Paradise (Not Quite) Regained – By Maxie Allen

I’ll get straight to it. Full disclosure. I’ve stopped hating England. I no longer support their opponents. Over the course of this summer, I even found myself wanting them to win, and was glad when they did.

At the grave risk of sounding self-regarding, I’ll quickly remind you of the backstory. I wrote a piece for this site a couple of years ago explaining my contempt for the England cricket team and why I both exulted in their defeats and cheered on their opposition. That was the position I’d found myself in after three decades of loyal support. It was because of Things That Happened in 2014 – which left me angry, alienated, and betrayed.

And then all of a sudden, early this summer, and after five years of that alienation, I began to feel differently. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Nor was it because of a specific performance, or player, or passage of play. It was before any of 2019’s standout stories unfolded. There was no fairy-tale epiphany after watching Stokes or Archer. It crept up on me. It was something I noticed and then realised must have been there for a while, like hair-loss or a suspicious lump.

What I do know is it began with the World Cup, even though I’ve never been wildly interested in white-ball cricket. But it wasn’t because of England winning the world cup. Success, in itself, didn’t win me round and never has done. No, it was because of England trying to win the World Cup. The distinction is important. England had lost three times in the final but never won the tournament. They were at home. They were favourites. Would they fulfil their elusive destiny? It was a good story. And that story slowly but inexorably reeled me in.

The thing I’ve always loved most about cricket is its narrative arcs. The twists and turns. The sub-plots. The drama with an unwritten script. And England’s World Cup campaign crafted itself into a narrative I found too seductive to quite resist. They started brightly, messed up, bounced back, and, well, you know the rest, but the point is, I began to sense I had personal equity in the outcome.

I found myself going out of my way to watch the final group games against India and New Zealand. I was on a family holiday abroad, but managed to get an iPad to hook up to Sky Go by the pool. I couldn’t face missing the games. What startled me – maybe even disappointed me – was that I realised I wanted England to win. I feared them losing. A feeling I hadn’t experienced for five years.

It was an unsavoury sensation, and hard to come to terms with. I didn’t want to want England to win, because I’d hated them so much, and for good reason. But there it was. And then came the final, with one of the greatest narratives of all, and when Buttler broke the stumps from Roy’s throw and I could see Guptill hadn’t made his ground, I yelled and screamed and leapt around the room. Which I almost felt ashamed of doing.

I suppose I’d never felt quite as much contempt for England’s white-ball side as their Test counterparts. They felt vaguely like a separate entity and less tarnished by what happened five years ago. So the ODI team were the soft underbelly of my enmity, a gateway drug which led me into the hard stuff. Because when the Ashes began a fortnight or so later, I still found myself not hating England. Found myself sucked into the narratives of the Edgbaston test. Found myself at the mercy of their fluctuating fortunes and having to admit to myself that I wanted them, not Australia, to prevail.

This persisted and consolidated itself through the course of the series. I was disappointed by their setbacks, pleased at their comebacks. Again, it was unconscious, and again, it wasn’t because of individual flashpoints. I didn’t warm to England because of good things the team did, because it wasn’t bad things the team itself had ever done which had put me off them in the first place. I had spent thirty years watching England lose and that had never made any difference then.

I categorically did not return to England because of Stokes and Headingley. But that match did have a significance. I spent the Saturday afternoon on parental duties at a splash park, but found myself compulsively checking my phone to monitor the Root-Denly partnership. I slipped back into my superstitious habits of old, such as deliberately not watching or checking for fear of triggering an England wicket.

When Stokes got England within fifty, I stopped looking at the score, for that specific reason, and just hoped my phone wouldn’t buzz with the dreaded wicket notification. When I caved in, checked, and saw just eight were needed, only then did I actually start watching again. Those reawakened neuroses, once more. A year ago I would have been enraged by England stealing an outrageous victory. But there I was, feeling the exact opposite. And at that moment, I knew that this was the way things were going to be. I had to give up the fight and accept that I wanted England to win again.

All of which is a bit like a Celtic fan waking up and thinking “You know what, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Rangers”. It was the reluctant acceptance of something I didn’t want and felt uncomfortable with. But the only alternative would be to force myself to hate England and pretend I still wanted them to lose, which even for me seemed a bit silly.

So what happened? I’ve already mentioned the stories, and the power of those. When the Tests began, the fact it was an Ashes series played a part. The history and heritage – the unique magic of the urn – proved seductive. More broadly, the sheer heft of my previous life as an England supporter exerted its gravitational pull. Perhaps it was inevitable that in the fullness of time that thirty years of good things would outweigh one year of very bad things.

The biggest factor, though, is that Alastair Cook has gone. That may sound petty and vindictive and bitter, but I don’t care. I would always hate England when he was in the side, captain or not. With Strauss also departed – for tragic reasons of course, but the fact remains that he left – virtually none of the culprits survive apart from Graves. The absence of Anderson also helped. Here was a new and relatively blameless generation.

Some things will never be as they once were. I can’t imagine supporting England in a patriotic way, if that makes sense. Supporting England purely because they’re England and I’m English and the other side happen to be from abroad. I still think of England as ‘they’ or ‘them’, not ‘we’ and ‘us’, and I doubt that will change.

I’ll never be remotely jingoistic about England, as I was before, or take pleasure in mocking and taunting their opponents, as I once did. Neither will I revel in an opponent’s failure or humiliation, or begrudge them success when deserved. I won’t hope that an opposition player will fail or embarrass themselves just for the sake of it. The last few years have taught me how ridiculous those attitudes really are. This summer, I enjoyed watching Josh Hazlewood bowl and admired Steve Smith for his achievements. In the past I would have loathed both those things.

I will never forget or accept what happened in 2014, because nothing has changed, or forgive those responsible, because they have no desire to be forgiven. That includes not just the administrators but also the large number of England supporters who displayed such ingratitude, ignorance and bigotry – and it was those “fans” who alienated me almost as much as anything else.

What I have done is something all my friends have told me to do for years, which is to suspend disbelief and separate, by a few degrees at least, the cricketers on the field from the governing body in whose name they play. Many splendid cricketing things have happened in England this year, and not one of them happened because of the ECB and how they operate. Whatever is good about English cricket is good despite them, not because of them.

