Things Are Much Better Now, And Just The Nagging Doubts Remain

I thought I’d take a song lyric from the song that was on Now 80s as I’m sitting indoors looking after my border collie while the beloved is in the States. When I started the week, I thought this would mean a lot of time on my hands, some work I could get done, enhance the living environment and all that. Instead, it’s been knackering. Hence a post I was tasked to write last night ends up being written on this Friday afternoon.

A common theme of my blogging the past 5 and a half years has been the falling “out of love” with the England cricket team. To some extent that is still very much the case. What those 66 months have done to my views of the game in this country has opened my eyes to how I, as a fan, was treated, and when I was cheeky enough to put my thoughts from my pulpit, how I was degraded in some eyes, and treated by others. Fandom has never been blind loyalty to me. I pick my team, I stick with them. It’s why I stick with the Chicago Bulls and Miami Dolphins. It’s why I will never be anything other than a Millwall fan. I can’t not be a Surrey fan, and believe me, when I was picking them, they were rubbish. This was more Duncan Pauline, Graham Monkhouse era, rather than the Hollioake and Brown days. I was, am, also a huge national team fan, and football especially as it gives me the chance to watch a team I support at the top level. But the team I spent the most money on, nationally, was England cricket. For those new to this blog, I went on three tours, all self-planned, self-catered, self-ticketed, to Australia in 2002 and 2006 (two tests) and South Africa 2004-2005 (Cape Town and two days at Joburg). I went to the Oval test for 16 years on the bounce. I was a diehard England fan,

This context is necessary because I found after 2014 I couldn’t divorce the boots from the suits, because during that aftermath, the boots were a little bit too cosy with the suits, as were the scribes. The Hundred appears to have changed some of that thinking, with members of the media openly hostile to the ECB over this drivel, but for me it was more a matter of “about time”. When I was impertinent enough a few weeks ago to call out Andy Bull for his lack of perceived support for “my cause” I got impertinence times a hundred back. Almost as if I’d touched a nerve. I don’t set out to do so, but if the cap fitted at that time, then you needed to wear it. I’m minded to cite Public Enemy once more…

Some people accuse some people of crimes
Some people get away wit’ losin’ my rhyme
They don’t like where I’m comin’ from
So dey play dumb
Dumb diggetty dumbb diggetty dumb
But I’m tellin’ you what they do
Play a fool
While the real thief cools in a pool

A bonus of being on leave this week is that I got to watch nearly all of the semi-final yesterday. Now I confess, I wasn’t fully cheering England on at the start. Part of me thought this team were paper tigers. They had beaten up teams on the equivalent of pre-tournament friendlies, on pitches at home that resembled airport runways, and had earned a billion plaudits. But in the back of your mind was the Champions Trophy flop in 2017, when they lost their mind and nerve in the semi-final when conditions weren’t all in their favour. Those fears, doubts, scepticism were augmented by the losses to Pakistan and Sri Lanka (not so much Australia, as they were in decent nick at the time). I then had a number of doubts about the, shall we say, veracity of the contest between England and India. The resounding win against New Zealand, where a good start threatened to be undone by a middle order wobble, was overcome and England qualified. I think England need to earn support again, and I freely admit it is personal and many other views are available, and so yesterday gave them a chance to put things partly right in my eyes.

And they did.

They did it by playing brilliantly. By playing with amazing confidence. The bowling of Archer, Woakes and Rashid won that match, make no mistake. The opening bowling was top notch, and got the big hundred threats of Warner and Finch out early. This almost immediately stopped a potential score of 300. Then the temptation and then skill of Rashid ending the partnership of Carey, seeing off Stoinis, and then Maxwell, made the potential total smaller and smaller. England keeping Aussie to 223 was the game over in all but name. The name being “mental”. There wasn’t anything that horrific in the wicket. The bowling attack was Starc plus some others, really. What did not need to happen was for England to limp to victory. They had to play the way that they had the previous few years. Enter Jason Roy. The man who won the previous ICC semi-final England had succeeded in when he scored vital runs to break the back of a total. A couple of extra cover drives off Starc calmed the nerves. One, he wasn’t going to back down, and two, that was their champion he was belting. Stuff you.

When it was all over, and England basked in the glory of their success, I was exhausted from live blogging the match. As the innings goes on, if you read my “at the time” thoughts, you’ll see the belief flowing through me. My brother texted me at 120 for 0 or such like saying “when will the wheels fall off”. I replied “they won’t. They’ve packed it in”. Mentally that Steve Smith wicket, attempting to buy a wicket, being smashed for 20-odd was England saying “don’t bring that nonsense to me, it’s not bloody worthy”. Where many of us would sit there and say “don’t fall for it, Jason” I thought, “No, smack it miles”. And yes, I know, I had a go at Roy for getting out against Bangladesh when he had a double hundred for the taking, but that was different. That was silly, this was sending a message. I loved it. And in a way, I felt a little re-connection again.

Some may say it is me jumping on the glory bandwagon after tough times. I really don’t give a stuff if you do. This is the ODI team, and separate from the test line up which still needs some re-connection, and may never get there. This team has something else, and yesterday was it in clear focused reality. England may still lose to New Zealand on Sunday, and the doubts and comments will return, but that was great yesterday and it was a privilege to watch it.

Barney Ronay, a journo I’m not going to start up a fan club for, wrote a fascinating piece last week asking the question that if England do win the World Cup, do we, as a nation, deserve it? Will all it end up doing is reinforcing the ECB’s decision making “prowess” and allow them to continue to ride roughshod over the county game and continue treating the fans lamentably. Will it justify them hiding the game behind a paywall as the game becomes increasingly invisible, safe in the knowledge they have won the World Cup (or got to the Final) with the current structure? Will they get even more big-headed? Will this be the justification? We, I think, know the answer. A resounding yes. Two years ago England’s women won the World Cup. In the last two weeks they’ve been defeated 3-0 in the 50 over series, the last a beating so severe, it set records. Laurels are never to be rested on. Success is short-lived if the basics aren’t right. That England’s wobble came when Roy wasn’t there, or failed, speaks volumes that the depth may not be there. Players may be knocking on the door, but once through the portal, lose their nerve. Be careful, ECB.

All eyes on Lord’s for Sunday. I’m not a tennis fan, and the Grand Prix season is a bit of a procession this year. The game is on Channel 4, and More 4, and it’s time to turn on to watch that to prove there is a market out there. I care about this game, and I care about this sport. Cricket is part of my life. I want it to succeed. Sunday is the true legacy. I hope people care enough to watch, or the game is not that invisible.

One of my jobs is to take Teddy for an evening walk over the fields. There used to be a park cricket pitch on those fields. The sort you never really wanted to play on as a player, but in London, you played on to, well, play a game. No-one has played cricket on that field for many years. As I walk over there now, the football pitches and goals are permanently installed. Teams are doing their summer training for the long recreational game season. Those pitches aren’t used as much as they used to be. The fields in summer were used for golf practice a couple of decades ago. Like cricket, golf has shut itself off, and has participation issues in the UK. I reckon they’ll be chipping and putting there before anyone will use those fields for cricket practice. The game is invisible. The match on Sunday has a chance to get some of that back, before international cricket (some T20s excluded) disappears again. That’s the truth.

We will live blog the final, and have a lot more to say in the run-up, I hope. Hope you enjoyed the live blog yesterday, as it got more self-indulgent. Beating the old enemy in a big game does that to me, and English cricket should be relieved that for people like me, it still can. Despite everything.