So here it is, the highlight of the sporting summer!
Having written frequently on the minor diversion of the World Cup, there’s not much more to say, except that it is striking to see how the football team have captured the soul of a nation, not just by their performances on the field, but through their interaction and humility in their behaviour off it. And you know, while loving every moment of this gloriously improbable run to the semi-finals, there’s a part of me feeling the pain of the irrelevance of the cricket team in public consciousness.
Sam Morshead wrote a piece the other day detailing the plans the various leagues up and down the country had for ensuring cricketers could watch the football. Some were prescriptive, refusing to make any allowances, others provided parameters in which to work, and others still (such as the Sussex League) were content for the teams to sort out their own arrangements between them.
Nevertheless, it appears a significant number of matches were scratched, as players decided that a day of cricket just wasn’t for them. There are a couple of points to be made here: firstly that a refusal to accept reality is crazy; a football World Cup is, and is always going to be, the ultimate in a shared experience. The empty seats at Wimbledon at around 3pm indicated the same, that whatever a sporting love might be, it is secondary to something truly national in its shared joy and pain.
The second point is that twelve years ago few leagues made any such arrangements. Certainly I recall for the quarter final against Portugal in 2006, and indeed the second round match against Denmark in 2002 that fixtures went ahead exactly as scheduled. In both cases, the captains of the sides were under instruction from their team-mates to win the toss and bat so we could all watch it. In both cases we lost the toss, fielded and missed the games – for one of them the groans gave away what was happening, in the other it was the cheers.
Yet the most striking thing was that this seemed entirely normal, cricket was a choice, it was unfortunate, but it wasn’t much more than an irritation. Nor was there more than a passing consideration that games should be arranged around the football – we were league cricketers, that’s what we did.
This time, it is entirely different, and while the all encompassing nature of football is one part of it, the other is the significant loss of confidence that cricket can defy another sport and go ahead as normal. My guess would be that first eleven league sides would be reasonably unaffected should they have been compelled to play as normal, but that second and third eleven schedules would be destroyed. It would be interesting to see the evidence of what happened in those league structures that refused to compromise, and whether that perception was borne out by reality.
Perhaps it is no more than the change in society, but there must be a suspicion that amateur cricket is simply in a far weaker position than it was twelve or sixteen years ago, that it can’t ignore a World Cup because when it comes to it, it will simply lose.
Credit to those leagues who saw sense, but the reduced status of cricket is once again a deeply troubling phenomenon.
Comments on the T20 below.