And this is how I reconcile myself with a softening attitude to England. For five years I thought supporting England meant supporting the ECB. I saw it as an act of capitulation. I was wrong. It’s an act of defiance. I hated England because they’re the ECB’s team. I was wrong again. The ECB only claim it’s their team and to play along is to give them what they most want: ownership. And validation of their proprietorial sense of entitlement. They can degrade professional cricket, trash the fixture list, bully supporters, and lock cricket behind a paywall, but one thing they cannot do, however much the ECB crave it, is to steal the team or steal the game. They belong to everyone.

Empty Church’s Bells are Pealing

It’s been a couple of days since England’s extraordinary victory in the World Cup final, and the fallout from it continues to irritate, amuse and entertain. Perhaps most remarkably, for a game of cricket in recent times, the result and the manner of that result dominated the airwaves and print not just in a manner unseen since 2005, but also in a way that few cricket followers could have imagined was possible any more.

It is an interesting counter-factual to wonder – assuming England still won – to what degree the coverage would have been reduced had it not been such a spectacular conclusion, for the sport could not have been luckier in having the first free to air broadcast of English cricket in 14 years be so dramatic. The peak audiences via Channel 4 and the various Sky channels were fascinating, in that nearly 8.4 million people watching cricket at about the same time as an epic Wimbledon Men’s final was concluding showed that the appetite for live sport, broadcast to the nation is not only undiminished, but perhaps might even be increasing. The astounding audiences for last year’s football World Cup weren’t just extraordinary for a multi-channel age, they were extraordinary full stop. In this particular instance, approaching 19 million people were watching cricket or tennis, and while there was doubtless some double counting in the figures as viewers channel hopped, it really ought to put to bed once and for all the idea that live sport is not “consumed” primarily via social media platforms or in bitesize. It just isn’t.

Cricket fluked it.

The average viewing figures are perhaps more indicative, in Channel 4’s case of 2.4 million, and 2.1 million in the morning. These are mightily impressive figures, given on a similar basis to the peaks, it is likely that the various Sky channels were adding maybe another 1.5 million to the total, and when the British Grand Prix averaged 1.8 million on the same day. That the World Cup final could average perhaps twice as many demonstrates a latent interest in watching cricket that the blithe statements of the ECB over the years appear to have failed to factor in. Certainly, that it was a final, with England in it, means interest was bound to be higher than, say, a June Test against Bangladesh (if they’re ever invited again) would achieve, but this is not particularly unusual for any sport where peaks and troughs depending on the attractiveness and meaning of the fixture are routine.

For this cricket fan though, it wasn’t the viewing figures, it wasn’t even the finish to the match itself that resonated most deeply. It was the various reaction videos posted online in the 24 hours following. Fellow England sports teams celebrating are de rigeur, pubs and clubs doing the same following a World Cup football match likewise. Last year I was even in a fanzone for England’s knockout tie against Colombia and the celebrations of that victory and my little video of it even ended up on the news. It’s normal. Some might even say it’s boring and repetitive. But this was for cricket, for God’s sake. Watching Trafalgar Square go berserk, watching pubs doing the same was intensely emotional – not because of the win, not because of the manner of the win, but because the game so many of us love had crossed over not just to the mainstream, but right to the heart of the English nation, even if just for one day. A month ago it would never have remotely occurred to me that this could ever happen, that the outpouring and explosion of joy in numbers that cannot possibly be pure hardcore cricket supporters was in any way possible. It was an affirmation of the power of communal sport watching, and only sport can ever multiply the effect so dramatically. It reached into the national psyche to the extent that EastEnders slipped in a reference on Monday to Ben Stokes and England’s victory in a (presumably) hurriedly filmed scene. Cricket had gone viral.

More than that, it was confirmation of the power of mainstream broadcasters having sufficient mass to offer that shared experience, and to reach out beyond the keen adherents of a particular game, to those who aren’t just occasional followers, but who aren’t followers at all. Social media is representative of nothing but itself, and should never be cited as wider opinion, but the anecdotal instances of people who have never so much as mentioned cricket before gushing over how exciting it was remains heartwarming and moving. And in its rarity, infuriating.

For while this match was available to the public, it goes back behind a paywall starting tomorrow with the Women’s Ashes Test on Sky, along with the rest of the domestic county programme and England’s entire international one, again. Next summer, assuming the Hundred survives intact the grumblings about it from the professional game, there will be the occasional domestic match on the BBC, and a couple of international T20s. As an aside on this point, it is curious how having two different formats on show is not considered likely to be confusing to the new market the ECB are after. Having made such a big thing of the game being inaccessible and requiring simplification (people seemed to cope on Sunday), to then show different versions of roughly the same length is utterly bizarre. Viewing figures will probably be perfectly passable, at least initially as much due to curiosity as anything else. But the ECB were perhaps playing both ends against the middle of this particular debate; if the viewing figures are strong, they will claim success. If not, they could use that to justify selling the game to Sky by saying there clearly wasn’t sufficient interest. Sunday rather holed that argument below the waterline, but then so have audiences for multiple other sports and still been ignored as precedents.

The ECB’s response to the public reaction has been interesting. In advance of the final with the announcement of it being on Channel 4, they were full of praise for their “partners” at Sky and their willingness to share a once in a generation event with the wider public, yet afterwards, and quick to spy an opportunity, the tone changed to become more self-congratulatory. Colin Graves, never a man to put one foot in his mouth when there is room for two, talked about how it took a while to “persuade” Sky to share the coverage, which may or may not be true, but rather beautifully throws their beloved partners under the bus while claiming the credit for themselves. Graves, of course, did also say a while back that terrestrial television didn’t want cricket, which given the alacrity with which Channel 4 cleared all available schedules to show it on Sunday must represent the best disguised indifference in some time.

Never let it be said that the ECB are slow to claim credit for a positive outcome, even ones where they have been instrumental in lowering the bar to such a subterranean level that almost anything can be considered positive. Perhaps for them the worst part of the explosion of coverage following the final was that it came to much wider attention that the intention from next year is to remove 50 over domestic cricket as a top level competition. The small band of cricket tragics (not a term used by anyone at the ECB yet, but given “obsessives” seems fine, it’s probably only a matter of time) might have been vocal about this for some time, but for the wider public, a sense of puzzlement at learning of the removal of the format in which England have just won the World Cup was delicious to many an angry cricket lover.

Sunday’s success re-ignited the whole debate about free to air broadcasting and the importance of such exposure to different sports. Sky themselves covered this question on their news channel on the Monday, before presenter and correspondent came to the shock conclusion that no, free to air wouldn’t be a good thing for the game and that an entirely unrelated broadcaster called Sky Sports had been hugely beneficial, indeed positively benevolent towards cricket.

This haze of celebration will not last long. The memory will fade quickly for most, being an occasionally referenced event whenever the word cricket is raised in polite company. It might be that a few children pick up a bat or a ball as a result, and it might be that an older person (“fogey” – Nasser Hussain) has an interest re-ignited. This is nothing but good news, and while the ECB’s long standing policies will waste the opportunity presented, it is more than anyone dreamed possible a month ago. It’s just that it was, as Matthew Engel put it, day release from confinement on compassionate grounds rather than anything more substantial.

One other small impact of the final – the politicians got involved. It’s been said that the art of leadership is to work out where the people are going and get in front of them. The large audience and thrilling outcome led those who have been noticeable by their complete uninterest in the game to start pontificating about the importance of widespread access. The chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Damian Collins invited Colin Graves to attend to talk about participation levels, but Collins was on the same committee in 2016 that talked about summoning Giles Clarke about the Big Three takeover, and that didn’t go very far. The most likely outcome here is that as the circus moves on, the various comments, questions and deeply held convictions will evaporate like a morning mist as they always have. To some extent, this isn’t even something to blame them for – the diminution of cricket’s importance is never more clearly shown than by the complete indifference of our elected representatives towards it. No votes, few angry constituents, fewer still bad headlines. For a hugely unpopular sporting body like the ECB, that normally works out just fine.

Over the next 12 months, this success will be used to justify the introduction of the Hundred. More than that, it will be used as part of the genesis of the Hundred. But it won’t work. All of the contradictions, media spinning and straight out lies have been skewered by the simple act of allowing the public a glimpse of a game fast disappearing into a wealthy self interested niche. It will not change the path on which we are set, but it will provide the most obvious of counterpoints to the already weak arguments made for the hatchet taken to the sport by its supposed guardians.

Harder Than You Think, It’s A Beautiful Thing

The morning after the night before. An exhaustion of emotion akin to any life event you can imagine, a thrill ride which included luck, luck and more luck and a questioning of your own eyes. A conflict of emotions, a turmoil I’ve not experienced with a sporting event ever. Yes ever. I watched a team suffer under the weight of their mental pressures, I saw two rocks battle, scrap and claw their way to a chance of a win, and then scrap some more as lady luck turned up just in time. Then the Super Over. The Super Over. So let me try something with this piece. 50 thoughts plus 2 for the Super Overs. It blatantly steals Danny’s idea, but I’m sure he won’t mind.

Over 1 – Imagine if this event had been on pay TV only. Just imagine if the sheer terror of this finale, the pain and ecstasy had not been made available to all. Imagine a sporting body who thinks that this is acceptable. Imagine.

Over 2 – Many people think Ian Smith’s commentary at the end made the Final, added to the event. I then imagine what the doyen himself, Richie Benaud, would have made of it. I’m not sure he would have approved.

Over 3 – Very noticeable empty seats throughout the day. I can go on and on about ticketing arrangements for sporting events, and the legitimisation of onsale markets which become a ticket tout’s charter. But it’s not a great look to have the prime event of the sport’s four year cycle played to areas of seating not occupied. Those there may have a better perspective.

Over 4 – Martin Guptill’s review proved crucial. Not sure why he decided to review something knocking middle pole out, but I really think we need to keep this in mind when having a go at Erasmus later on.

Over 5 – Kumar Dharamasena has been a decent umpire. No-one would have made any comments on the “errors” today if he had not missed the Jason Roy phantom glove, and Roy not go mad about it. I generally loathe people going at umpires. It’s a cop out.

Over 6 – My next door neighbour has never, in my 40 years living next to her, mentioned cricket. I heard her going mad during the Super Over. I was pacing around in the garden between balls.

Over 7 – Chris Woakes bowled another very good opening spell. Not long ago lots were saying what is he doing playing for England. He’s so vanilla. He’s very decent at his job and that is to open the bowling for England in ODIs. He had a really good competition.

Over 8 – Henry Nicholls played a really sensible innings that set a platform for his team. It will barely be remembered among the hubbub that followed. An important constituent part.

Over 9 – Jofra Archer’s opening spell, and then his closing overs justified his selection. He has a nasty bouncer despite not being up there at Mark Wood pace. It’s really odd that you don’t feel Wood’s short stuff is particularly venemous, but Jofra’s is. He made de Grandhomme look like a club pro at times.

Over 10 – Andrew Strauss will probably get a knighthood out of this. As usual England success will be down to the coaches and the authorities, when really it is the players. No ECB planning gives you the ability to play the game. I’ll talk more about this in due course, because the ECB are going to milk this, and how they do is going to be important to watch.

Over 11 – Liam Plunkett wasn’t even in Rob Key’s squad. In this World Cup he played, and we won, and he played a big part. He has an uncanny ability to look toothless and then take wickets. He doesn’t seem to go for too many. A much underestimated cog in the wheel.

Over 12 – Mark Wood bowled a super little spell including a wicket maiden. He also went off injured, with what looked like a rib injury. I’m sure that was improved by his fruitless dive for the line later in the day!

Over 13 – Adil Rashid had a low-key final, bowled his 10 overs, run out without facing a ball, and scarpering when the champers was opened. His presence in the team is valued by those who matter most, his captain and team-mates. And nothing that is said outside is going to impact that.

Over 14 – Sourav Ganguly’s commentary was annoying in the extreme, especially the bit where he rubbed Isa Guha’s nose in it after the Jonny Bairstow decision. Not good. Trolling England fans throughout isn’t particularly a good look.

Over 15 – Sometimes life just isn’t fair. A cosmopolitan England side, with an Irish captain, two Muslim bowlers in the squad, players born overseas, and you get to see pictures of arch-Brexiteers, cosying up with Piers Morgan, on Twitter. I don’t do politics on here, as you know, but some hypocrisies make me retch.

Over 16 – For all our mocking of Paul Farbrace after the Australia loss, he was right, wasn’t he? It’s always appropriate to recognise when we were wrong. Well, I was.

Over 17 – I hope the tired, lazy tropes about momentum and so on are put to bed, although I know they won’t be, and yes, again, I fall into that trap. The final had no momentum issues. None. Nil. Nada. It was a one-off match.

Over 18 – The Williamson dismissal via a tiny nick was pounced upon by critics of Kumar. I’ve umpired, obviously not to international standard, and hearing nicks on a quiet Sunday afternoon game is tough, let alone at an international final with 25000 or so people not keeping quiet. What do you want him to do? Guess? He couldn’t hear anything, so there are reviews to prove otherwise. If batsman and bowlers weren’t so keen to tell umpires that they don’t know the LBW rules better than the person there to adjudge, then I’d have sympathy for the players.

