We are nearly there. The first phase is coming to an end. There are six matches left. And breathe.
The end of the league stage is nigh, and in theory all three games have something riding on them. Yet even the most diehard of fans has to struggle with the remnants of this phase. On Saturday we decide who the semi-final match ups are, with Australia playing South Africa and India playing Sri Lanka and the combination of results supposedly matters. If Australia win, they play New Zealand; if they lose and India win, Australia play England. Be still your beating hearts, but the theory out there is that England would rather play the team they beat at Edgbaston than the one they lost to at Lord’s.
Tomorrow (today if you read this on Friday) will see a theoretical chance for Pakistan to qualify. To do so they must not bowl first, and if they bat, they have to win by over 310 runs (and more the higher score they get). It’s not going to happen. Any supposed excitement is possibly over at the toss. It might be true Pakistan to win and stick Bangladesh in. Imagine. Just imagine.
There are historical connotations with this match, of course. Having visited Bangladesh a couple of years ago (in an aside, I met with the owner of the Dhaka Dynamites this week), I know they are captivated by the sport. Having had political briefings on the market, I know that a lot of their politics are framed by their partition from Pakistan. So I suppose this might matter a little bit. In cricketing terms they are near neighbours in the table. Bangladesh are hopefully here to stay.
Their long run of futility in the international game has seen two World Cups where they’ve taken new scalps, and to defeat Pakistan would be a big deal. They have given really decent shows of themselves in the matches they have lost, have shown they have top quality one day players, and will never be taken for granted in this competition, the 50 over format, again. They get their chance to play an ODI at Lord’s and I hope they play really well. Pakistan will also want to show that at their best they are up there with the rest, but once the toss is over, and if Bangladesh bat, I hope we still see a decent game. The so-called dead rubbers have not been too bad so far. I don’t think the competition has been that bad either. But there are other views available.
So as there is little real tension in the weekend fixtures, the focus is once again on the FTA v Paywall debate. Sky have said they will not be sharing the live coverage with free to air TV, but there are thoughts that the Final will be on Sky One, or one of their other non-sport mainstream channels. The final is on 14 July, which in case anyone hasn’t noticed, is the same day as the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final (BBC free to air) and the British Grand Prix (Channel 4 free to air). If you don’t fancy that free to air coverage of sport, there is also the Tour de France live on ITV 4 if you are struggling for something to watch. Who is supposed to carry these free to air event? Why would the old major channels want to go up against their long contractually engaged events (and in the case of Wimbledon, BBC’s crown jewel) for a sport that turned its back on them years ago. The question really is will Sky put it on a channel everyone can watch, and share it as widely on their own platforms, and can they attract anyone who might be busy watching something else.
But this didn’t stop Liam Plunkett being, it appeared, forced to issue a hurried retraction to some comments which, on the face of it, seemed innocent enough. I’m taking Lawrence Booth’s copy of the comments made to Radio Five as the evidence.
‘It would obviously be great to have as many people watching as possible – we feel like we’ve built something special here as a team. It would be nice to go all the way and to have big numbers watching that final if we get through and win.’
Asked whether he would like Sky to put the final on free to air, he said: ‘I’m not sure they’re going to do it but it would great for everybody to be able to watch that.
‘Playing for England, you’re the pride of the country and you want people to be able to access that and watch that.
It is hardly gob-smackingly out of line, is it? He wants the maximum exposure for a once in a quarter century experience (potentially of course, England have a semi to play), so that the nation can at least have the chance of watching the team play in a final. It’s not massively controversial. But, in something that speaks volumes of the culture in English sport these days, one dare not say a single word PERCEIVED to be against the narrative, and Liam had to take to Twitter to clarify….
The tweet’s content is not the problem here. It’s what happened behind the scenes. Praise the broadcaster who supposedly pays their wages (never forget, it’s your subs and advertising revenue that pays it, and Sky take the difference between cost and income), and make sure they are paid homage to. If Sky asked them to do this, more shame on their thin skins. I imagine it was more the ECB and their press team who are so terrified of the perception of offending one of their strategic partners, they wanted to make sure that there was a “clarification”. Interesting how they react to their TV partner in a heartbeat, but ignore domestic grass roots fans when it comes to upsetting them, tangibly, over the future of domestic cricket. You can eat platitudes. Sky have grovelling homilies.
Liam is a millimetre from “I was taken out of context” but his words, if as reported by the widely respected editor of Wisden, who is hardly some keen intern, are correct, what’s he got to be worried about? He’d love the audience to perform in front of. He would like to see the bandwagon, however remote, be created. He wants the country to be behind them in larger numbers, if possible.
But someone is so scared of Sky, that Plunkett has to put out this Tweet. The headline may draw a conclusion that is the logical extension of his thoughts, but those aren’t bad things to say. You have an England hierarchy more scared of their TV paymaster than they are the future inspiration a win could bring. I can’t say I’m surprised. I may be drawing conclusions, but they are obvious. Far worse to upset a TV company than it is your fans. File another success for the ECB custodians. A hundred cheers all round.
Anyway. To Lord’s. I hope it’s a good game. On Sunday I enter my 6th decade, and tomorrow I’ll be leaving the 5th with a good old do, so I hope to see you all sometime later in the weekend. I am on a break from work from then on, so hopefully will be live blogging the semis and the final (I have Sky). Until then, comment on the match tomorrow, and see you soon, my strategic partners!