as we go.
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West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor said on Saturday that the teams would perform the gesture and praised her England counterpart Heather Knight for offering to join them in recognising the movement.
Large parts of the cricketing world rallied to England's cause, with the West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland and Australia all going ahead with scheduled tours.
One of the more dependable middle-order batsmen in the limited-overs cricket, Morgan was bought by KKR at the auction after they looked heavily reliant on Andre Russell to finish close games as they missed the qualifiers by a whisker in 2019.