Over 19 – Then there was Ross Taylor. I’m not going to go overboard here, but credit to Michael Clarke, who immediately called “height”. No-one else did in the box. If you call it when you see it, you can then comment on the error made. Otherwise, bin it. Erasmus has been a very good umpire and is widely respected (I still think Agar was stumped early on in his 2015 innings), and suddenly the angst pivoted to him. I found that amusing. More of this later on.

Over 20 – Have you ever seen a batsman look more out of his depth than Colin de Grandhomme? It was painful to watch. Archer tortured him.

Over 21 – I for one was wondering what the New Zealand game plan was later on. No-one seemed to try to biff it. I wonder if, looking back, New Zealand wished they’d pushed the button a little earlier. But hindsight is an exact science.

Over 22 – England’s bowling really impressed me again, but you do need to wonder about how much the wicket played a part.

Over 23 – Jason Roy was pinned first ball. It looked it to me. It looked it to most. The verdict was about as close to three reds as could be without being given out. Ian Smith went over the top in the comm box, but listen to his commentary. “Missing leg, is it missing leg”. Yeah. Ian, Slam dunk once you watched it on replay. That annoys me no end. As you can tell.

Over 24 – Jason Roy’s innings never got started, and it is concerning that when he fails, England seem to struggle. Certainly in this World Cup. For this to be comfortable he needed to make a quick half century, because he does seem to drag his partner with him. His dismissal made the chase less Australia semi-final and more India Champions Trophy 2015-like.

Over 25 – Who’d have thought cool Joe Root would let the occasion get to him? 30 balls of tortured batting, an inability to master the wicket, a few skittish attempts to whack it and then a windy swipe to nick off. He exemplified the need to just rotate the strike as much as possible. Easy to say from my sofa, but something, notably Jos Buttler, who is a shotmaker, did when needing to restrain his instincts.

Over 26 – Jonny Bairstow played a very sensible knock, having a little luck, but I was entertaining thoughts of him sealing the cup with a century. He then chopped on, as he looked like he could do, sparking Simon Doull and Sourav Ganguly commentating like infants for a couple of minutes. Bairstow’s rant midway through the tournament betrayed the concerns of the England camp, but he, as much as anyone, spoke in content afterwards with his two centuries. His fielding was immense on the boundary.

Over 27 – The opening bowling was decent without being worrying. Yes, England sort of got away with one early, but reaching 30 without loss should have been the platform to ease to victory. The fear really was what would Trent Boult and Matt Henry do. They weren’t really a factor early on. England were scoring nicely.

Over 28 – The vice was applied by Colin de Grandhomme. He dropped Bairstow when he failed to grasp a firm drive back to him. But the Big Man bowled with guile, skill, accuracy and mental pressure as players who thought they should be smacking him, couldn’t. His application meant the target started creeping up and up. I bet the players could sense our frustrations. Somewhere, out there, Ian Austin was saying to himself “if only” and Mark Ealham was thinking of coming out of retirement.

Over 29 – I never believed Eoin Morgan was going to get us over the line. Whisper it quietly but if someone had scored some runs to put pressure on the team, the obvious batsman to drop is Eoin. Now he has his plaudits and critics in the media and on here, and I think he can be a bit in love with his own brilliance, but when someone called him Brearley with runs yesterday, they were part correct. He’s a more valuable batsman than Brearley ever was, and he’s a very good tactician and leader, that is evident. The credit should rest a lot with him, instead of his authorities. But he’s getting weaker against the short ball, and his dismissal showed that. It seems a long time since he flayed Afghanistan.

Over 30 – Lockie Ferguson’s catch was as good as his tache is bad. His cheeky “soft signal” was, to this contrarian, one of the moments of the Final. I was a hopeless fielder, hated the ball coming to me. I admire anyone who takes a catch above the ordinary because I know I couldn’t. To do that knowing if you miss you might cop a mouthful of rock hard red ball gets my thumbs up. Then Ian Smith called it one of the “greatest ever” and my heart sunk. Really?

Over 31 – Four down and Buttler came in. Stokes had struggled to get going, but as was accurately mentioned on comms, the ball makes a different sound on Jos’s bat. What Jos did which was so damn good was he rotated the strike. Whereas Stokes kept hitting fielders, Jos kept avoiding them. He got the wicket early, knew it wasn’t one for his pyrotechnics, and played the situation. He would hit the shot when it came to him, but he let the game flow naturally knowing that a partnership needed to be built. He was the calm to the Stokes energy.

Over 32 – The run rate kept climbing. My brother asked me, via text, who I thought was going to win. I said New Zealand. This was not a pitch to score more than a run a ball on. New Zealand’s last ten overs reaped 62,

Over 33 – The Stokes/Buttler partnership saved England, no doubt. But was it a touch too slow? I’m not sure what Stokes’ issues were early on, but he was scoring at Root rates early on. I can only guess how hard it was for him to temper his natural game, but he was getting leading edges, bunting it into gaps where it wasn’t intended to go. Stokes has been the rock of the middle order, and it is hard to question him in hindsight, but the accelerator was always going to be tough to push.

Over 34 – Buttler got to 50, but the 40-42 overs all came in at much less than required, and at that stage I was convinced it was New Zealand’s. I said so on the blog. Especially when Buttler got out.

Over 35 – Jos Jos Jos. What was that shot? It’s easy to pop from your sofa, but you played a shot to a ball that wasn’t there and you’d been almost perfect up to then. While you were there I believed, hoped. When you were out, I felt that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I recognised it. It was the one when Simon Jones dropped Kasprowicz in 2005. At that point, I knew how far along the spectrum I was in the England love-o-meter. I couldn’t say I didn’t care. I know I did. I wanted them to win. Very badly. Oh, and it was a fine, fine catch by Tim Southee.

Over 36 – Woakes was overmatched, and departed to a skier. I noticed Tom Latham’s little photographer’s dive after taking the catch! A big plus to Nasser’s pretty cool commentary during this time. Concentrating on the dot balls, the number of balls and targets rather than wickets. I made a note to mention it.

Over 37 – Liam Plunkett put bat to ball better than most, but he was faced with having to do it from the start and with no time to adjust. His catch given to long off was inevitable. Liam had a good World Cup, and 10 off 10 balls doesn’t sound much, but it gave us hope when there wasn’t any.

