Well here we are, one day away from England’s first World Cup appearance for 28 years, at the Home of Cricket against a talented and clever New Zealand side. Firstly though, if you have read Dmitri’s heartfelt, ‘on the money’ piece from yesterday, please do so here – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2019/07/12/things-are-much-better-now-and-just-the-nagging-doubts-remain/, it has helped me to focus down on some of the areas that I want to cover whilst reminding me why I joined BOC as a fellow writer a few years ago.
The biggest irony about tomorrow’s game is not that India didn’t make it through the rain at Old Trafford, nor is it that England didn’t lose their nerve against Australia, a team who normally prevails in tight semi-final contests. Nope, not even close. It’s the fact that England are playing a World Cup Final at home, one which the media and those at the ECB have maintained has been their consistent focus for the last 4 years and one which will symbolise the last truly professional 50 over match for a format that those wise bods at the ECB have determined is now not fit for purpose. It sort of feels like spending 5 years rebuilding Big Ben, only to decide at the last minute to replace it with a Mickey Mouse alarm clock. If you were a new supporter of English cricket, though those are harder to find than ever, you would imagine that someone was playing a joke on you if you were told that the 50 over game was no longer to be played at the professional level in England (except for bi-lateral international series); Unfortunately those who have followed English cricket for a long time are only able to let out a small sigh of despair at an administration that much prefers cold hard cash in their coffers and to be seen to be ‘doing something’ rather than focusing on re-building the bridges to the ordinary fan, who has been left behind since 2005.
As Dmitri mentioned in his above piece, many people who like to deem themselves as “Inside Cricket” have regularly sneered at those fans who complain that their game is being run into the ground or at blogs like ours, that are seen as more of an annoyance than anything else. Every so often one of the big or not so big behemoths comes along to dismiss us in the comments as ‘bilious inadequates’ or ‘social media zealots’; I mean the fact is we are just 4 blokes who do this in their own time for the love of the game, who have followed and played cricket for most of our lives, who have spent large amounts of money watching England, going on tours to see them play, and who dare to criticise the work of those ‘who know best’. It was this, especially after the KP incident in 2014 that made me turn to cricket blogs and eventually led me to be a writer of one, as one by one, those in the establishment or in the press, told me ‘it was not by business’ and to quietly jog on and listen to those in the know. That’s why I find it amusing in one sense and deeply worrying in another that many in the media have finally woken up and smelt the coffee and don’t agree with the route English cricket is being led down. But they are not being listened to by the ECB either. Of course, those who are deemed both worthy enough or seen as subservient enough are granted an interview with Tom Harrison, on the grounds that they don’t ask any difficult questions and there will always be a few who are either determined to secure a seat inside the ECB’s offices (yes I’m looking at you Dean Wilson), but even those who BOC have both agreed with (Dobell, Hoult etc) and have vehemently disagreed with over the years (i.e. Newman) are now on the outside looking in. It seems fate has a sense of irony after all. Anyway I digress….
This World Cup has been a strange affair, with a bloated format consisting of the big 3, some other teams and plucky Afghanistan who the ICC probably reluctantly decided to include in the tournament. Though there hasn’t been that many dead rubbers, it has felt since week 1 that it would be 4 out of 5 who would have a chance to actually qualify, which has made watching some of the matches rather tedious. I must admit I’m still furious that the ICC (with the help of the BCCI, ECB, ACB) for deciding that a 10-team tournament was the way forward. In every other sport, the governing body seems to be committed to growing the game across the world, but here we have cricket’s premier tournament only open to the old boys. The associates, who have genuinely given the tournament some great entertainment over the years and many a shock too, have been forced to watch from the outside looking in as world cricket deliberately shafts them in as many ways as they can. This is simply unforgivable, but the sad thing is that the ICC, now a subsidiary of the money-making machines of the BCCI, CA and ECB, either don’t care to or most probably won’t dare to do anything that prevents those boards from making the most money out of the damn thing. The only glitch being that no-one told New Zealand that they weren’t allowed to beat India to reach the final, so expect some weird IPL playoff style knockout in 2023, to ensure that those that teams who qualify for the tournament will have a chance to play India in the final. I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry!
