Eight days to World Cup
I board the plane out of Melbourne and spend next 24 hours in that weird half-waking stupor of international flight.
It’s funny when people complain about flying as monotonous or uncomfortable or long. Would you rather sit on a ship for six months before striking a reef and sinking within two days of your destination, so that 140 years later rich scuba divers can show up and have a holiday in your graveyard?
When you fly, you can cross the entire planet from end to end by doing nothing but sit in a chair for a single day watching crap movies. It is literally magic.
Mind you, it’s also killing the planet. Over 2 percent of global carbon emissions come from air transport, and there are half a million people in the air at any one time. Perhaps we should sort that one out.
Seven days to World Cup
I land at Heathrow and catch the tube into London in time to double back to what the ICC calls ‘the captains' cabal’. This is a publicity event with all ten World Cup captains gathering in a hipster music venue out in Woking. The walls are exposed brick and usually bands play there instead of cricketers. If Ben Stokes were here he would be operating an espresso machine.
This is the image that the England organisers want for this tournament. An energetic urban-style campaign to make cricket more appealing to kids.
It’s worth a shot. The ten captains lounge around on incongruous big brown leather sofas, each player dressed in his colourful team kit so they collectively look like a scattered handful of crayons. The group photo captures each distinct personality: Virat Kohli swaggering, Jason Holder courteous, Eoin Morgan playing straight, Kane Williamson discreet.
It’s also notable that compared to the group photos from previous World Cups, there are fewer captains this year. Once again we note that cricket is the only sport that has deliberately shrunk its centrepiece event.
Six days to World Cup
Is there any point to warm-up games? Surely these are meaningless net sessions? They don’t even count as international matches. These are the questions we ask as the official warm-ups follow up a round of unofficial warm-ups, which presumably followed some preparatory Mario Kart knockouts.
Then 14 Afghanis beat Pakistan with three wickets and a couple of balls to spare, and we decide these games do count after all. Everyone likes seeing Rashid Khan with the bat. Everyone wants to see this team knock a few others over in the weeks to come.
Five days to World Cup
No, wait. The warm-ups don’t count, because the Australians bowl out England a dozen runs short in a chase at Southampton. And we all know that England are supposed to win the World Cup, so they wouldn’t lose something that mattered. Not with 13 players, and two injured players who didn’t bowl batting at 10 and 11, and the fielding coach Paul Collingwood at backward point.
The Australians also say it doesn’t count but secretly they think it counts at least a little bit. Mitchell Starc isn’t playing. Neither is Patrick Cummins. And they bowl out England anyway. Jos Buttler creams 50 in about ten minutes, and promises that he will be extraordinary in this tournament. But aside from that, there isn’t a whole lot on offer from the rest.
Three days to World Cup
I do an interview with a Turkish television station about Australia’s ball-tampering scandal in South Africa. The scandal happened 14 months previously. Apparently, it is still big in Turkey. Istanbul-tampering?
Two days to World Cup
I board a train to Bristol with Adam Collins. We are going to interview Glenn Maxwell, the explosive core of Australia’s batting. We sit down in a garden with Maxwell and he talks for an hour about life, about facing his deepest fears, about how to be seen as a person rather than a player, and about how he still doesn’t know how it’s physically possible for him to hit sixes.
He’s exceptional. With the World Cup about to begin, Maxwell will have to face those fears again, and find a way to hit those sixes despite the mystery.
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