Over 38 – Jofra Archer came in in front of Rashid, and promptly got bowled going for glory first ball. I have yet to see Jofra the bat, and he can according to many, but his was a minor part in the overall proceedings with the bat.

Over 39 – Went out of order.. the batsman crossed from the Plunkett steepler, and Stokes smashed the next ball from Neesham to long on. Boult was under it again, he took the catch, stepped back, knew he was going over the boundary, threw it to Guptill, and I put my head in my hands. But wait. Guptill is signalling six. What? Why? How? Oh my god, he’s stepped on the boundary. Is our name on the trophy? 16 off 8 sounds better than 22 off 9. A moment to say well done to Guptill. Of course, it would have been proven to be six, but he signalled it, knowing what the replay would show and not trying to pull a fast one (as Morgan, perhaps, could be accused of with the Ferguson catch). It says a huge amount for the way New Zealand play the game. I think it sounds patronising to keep patting their heads, but they are a fine team and do not compromise it by cheating. I wish it was like this everywhere.

Over 40 – So we are now down to 15 off the final over. Stokes in the position to be the man again, like the T20 Final. Irony not lost on me. Two dot balls were not in the script. Stokes might have been able to take a single but he thought he was the only one who could score the runs. The third ball was in the slot, down low he got under it, and belted it over midwicket, a long way back for 6. Great, but it is still 9 off three.

Over 41 – The moment of the match. Stokes hits the ball to midwicket and they were always going to go for two. It was a 1 3/4 run. Stokes steamed, head down, for the crease knowing the only chance of staying in the hunt would be to get there. Guptill’s throw was quick, hard, accurate. Stokes stretched and the ball appeared to ricochet away. It diverted past Latham and kept running, on and on, to the boundary. What? How? What? That’s six runs, isn’t it? Stokes sticks his arms out to say sorry. But it is going to be six runs. Suddenly it is 3 off 2. We have to win this now. The luck has been going our way.

Over 42 – There is something quintessentially English about feeling guilty about profiting from luck or mistakes, yet we are the first to moan about our ill fortune. England’s 1966 win is prefaced with us going on and on about the third goal. Do you think Germany, who in their guises have won the competition three times since give a shit now? Argentina don’t asterisk their 1986 triumph about Maradona’s Hand of God. I watched the 1992 Final, and honestly never remembered the Pringle LBWs until he made a thing of it a bit later – I was more pissed off at Botham not nicking it and being given out. Pakistan don’t give a shit, it’s all “cornered tigers” BS. Yet here we are – we should have let them win, it was only five runs, it should have been just two, it should have been this, been that. It’s sport. It wasn’t dishonest. It was luck. I am sure the rule will be changed as a result, but just do one with this asterisk shit. Why bother if the sport is to be cleansed of any element of chance. It is why I hate VAR. If your motivation for this is an anti-England feeling, then that’s your choice. I recognise it for what it was, a massive, enormous, huge slice of luck.

Over 43 – Three off two balls, but Stokes mishits one to long on, and there’s barely one and a half runs in it. The ball is thrown to the bowler’s end and Rashid is miles short. Out not facing a ball, note how Adil, when he walks off, tries to encourage Stokes. The thought, under all this pressure, was were New Zealand playing it safe getting the non-striker out, and not going for Stokes, who would have been out in all likelihood because he had a slow start given he’d got so low in hitting the yorker. In that cauldron, better to play safe.

Over 44 – The last ball, two to win, one for a Super Over. What will Stokes do? Go for glory? Make sure of the one if he can and gamble for a second. Mark Wood isn’t the fleetest of foot at the non-striker’s end. Boult bowls a full toss on middle stump, the ideal ball to whack, but Stokes bunts it to mid-on area. We have the single, they turn, the throw is deadly accurate at the non-striker’s end, Boult gathers and takes the stumps. The replay confirms he had ball in hand, nothing untoward, and it is a Super Over. At that point, I think I inhaled some air for the first time in 15 minutes. This is crazy. But this is sport. Meanwhile, at Wimbledon, the Men’s Final goes into that competition’s equivalent of the Super Over, a fifth set tie-break at 12-12. Sport.

Over 45 – The Super Over rules, and another chance to de-legitimise the victory. It is clear, if the score is tied after 50 overs, wickets are irrelevant. It has been for about 20 years so bloody well spare me the angst over that. There’s an Irish guy I follow on Twitter who is banging on and on about this (and the Super Over) and all he ever does is complain about sport. I genuinely ask why he watches it any more if he hates it that much. Yes, coming from me. So it is clear. Super Over – most runs win, and if it is a tie, who hit the most boundaries in combination. It’s in the bloody rules of the game. You might not like it, but it is clear. I still hate penalty shootouts. It still doesn’t mean I don’t count Millwall knocking Chelsea out of the Cup in 1985 because we won on one. Don’t be daft.

Over 46 – It had to be Buttler and Stokes. Never did find out who was number three (was it Roy?). First ball squirts for three runs down to third man. Second is a well hit single to mid-wicket by Jos. The third finds a gap between the two leg-side boundary fielders to give Stokes 4 runs. 8 from 3. What is safe? The next ball Stokes carves straight to cover for a single. Buttler hits a yorker for two, and then smashes the last ball over mid-wicket for four. Is 15 any good? I can’t process basic thoughts. It sounds good. Archer is warming up. Good god. We’re trusting a kid, relatively, to bowl that last over. Really? Really? And this did not help:

Over 47 – Don’t bowl a wide. Don’t bowl a wide. Don’t bowl it in the slot. Don’t bowl a no ball. Don’t bowl a long hop. The first ball passes over the blue tramline. It’s a wide. Was it harsh? I thought so. Would I have gone on about it if we’d lost? Probably not. Thin margins.

Over 48 – Neesham squirts the next ball for two. The Black Caps got their skates on. At this point the comms were questioning whether Neesham was the right man for this. Next ball he takes a good length Archer ball and belts it into the Mound Stand. We’ve lost. 7 from 4. Neesham hoicks the next one to mid-wicket, Roy misfields, and it is another two. Five from three. Next ball, yorker, Neesham repeats the shot, it is better placed and there’s another two runs. Three from two. It has to be three, because England have hit more boundaries. Next ball is a slower ball bouncer. Neesham pulls it into his body. Guptill gets a motor on and makes it easily. Two from the last ball.