As for the game itself, England will go into the final as favourites after their thumping victory against Australia, but do not count out New Zealand for one moment. I am an unashamed England supporter, despite what the ECB has put us all through over the past 15 years and believe it would be unfair on the players who are just trying to do their best and to finally win a 50 over trophy, to be anything other than that. However that doesn’t mean that I don’t empathise with those who are either torn or have given up on English cricket altogether due to the disgraceful actions of our administrators over the past few years. I watched the semi-final in a state of some sort of Stockholm syndrome, waiting for English sport to crumble again at the semi-final stage and I must admit it was only when England needed less than 10 runs to win that I started to relax – I’m sure watching English sport has prematurely aged me! When England lost to Australia in the group stage, I must admit that I thought England had thrown it away again, but they have played some of their best cricket in the last 3 games and I am very happy to be proved wrong. Now though is the final, the ultimate ‘arse nipper’ time and we’ll see how England handle themselves as overall favourites at a ground, which has not traditionally been that kind to them in the one-day format. One would expect that barring any last-minute injury hiccups both teams will be the same as in the semi-finals, though Jason Roy did his best to be suspended for the game, even if he was rightly outraged by another poor decision by the hapless Dharmasena. You would imagine that the toss will play a large factor in the outcome of the game and if there are no clouds in the sky then whoever wins will bat first and try to squeeze the opponent through scoreboard pressure; however if it is dank and overcast, then maybe one of them will take the risk to bowl first, as Lords is a ground where you look up at the sky rather than down at the pitch and both teams have strong bowling attacks to make early inroads. Mind you, England will have to bowl a damned sight better than they last did at Lords, where they continued to hammer the centre of the pitch rather than using the conditions and pitching the ball up.
I also wanted to say something about New Zealand, who despite the advantages the Big Three have in terms of cash at their disposal, have once again played above the sum of their individual parts and fully deserve their place in the final. They are wonderfully led by Kane Williamson, who in my opinion is one of the best players in the World across all 3 formats and someone who doesn’t get quite the adulation he deserves compared to others across the Big Three. This New Zealand group is a tight-knit team and one who many who have had the chance to interview have remarked what a pleasure it is to be around this team. Williamson undoubtedly holds the key to their batting, and he will need to fire again in the final in order to win it, but the English batsmen cannot overlook their superb bowling attack for one minute. If there is some movement early on, Boult, Henry and the brilliantly moustachioed Ferguson will be incredibly dangerous. As much as I would like England to win the World Cup and I will be massively disappointed if we lose, there are not many other teams out there other than New Zealand who would deserve it more.
On a final note, tomorrow sees the return of an English cricketing national side return to free to air television for the first time in 14 years. At the end of the fourth Test in the 2005 series over 8.7 million people were watching the game on Channel 4 and as someone who was in his mid-twenties during that series, I remember virtually every pub having the game on and people who had never really followed cricket cheering loudly every time an Australian wicket fell. Yet here we are in 2019, with a World Cup being held in England and there has hardly been a murmur from those who don’t follow the game, especially with it being shown behind a paywall. I am still appalled by Giles Clarke, who not only did the exclusive deal with Sky but also managed to convince the Government to relegate cricket’s status from the “A Group’ with the likes of Wimbledon, the Six Nations, the FA Cup and the World Cup, to the ‘B Group’ which meant that it now longer had to be shown on FTA TV. 2005 was exactly the right time to build on the huge interest that the Ashes had garnered, yet those at the ECB decided that they wanted the money above all else instead of reaping other rewards such as growing the game and there it has stayed for the last 14 years, behind a paywall that only a select few can watch. Now this isn’t a pop at Sky who have bought in some great innovations for those that are able to watch to it (though the quality of their commentary remains mixed) and no doubt some of that money has helped the county game survive, but much of it has remained in the domain of the administrators allowing them to pocket obscene amounts of money whilst they slowly destroy the game from the inside. The fact still is that whilst English cricket is far healthier cash wise than they have ever been before (naturally just before they punt many millions on a doomed format with no legs), there is an argument that by making a better deal with Sky that would have allowed some of the international game to remain on FTA, would have served many more millions far better than the chosen few who have made their cash. The fact that they are now desperately hunting around for ‘new and innovative ways’ to attract more fans, which the rest of us can see as a desperate final throw of the dice, is something that should have never been allowed to happen. To this day, that decision to put short term wealth ahead of long-term growth saddens me deeply.
Of course, this didn’t stop the ECB’s empty suit and ‘Chief Bandwagon’ climber declaring that the tournament has been a massive success for growing the game in England and providing massive engagement with the English public:
The fact that we are able to watch the final on Channel 4 and More 4, gives us a rare chance to show the administrators that there is far broader interest if for once you make it open to the general public and just the select few, and I would ask that even those who have Sky watch it on FTA. It perhaps won’t make any difference in the long run, but if it least makes a couple of hundred kids pick up a cricket bat or a ball, then it will be worth it. It will also highlight how the ECB have failed both the fans and the so-called ‘new generation of fans’ in every single way possible over the last 14 years.
On that note enjoy the game, we’ll be doing our best to live blog the action during the whole of Sunday. As always, please feel free to comment below: