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England vs New Zealand: Cricket Comes Home at Last But is it Here to Stay?

Firdose Moonda |July 16, 2019, 7:32 AM IST
England vs New Zealand: Cricket Comes Home at Last But is it Here to Stay?

Cricket has finally come home and how. It burst through the door, brushed past everyone who was waiting to greet it and boomed it’s worth to all within earshot. This crazy, beautiful, heartbreaking, exuberant, outrageous final had it all.

It was a low-scoring, high-pressure narrative within a narrative in which one man watching from the sidelines four years ago, Jimmy Neesham, had the chance to become a hero but another, Ben Stokes, cleared of charges of affray less than a year ago, did. For New Zealand, there was the horror of experiencing what it feels like to finish second for the second time. This time would have hurt a lot more, because of how close they came. For England, there was redemption. Their four-year plan has paid off handsomely, they are a team transformed and now, they are fifty-over world champions. So yes, cricket has come home, but who exactly has it come home to?

Is it to the egg-and-bacon suits who are members of one of the most influential private clubs in world sport? Or to the members of every cricket club in this country, who commit themselves to match after match in the quest to keep the game alive and kicking? Is it to the more than four million British Asians, many of whom brought the World Cup alive with their support? Or to the neglected Afro-Caribbean community whose cricketing connections have been forgotten? Who can call England their home, especially in times like these?

New Zealand's James Neesham reacts after playing a shot during the Cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and New Zealand in England. (Image: AP) New Zealand's James Neesham reacts after playing a shot during the Cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and New Zealand in England. (Image: AP)

Identity and immigration are hot button issues, inclusion seems elusive and there’s a sense of isolation, especially in a city like London. It’s big and it’s bustling but many will argue that it’s the best place for history to be made, even if everyone is wrapped up in their own present and planning for their own futures. Who was actually home when the cricket came? After 10 months of living in this city and a day spent knocking on doors, so to speak, this writer can’t be sure anyone was.

London woke up to fifty shades of grey skies and soggy streets, which is often how London wakes up. From Monday through Saturday, the weather doesn’t stop anyone from going about their business, walking quickly, heads down, earphones in, gaze empty. On Sundays, whatever the weather, it stops everyone from doing everything. Before 8 am, the streets are still and they only start to stir slowly in the hours that follow. By 9 am, the usual gathering of die-hards who play social games of football in parks could be heard warming up. And then at around the time, the coin at Lord’s was due to be tossed, the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion covered on London Fields for a day of talks. Spotted on the route was one pale blue England shirt on a rented red Santander bicycle. Protestor or proud fan? He was in too much of a hurry to be asked.

That shade was barely seen anywhere else for the rest of the morning, not even in the sky. It took until mid-afternoon for the clouds to break but still, fans were spookily absent on the city’s main arteries. Granted there’s not much going on around central London on a Sunday except perhaps for the fan park at Trafalgar Square, but even in bigger public spaces, there was little sign of cricket.

In Regent’s Park, a mere half a mile from Lord’s, children kicked a football about, couples paddled on the lake and a group of enthusiastic twenty-something-year-olds built a human pyramid in what started as a show of agility and turned into stupidity when it came crashing down. Twenty overs into England’s chase, the roads from the Park to Lord’s were dotted with an assortment of ordinary people, and a few security guards closer to the gates. St John’s Wood High Street and its cafes were having just another regular day. A French Bulldog went crazy at the sight of a fluffy and entirely friendly Labrador, a family meeting an old friend checked their watches and made sure to leave with three overs left in the England chase in case “the train gets too full,” and the friend kept checking his phone to see what was happening at Wimbledon.

Oh yes, in case you forgot, on the opposite side of the city, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were competing in the longest Wimbledon final in history and the first one in which a fifth-set tie-break was introduced. Somehow, in a calendar of 365 days and a July of 31, the organisers managed to put two of the most important events in sport, on the same day. And there, is one of the biggest problems facing cricket in the United Kingdom today - is there even enough space at home for it?

Nevermind just today, throughout the World Cup, there have been other things going on, including another World Cup - the Women’s Football World Cup - all of which compete for the attention of a time-poor public with a chronic fear of missing out. As a spectator, the overwhelm is real and riveting; as an administrator, the onus to capture hearts, minds, clicks, likes, retweets and comments is just as real and comes with a lot more pressure.

Reuters Reuters

A vibe, as we have seen in the last few weeks, cannot simply be created. It’s something that emerges organically when a country and a community are captivated enough. Think South Africa 2010, where the good times kept rolling even when the hosts were knocked out. Football was everywhere - Feel It, It’s Here - was the tagline and, we all felt it, some of us are still feeling it. But this World Cup provided very little to feel. Instead, discussions over cricket’s (lack of) visibility have cropped up with observations over lack of signage in cities, and the over-reliance on subcontinent fans, who are credited with bringing some atmosphere.

In England, cricket is elitist, played and watched by the bourgeois, who have time on their hands and pay television. The Hundred looks like a clumsy attempt to change that, especially when the real difference could be made during this high-profile summer. With a fifty-over World Cup, a Test match against Ireland, a men’s and women’s Ashes series and enough county fixtures with enough of international experience across three formats to make your eyes water, surely there is something to work with? Maybe not, because the talk is that cricket cannot compete with football and rugby and Love Island and The Crown because it remains out of reach.

That the final was broadcast free-to-air was lauded as a move so benevolent, you’d be forgiven for expecting new generations of cricketers to tumble off sofas as soon as tomorrow morning. Can one match make such a difference? Maybe a better question should be - can THIS match make such a difference?

Instinct would say yes, This match defied all expectation. What started off as a sluggish, fifty-over yawnfest turned into the most incredible ODI in history. A tie, followed by another tie in a Super Over, followed by a result decided in the most arbitrary of ways - which side hit more boundaries. Try explaining that to someone who was tuning in for the first time. The best result is that their mind will be boggled enough to want to watch another game, out of sheer curiosity for this craziness. Even those who have seen things like this - not quite these because this has not been seen before - but ties, in general, were awestruck.

A man walked out of a shop watching the match on his phone. His eyes betrayed his disbelief as he watched, over and over again, the run-out at the end of the Super Over. Two others came walking in the opposite direction and let out a solitary scream: ENGLAND! There was no-one to respond, so eventually, they added: WE WON!

It was only 90 minutes after the madness ended at Lord’s that life began to spill on the St John’s Wood High Street. The Barmy Army filled the Duke of York Pub, holding bottles of Verve Cliquot in one hand and flags in the other. Passing cars slowed down to hoot at them, and to make sure they didn’t hit any of those that were dancing in the road. The fans took up both sides of the street and sang back and forth, to each other: “Championes, Championes, Ole, Ole Ole.”

Cricket has come home. But will it stay?

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Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
see more
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