Over 49 – Time stands still. Utterly still. Only sport can do this. Spellbinding. Two to win, and the man tasked to score them was out at around 11:30. He hasn’t faced a ball in the Super Over. Archer is a rookie. On their heads the game rests. The field takes ages to set. The tension building. I’m absolutely numb. I know that a win is what I truly, totally want. It feels good, but it also feels like I’ve been a bit of a fraud. My last five years of agnostic, almost loathing of elements of this team. But damn you Stokes, damn you Jos, damn you Jofra, you’ve brought me back. Archer bowls full on leg stump, Guptill gets a great bat on it, you can’t smack that and gets it to deep mid-wicket. The fielder, heaven knows who it was at the time (the irony being Jason Roy who misfielded earlier) threw in, Jos gathers, smashes the stumps. Guptill looks well short. I am screaming yes, yes, yes. Jumping around the living room. Teddy looks scared, so I hug him and give a non-plussed border collie dying for his walk, a big old kiss. I feel that wave of elation, it lasts not as long as it used to, but that is what sport, and excitement, makes you do. I try to focus on what needs to be done, but I’m numb.

Over 50 – I am genuinely, totally uninterested in anyone else’s reaction. I don’t care in the immediate aftermath. I don’t want to hear pundits, I don’t want to hear people tell me what I think about it. These memories are mine, not yours “experts”. I want to react the way of the natural order. I take Teddy for his walk. I am buzzing. England have won the most exciting game of cricket I’ve seen, certainly since 2005, and up there with the best finales you could ever wish to see. And as sport fans, what more can you ask for?

Super Over 1 – From a personal standpoint I was trying to reference this match with other great sporting events I’ve watched. Personally, nothing can match the tearing up of my insides that was the second half of the FA Cup Semi-Final in 2004, but in hindsight that was meaningless, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. The obvious cricket reference point is Edgbaston 2005. I think it is really similar to that, but a little different. England had that game won, and couldn’t finish off the team. Here England never had that won, and indeed, to be fair, didn’t win, but the miracles it took to get there made it exhausting. I am trying to remember an event where I actually shed tears during it. I did after that ball hit the bat and went for the boundary for the four “overthrows”. I actually couldn’t breathe. The winning moment was greeted with huge excitement, but I think I’ll remember the richochet more. Sport is amazing. Utterly amazing.

Super Over 2 – The time to talk about the ECB is in the next few days, not really now. But let this be said. They have been given this blessed gift from the gods. For a long time this was a dull ODI, played on a dog of a pitch, with no pyrotechnics, and only lifted because of the occasion. It finished in a maelstrom of total, utter, excitement. Think Wilkinson’s drop goal, Jones catching Kasper, the Aguero winner/Thomas winner of the league with the last kick of the season. Think Liverpool and Spurs on successive nights. Think how that can catch a country’s imagination, bring them together. The ball is in your court. I’ll wager you’ll congratulate yourselves and ignore the signs of what can be. Or as one of our number just said in this tweet:

There will be more, and I’m sure I missed some key moments too. I hope this conveys my thoughts adequately. I have the whole game recorded. I’ll be committing it to digital copy this afternoon. It’s not often a whole confluence of emotions are concentrated on half an hour of sheer sporting drama. I can’t do the flashy words. I’m more visceral. Yes. Yes. Yes. Get In There!

 

ADDITIONAL….. Maxie is right to raise the following:

For a long time this was a dull ODI, played on a dog of a pitch, with no pyrotechnics, and only lifted because of the occasion.

For someone coming to the game for the first time in ages, the match might have appeared dull, the same way a taut Cup Final with no goals can be to those not emotionally involved. It’s amazing how many big football matches my team played that were 1-0 or 0-0 never seemed boring to me. It wasn’t a dull game, it was tight one, but this was meant as a reflection as to how someone new to this might look at it. This isn’t T20….

Also, and totally remiss of me, I want to thank Chris, Danny and Sean for the coverage of the whole of this World Cup. I am biased, but it has been brilliant. Chris did the end of the live blog last night when I could barely think, let alone write. Danny and Sean put the hard yards in during the interminable group stages, and brought their own perspectives to the blog. I love what we do, I am honoured to write this blog with them, and even in those times when none of us are up to it, the BOC thing still resides in our heads. We are nothing special, we are just cricket fans. When we speak, we speak from our hearts. We care, care so much that it hurts some times. We can be brutal, but we are never trolls. We can call people out, but we do it through our own frustrations. The blog and the community we have, both here and on Twitter live for moments like this. There is no correct reaction. It is personal. All four of us show that in our writing. Thanks to all of them. I don’t say it enough.

World Cup Final 2019 – England vs. New Zealand – A Preview and Much More

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:

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.

World Cup Semi-Final – Australia v England

Morning everyone. It really doesn’t get much bigger than this. A sporting occasion for all cricket fans, a chance to see the old enemies fight it out for a place in the Final. In a repeat of 1975, these two meet at this stage, at Edgbaston rather than Headingley (interesting to note the choice of venue all those years ago, when the Yorkshire venue, I believe, had an automatic right to test matches each year, with the winners meeting New Zealand on Sunday. The only other meeting in knockout phases came in 1987, when England lost the Final. England haven’t beaten Australia at a World Cup since 1992, but in the last three Champions Trophy meetings in England, the hosts have won the lot. What does it all mean? Nothing really. It’s just filler.

I’m sorry, not really, to keep harping on about this, but I am taken back to a conversation a while back when someone from our media friends, a limited group we know, said “don’t you think if England make it to the semis, there will be a build up of interest in the country?” His reference point was the women’s team a few years ago, but the point was probably more to see an enhancement of that. Today’s game is one that could catch the imagination. 2005 is becoming a more distant image in the rear view mirror. The 2010/11 team, although not visible, retained some of those names, and again had people talking about the game. Today England meet their arch enemy in a semi-final of the World Cup, the first time they have been there since 1992, and it’s behind a paywall. What more needs to be said about the crippling decision to hide the game from public view than that? What a missed opportunity to bring the game to people who can’t see it. It’s a matter of great sadness. Today’s players get paid well, much better than their counterparts 15 years ago (probably substantially more when accounting for inflation), out of the Sky contract, but in doing so, the game become hidden, and the consequences are there for all to see.

I don’t think we’ll ever stop banging that particular drum.

