“It was worse for the football,” said the gentleman beside me. He was talking about the experience of watching the England football team get to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, while lamenting how bad England teams did in Finals (as if the 2017 Women’s World Cup win didn’t exist). “Everyone is quite rowdy and they will be throwing their pints in the air and all,” he continued. “The cricket culture is better. It’s the gentleman’s game and all. Not as many d**kheads.”
Except it felt exactly like a football game, a mad, mad football game. Regulation time wasn’t enough to separate England and New Zealand, so the game went into extra time. There too, you couldn’t pick them apart. So England won on cricket’s version of penalties. Except in football, the probability of a game ending with scores level after regulation time is fairly high. In cricket, there have only been 38 tied games in nearly half a century of ODIs. That’s 38 out of 4192 games. And this Mad Max of cricket matches was tied not once, but twice.
Trafalgar square went mad, mad too. The crowd was packed in the fan-zone that was set up in between the national gallery and the street, flanked by the two fountains and bookended by food stalls on both sides. The big screen was set up just at the base of Nelson’s column, with the crowd getting a clear view of his behind. Fitting that he would turn his back on a game like this; the storied naval commander lost his life in his final battle (after which the square is named) in which 22 enemy ships were destroyed, but not a single English ship. Admiral Nelson would probably never have approved of a victory where the margin was so fine as it was on Sunday.
As the day began, the songs flew thick and fast as England picked up wickets regularly to hold New Zealand to, what seemed like, a reasonable total. ‘Do you want your drinks with a wide’, went one. ‘Jonny Bairstow, he’s one of ours’, went another, as the chase began. But then it began to unravel, and the few Black Caps supporters in the crowd (including, yours truly) started to find silence in which to share their voice.
'Why do you not support England?', the friend of the gentleman besides me asked. I could have explained to him that I’m a sucker for an underdog story, and I’ll root for anything that adds to the narrative of nice guys winning first, because we have enough d**kheads in sport. But I knew he was halfway to being inebriated, having told me just an hour ago that I couldn’t sit there because this was an England-only fanzone, so I just told him that Kane Williamson is my favourite player. Which immediately satisfied him as reason enough.
There’s still a nice-guy narrative to this England win though. Like the crowd at Trafalgar, which had a lot of white males but also many people of all races, England’s diversity has been their biggest strength. By birthplace, their plans were founded by an Irishman, fashioned by a New Zealander and finished by a Bajan, with the blessings of Allah. Trafalgar Square itself was built by clearing the slums that had come up in central London and replacing them with a space that was owned by the Crown, creating a barrier between rich and poor. The ironic symbolism was unmistakable; here was an England team making the best possible case for cricket to return to Free-to-Air and thus be accessible to the masses.
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) July 14, 2019
The 28,000 viewing at Lord’s will save these ticket stubs for life, an invaluable momento from perhaps the greatest ODI of all time. The few thousands who pounded the tiles of Trafalgar will carry no physical reminder, but they won’t need to. They will remember cheering for the wicket of Williamson. They will remember the anger at missing out on the action while standing in the 30 minute line at the bar. They will remember booing Prime Minister Theresa May when she was on screen. And they will remember the happy fools who climbed into and atop the fountain in nothing more than their underwear after the win, England flags draped around their shoulders, causing the big screen to be turned off for ‘until health and safety standards were maintained’.
They will remember shouting at the MC when he said, ‘there are the final six balls of the World Cup’, reminding him that he said those exact words nearly half an hour ago. They will remember the few who started sobbing even as the Super Over was being played, mirroring the tears on the face of Ben Stokes. And they will remember throwing their pints in the air on the day England stopped being bad at finals.
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