As the saying goes, one out of two ain’t bad. Equally, both sexes should be preparing for a final, for this morning the problems in the middle order finally caught up with the women’s team and cost them the match. Throughout the group stages the top order had done most of the job, only for the jitters to kick in, the wickets to begin tumbling and a frantic scramble ensued to win matches that already looked safe. Against Australia the same thing happened, only this time the quality of opposition was superior. A fascinating thing about cricket is the collective panic that can set in to a side, and then happen repeatedly. Everyone in the team is aware of it, everyone about to go in to bat feels they are the ones to arrest the slide – and yet it proves impossible to do. The psychology of team sports is endlessly fascinating. T20 cricket more than perhaps any other form of the game can be about an individual raising their team to higher levels than perhaps they are at as a unit. Edwards, Taylor and Beaumont have been excellent and carried the side to this stage. The inability of those following to capitalise means they will go no further.
From the men however, it was dominant, as they cruised home against New Zealand with nearly three overs to spare – a result that is to all intents and purposes a thrashing. It was also the most complete performance from them in the tournament to date, for every side is more than aware that the firepower of England’s batting is their strong point. Moreover the victory over South Africa in the group stages means that every side will be thoroughly aware that they have the ability to chase down pretty much any target set, but on this occasion they didn’t have to because the bowlers did their bit, and more.
New Zealand will be deeply disappointed to have only made 153, especially after passing 100 after just 12.2 overs. At that point the generally useless score predictor beloved of the TV coverage was suggesting 197, which just goes to show that complex algorithms supplied after hundreds of hours of work are no better than equal to someone with a modicum of common sense and cricket watching experience thinking that they could get 200 here unless England start taking wickets to slow them down. Moeen Ali was the first to apply the brakes to the scoring, despite only bowling the two overs. Stokes and Jordan then increased the pressure to the point wickets began to fall under the strain of trying to raise the run rate. The latter in particular has improved by the game in this competition, while in Stokes England have a genuine death bowler for the late stages. Whoever England play in the final, this is going to be critical, for both potential opponents have explosive players who can ruin any carefully laid plans.
Alex Hales and Jason Roy made a sub-standard total look positively inadequate within 5 overs, rattling along at ten an over and removing any sense of pressure from the equation. Roy in particular was outstanding, demolishing a good attack while never slogging, while Hales, who has plenty of form for doing the same thing showed an excellent sense of game management in playing the supporting role to his partner. By the time Hales was dismissed for 20 runs that were far more valuable than in the numbers, England were over half way to their target with the better part of 12 overs to get the remainder.
It wouldn’t be England without a small wobble, and two wickets in two balls supplied that – Eoin Morgan’s penchant for first ball dismissals coming to the fore once again – but England had this under control and pretty much in the bag even then, despite Scott Styris’ entirely understandable pleas for a couple more wickets. Any prospect of the game going to the wire was removed by Jos Buttler brutally finishing the game off with an unbeaten 32 off 17 balls, yet ironically it was the present of Root, quietly going about his business that lent the sense of certainty to the outcome some time before.
And so a nation rejoices, right? Well not really. As has been observed before, this whole competition has barely registered with the wider public. In some ways that’s down to the perception (in the UK) that T20 is the least important format of cricket, and when England won the thing back in 2010, it can’t be said that open top bus parades were the result. Yet if the muted response to England’s first global tournament victory back then was the benchmark, this time it’s even more low key. Sky’s coverage has been as thorough as it usually is – at least for the men (the protestations that the failure to cover the England women was out of their hands is nonsensical, Sky are a very high value partner for the ICC, one who can and do push their case with them) but the newspaper coverage has been a little scanty and relegated to the inside pages, and while the BBC have certainly promoted the event in their TV reminders (not adverts. Oh no) it is without any sense that it has captured the zeitgeist.
The reality here is that cricket’s media footprint has declined to the point it’s a special interest sport, not a general interest one as it used to be. Here’s a little test for you: when was the last time you heard someone say they hated cricket? It’s so invisible they don’t have to any more, it doesn’t even exist as something to loathe. That’s no reflection on this current team, who are playing T20 how it should be played – indeed how only a couple of England players in the past demanded it be – which means that they are doubly unfortunate to be doing all the right things at a time where people don’t really care any more.
This isn’t carping at the England team, and it’s certainly not berating the print media, who respond to what their readers wish to see. But it is a dreadful missed opportunity that England can reach a world final, and rather than it be a catalyst for increased participation and interest, it merely serves to reinforce the sense of decline in importance for the wider public. The vast majority of people will see this result only in a 60 second round up on the main evening news. The showing of in game highlights has been a welcome development, so it isn’t that things aren’t being tried, with the proviso of refusing to recognise the bigger issue – the fear is that in England at least, it may be too late; not for the game, which will survive, but for cricket as a mainstream sport.
Reaching the final is a credit to this team, and they have every chance of winning the whole thing. What a pity so few will notice. What a shame Jason Roy’s innings today won’t be the thing everyone is talking about work tomorrow.