The game today will, I hope, feature some live blogging. I am currently on leave, but it is with the little horror that is Teddy. My wife is back in the States and with her Mum (or mom as they say) and I have just me to look after a 9 month old border collie with serious alpha male issues. So I will update as and when I can (and the rest of the gang can join in too, if available). Looking at Rain Alarm Pro, there isn’t much nonsense in the Birmingham area, although. The forecast is for showers later in the day, but tomorrow looks OK if we need to come back.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the day. The best ODI bowler in the world, against YJB and Roy in great form. Will Buttler hit his stride in what has been a mainly disappointing tournament for him? What will Warner and Smith do? Have Australia got too many injuries to repeat their Lord’s triumph? Will Finch make his third ton in as many World Cup matches v England? Will we need free to air on Sunday? All this and more, to be revealed…

The winner will meet New Zealand, who triumphed yesterday because their quicks removed the top three, the Indian middle order got starts but did not go on, and then MS Dhoni played one of those mysterious innings. While Ravi Jadeja, a seriously under-rated, under-used cricketer for India was playing a brilliant innings, fulfilling his 9 runs per 6 balls quota that was required to keep up with the rate, Dhoni was pottering about like he had not a care in the world. While this was happening, I was always sure that the Black Caps were going to win. Especially when Jadeja got out. It was mad to me that the most experienced ODI player in the team dropped down to 7 as it was. To then put all the pressure on Jadeja was mad. That Dhoni was run out just after hitting a six left the legend of the master-chaser intact. It’s horse manure. He makes chases more difficult than they need to be, especially recently, and yesterday it got to the stage that they wanted 32 off the last two overs. And still people act that if a freak piece of fielding hadn’t happened, Dhoni had paced it perfectly. I am so glad I don’t go in for blind fandom these days.

I am going to leave it there, and hopefully update during the day. I have a couple of chores that need doing each day – the Teddy walk is the main one – which I will get in, hopefully, before the start of play.

Your comments below, as always. I’ll add mine in the text of the post. We are also on Twitter too, so hope you can keep up with us during the day.

My prediction? I am yet to be convinced by England’s big match temperament. On paper they should win. Between the ears, have they the belief to slay the dragon? Batting first might help. But who knows. It’s that great sporting contest. It’s what sport is about, despite the gimmicks, the nonsense, the corporatism, the ludicrous authorities that govern the game globally and domestic. Sport to watch. Sport not for all.

LIVE BLOGGING

10:20 – OK, back from walking Teddy. While trying to teach the headstrong pup some basic dog skills, I got the note that Australia won the toss and batted first. No real surprises in either line-up, with Handscomb coming in for the injured Khawaja. However, as the camera pans over the ground, the stadium appears half full. Don’t know about anyone else, but if I have a ticket for this, no way do I turn up after 9:30, let alone 10:30.

10:30 – Warner booed as he comes out. Getting dull. Woakes opens up for England, Clarke opens up on the comms. Dear lord. Warner drives the first ball, a rank half volley, for four. As Scooby would say “ruh-ro”.

10:32 – No further runs from the over. Good comeback. Meanwhile, reasons to be cheerful / fearful.

10:33 – Archer opening from the other end. And strikes first ball, subject to review. Looked a bit iffy to me on first glance. Pad first. Three reds. Dead and a lost review. Hundreds in his previous two World Cup innings against England and now a golden one.

WICKET – Aaron Finch   LBW Archer 0 – 4 for 1

10:37 – Steve Smith in to a chorus of boos. Clarke says “Smith has been crying out for an opportunity” while ignoring that he’s not come in at 3 much (if at all) in this competition. Smith off the mark from his third ball. 2 from the over and it is 6 for 1.

10:41 – Warner looks up for it. Smashes Woakes over his head as soon as he pitches up. 10 for 1. And then a little shorter, and he nicks it off to first slip, and Warner goes. YJB is jubilant. England are off to a bloody flier. 10 for 2.

WICKET – David Warner   Caught Bairstow Bowled Woakes 9 – 10 for 2

10:43 – Peter Handscomb in at number 4, not having had a knock for a long old time. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, anyone? A man who has a technique opened up in tests. Massive appeal first ball. I thought it looked very close, and Morgan has reviewed. Umpire’s call, so not out. Erasmus, come on, you don’t like the Aussies, do you? Handscomb benefits from a misfield off the last ball to get off the mark. 11 for 2 after 3 overs. Clarke already getting on my nerves.

10:49 – One run from that over, and a play and miss from Smith in it. 12 for 2 after 4.

10:50 – Another close, close one from Woakes as Handscomb gets an inside nick to save him. He looks like an LBW every time, Handscomb.

Clarke doesn’t believe in a paucity of words, nor shying from hyperbole. Smith coming down less than straight and looks a nick-off waiting to happen, but we could wait a while. 13 for 2 from 5.

10:56 – I see Carey is due up next. About time. Handscomb runs the last ball of Archer’s over down to third man for the only run in the 6th. 14 for 2.

10:57 – “Can they build a partnership” says Nasser. Er, no. Handscomb hangs the bat out, he inside nicks it on to his stumps, and Woakes has the third wicket of the match. You feel that they are a Steve Smith away from taking this game away from Australia.

WICKET – Peter Handscomb   Bowled Woakes  4 – 14 for 3

10:59 – Carey in, and first ball he nicks it short of second slip, and off the ricochet, he gets a single to get off the mark. Smith has 1 off his first 14 balls. Make that 17, as there are no more runs from the over and it is 15 for 3 from 7 overs.

11:03 – Archer to continue, as we say goodbye to Nasser and Clarke, with Ian Bishop on the mic now. Carey punches down the ground for three, and the return is met with the duclet tones of Kumar Sangakkara on the comms. These two are like velvet, compared to the sandpaper we experienced for the first half hour. And there’s your only sandpaper reference for the day. Promise. Smith takes a quick single and gets away with it, from the fourth ball. The last ball is a vicious bouncer, and Carey catches his helmet before it can do any damage to his stumps. Actually great reactions from Carey, although he’s worn one. End of the 8th. 19 for 3.

11:10 – Carey has a nice plaster on his chin. After a few minutes of running repairs, we are back in action. Woakes with his fifth over. The last ball of the over is a wide half volley which Carey creams through the covers, and it is 24 for 2. Smith has 2 from 21 balls.

11:16 – Three runs from the 10th over, a pretty quiet one, and 27 for 3 after 10.

11:19 – Takes years of watching the game, playing it, and commentating on it to come up with analysis like this:

Woakes in his 6th over, and possibly his last for a while, concedes just one run to Smith and it is 28 for 3 after 11.

11:23 – Stokes replaces Archer. 1 run from the over. 29 for 3.

11:27 – Wood replaces Woakes. A bit rough and ready with two wides. Brilliant work on the boundary saves two leg byes. Carey’s cut still bleeding, and his other cut (shot) is half stopped by Stokes. A third wide off the seventh delivery is making this a pressure releasing over, but the last two balls were much better. 36 for 3.

