World Cup day 20
Welcome to England! Where it’s summer and the rain never stops. Look, I’ve actually done a fair bit of defending England during this World Cup because it rains everywhere and it can rain anywhere. But the sheer persistence of precipitation is starting to wear on even the most bountiful patience.
In fact, it’s actually a miracle that we haven’t had more games rained off, because there has actually been a lot of good luck where the cricket carnival has moved around the country and missed the rain.
We’ve had games in London while it’s hammering down in Southampton. It’s been hammering down for days in Birmingham, but by tomorrow it will have stopped in time to get 49 overs a side. On Wednesday it will rain in Nottingham but by Thursday it will have cleared for that match. And today, a Tuesday, it’s raining in London but dry in Manchester, where England play Afghanistan.
We’re in London in the rain. During a World Cup, everyone wants a piece of the action. So those of us following the tour find ourselves taking radio calls, doing TV crosses, shooting videos, all of the above.
Today, my Final Word podcast colleague Adam Collins has joined me for a video shoot for a TV show, where we discuss the career and exploits of a guy you might have heard of named Virat Kohli. Because this is for video, we have to talk about this while we walk around lots of nice looking locations, making bold but indistinct hand gestures and nodding at one another meaningfully.
Also, it’s raining. Not heavily, but consistently. The producer seems very worried that we will dissolve like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. But we reassure him that we are hardy Australians, and that he would be better off using the single umbrella to protect the camera operator and her very expensive camera.
There are few locations that speak more of London than Regent’s Canal. Sure, it’s not the tourist-icon spot like Big Ben or one of the many bridges. But it’s gentle and quiet and old-world, curving through the middle of this hectic modern city as though opening up a small time warp to a different era. The tow-paths are now home to runners and cyclists and people walking with prams, rather than donkeys towing barges.
But the barges remain, with people living on board. The boats lie moored to the side of the canal, low to the water with little stairways or ramps over from the shore, and flat back decks for the inhabitants to get out of the long narrow cabins. There is definitely a sense of romance for the outsider to the idea of living in a barge board, being able to unmoor and float down the water to another spot, along the vast network of canals that still stitches large parts of England together.
It’s probably not quite that romantic for the people living in those small confines. But then, everybody wants someone else’s life more than their own.
We get inside to dry off in time to watch Eoin Morgan’s assault on Afghanistan. A century in sixes for one man alone, something that no one in professional cricket has ever done. More in one innings than anyone else has yet managed in the tournament. It may not be raining, but someone’s spirits have been dampened more than ours.
World Cup day 21
With a World Cup in England, you travel to some places so often that they become completely familiar. It’s another early morning in London for another train to Nottingham, the third visit I’ve had in the tournament. Another couple of hours whirring through the green English countryside, through the Midlands where the hills gently undulate in classic style.
At least, until you pass the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station outside the city. Massive broad towers looming upward from the fields, with torrents of steam pouring from the top. They make you think uneasily of Chernobyl. But don’t worry, these are coal-fired plants rather than nuclear powered. If we burn coal we can destroy the planet slightly more slowly than with nuclear accidents.
Away in Birmingham, New Zealand and South Africa get on for a delayed start, while in Nottingham another pack of journalists attends the pre-match press conferences for the following days game with Aaron Finch and Mashrafe Mortaza. But as the day wears on, the journalists here get more and more invested in the other match. South Africa look like they’ve got nowhere near enough, but their bowlers make it difficult for New Zealand. It takes a Kane Williamson classic to get the Kiwis through right at the end.
My favourite thing at Trent Bridge is “The Garfield Sobers Waiting Area”. This is a collection of three small uncomfortable couches around a coffee table, all positioned in one of the stairwells in the grandstand at the Radcliffe Road end. It seems… incongruous to say the least. I often wonder if the game’s greatest all-rounder was present for an official open ceremony when the couches arrived from IKEA. Or if he’s had the pleasure of doing some waiting in that spot. What an honour.
World Cup day 22
Setting aside strange things to name after great players, Trent Bridge is a wonderful cricket ground when the sun comes out and the stands are full. Which is what happens through the second half of Australia versus Bangladesh, despite a brief and heavy rain interruption. The sun shines later, as it did when Australia played the West Indies here. There is plenty of entertainment, first from Warner and Khawaja and Maxwell, then from Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah.
I have to say, I’ve never seen a run chase so entertaining when you knew all along that the chasing team couldn’t win. Bangladesh were never going to get past 380. But their reply is still so much fun. They never get despondent. When wickets fall they keep on going. First Tamim, then Shakib, then Mushy (Mushfiqur Rahim), playing a game for his hundred, lacing square drives and cuts from fine fast bowlers with precision.
Mahmudullah hits one of the biggest sixes I’ve ever seen, and I think for a minute I’m a chance of catching it up in the commentary box. It gets caught by a lad on the balcony a few meters to my right. We’re on the fourth floor of the stand.
For a lot of teams, their fans leave when it becomes obvious they can’t win. For Bangladesh, their fans stay and cheer to the end, loving every minute of the reply. And so they should. It’s a joyful celebration of cricket itself.
World Cup day 23
Even a die-hard following the World Cup around has to take a break once in a while. The Friday is mine. Time to sleep in until match time, then spend the day on the couch. It’s supposed to be a quiet day with an uneventful match, England knocking off Sri Lanka to confirm the home team’s spot in the top four. Instead, we have the upset of the tournament, Sri Lanka bowling beautifully on a difficult pitch to squeeze England. For the first time, England’s order of big hitters come in looking tentative in a small chase. And lose it. The top four remains open, the cat is placed firmly among the pigeons. You won’t want to miss a match from here.