11:34 – Malcolm Conn Watch. Crickets. Chirp Chirp Chirp Chirp.

Carey has some repairs, and now has a huge plaster. Stokes to continue, and Carey takes a single from the first ball. Smith pulls an ugly four, the first boundary for a while, and the first in his 35 ball stay. Mel Jones has been on for five minutes and made two errors – it was McCosker, not Gilmour, who broke his jaw, and the West Indies were not at the peak of their powers in 1995. 9 from the over, and it is 45 for 3 from 14. Building a recovery, maybe?

11:43 – A better over from Wood, and just two from it. 15 overs up and it is 47 for 3.

11:45 – Lovely.

Jonathan Liew would approve.

11:47 – Plunkett replaces Stokes, and his first ball is driven straight by Smith for four. Fifty up. 8 from the over and it is 55 for 3.

11:54 – Smith takes a boundary from the last ball of Wood’s over. 7 runs from it, 62 for 3 off 17.

12:02 – Rashid on for the 20th over, and Slater enters the Comm box for his stint. 72 for 3 at the start, and he’s bowling to Carey. A lofted drive off the fifth ball goes through the gap for four. Six from his first over, and it’s 78 for 3.

12:09 – 21st over yields two runs. 80 for 3 from 21. Inexorable feelings that England are letting Aussie off the hook a little.

12:24 – 103 for 3 at half-way. Got to take a bit of a break now. Looking like 250-280 on the cards unless wickets get taken.

12:33 – From absolutely nowhere Carey flips an innocuous Rashid delivery straight down James Vince’s throat (on as a sub) at deep midwicket and the partnership is broken. England needed that, and although the home fans are worrying, let’s face it, we’d be saying get a move on if this was England.

WICKET – Alex Carey – Caught Sub, Bowled Adil Rashid 46 – 117 for 4.

Smith brings up his 50, and accompanied by boos.

WICKET – Marcus Stoinis – LBW Adil Rashid 0 – 118 for 5

That looked outside the line, and with Finch blowing the review, Stoinis could not review. Stoinis played back and got done by the googly, but the appeal won Dharmasena over and I’ll be interested to see Hawkeye. Stoinis goes second ball. Maxwell time. Two umpires calls, so a little fortunate. Would not have been overturned. 118 for 5 at the end of the 28th over.

12:41 – Smith is looking in ominous form for the Ashes. Another driven four. Without him, the Aussies would be sunk. 127 for 5 at end of the 29th.

12:43 – Rashid induces an edge from Maxwell, but Root can’t nab him at slip. 2 runs ensue. 3 from the Rashid over, who has 2-34 from his 6 overs.

12:48 – Archer returns, and Maxwell nails a pull shot in front of square for 4. 5 from the over, 135 for 5.

12:51 – Maxwell hits the first six of the day over long-on off Rashid. But with only another single from that over, the damage isn’t that bad. 142 for 5 and it is drinks at the end of the 32nd over.

13:08 – Perils of solo live blogging. Missed the Maxwell wicket while taking the dog for a quick stroll and giving him his lunch. Archer makes him prop one up to cover and the catch is taken by Morgan.

WICKET – Glenn Maxwell    Caught Eoin Morgan, Bowled Jofra Archer 22 – 157 for 6

13:11 – Rashid finishes his 9th over, and the 36th of the innings. 161 for 6. Archer back for the 37th, and his 9th. 4 from that over and it’s 165 for 6 with 13 to go. Smith still there on 67.

13:16 – A beautiful googly somehow induces an edge/steer to Joe Root at slip, and Cummins goes. Rashid has his third wicket, proving his importance to this team, if indeed, it still needs saying. Mitchell Starc in to try to play the Nathan Coulter-Nile role. Rashid finishes with 3 for 54.

WICKET – Pat Cummins   Caught Joe Root, Bowled Adil Rashid  6 – 166 for 7

13:20 – Archer bowling out. Three singles from the first three balls. Woakes still has four to bowl, with the other 7 remaining due to come from Stokes, Wood and Plunkett. Archer finished with 2 for 32 and it is 171 for 7 from 39.

13:26 – Mark Wood bowls over number forty, and it goes for four runs. Entering the last ten overs, Australia are 175 for 7.

13:29 – Plunkett bowls over number 41. Four dot balls to start to Mitchell Starc. Make it five as he swishes at a wide one. A single off the last ball stops the maiden, but England will be pleased with that. 176 for 7.

13:33 – Mark Wood again. 2 single leg byes, followed by a single in his first three balls. Another whip to fine leg for a single off the fifth ball, and another off the last. Five in total off that and it is 181 for 7. 8 remaining.

13:37 – Plunkett again. Three singles, including a misfield/run out attempt from the first four balls. Clarke babbling on incessantly. Shut up. 2 off the last ball from a cut, and it is 186 for 7.

13:40 – Wood on for the 44th over. Starc smashes the second down the ground for four. I make it that Woakes won’t bowl his 10 now.  No runs from balls 1,3 and 4 in this over. A wide from the next delivery. A single to Starc off the fifth, and he moves on to 14. Six from the 45th and it is 192 for 7.

13:44 – Second six of the innings (?) from Starc as he reads the first ball of Plunkett’s oval and plonks it over long-off for 6. Adds a single from the next. Smith moves to 78, and brings up the 200 off the third ball. A wide, a single, and another vile looking pull for four round out a pretty rubbish over from Plunkett. 14 from it and it is 206 for 7.

13:48 – Woakes comes on, to bowl three of his four remaining overs – can’t help thinking Morgan gave Wood one too many, or Liam two too many. Starc dabs a single – there really do not look to be too many terrors in this wicket, this is going to be a purely mental challenge when it comes to the chase – and moves on to 23. Smith mishits another for a single from the second ball. Dot ball from the third. A mishit from Starc, and another dot ball from the fourth ball. Something might give here. No. Starc pulls a ball to deep backward square for another single. Big LBW appeal off the last ball of the over for Smith, which is turned down but reviewed. No real hope on this one, I don’t think. Height. Going to be umpire’s call at best….and it is. There was a leg bye, four from the over, and it’s 210 for 7. Clarke has a little laugh and I want to throw my mouse at the screen.

13:54 – Wood bowls a full ball, which Smith inside nicks for a single. Starc dabs a ball into the legside, and gets a smartly taken two runs. A good save by Plunkett means just two from the third ball. Starc on to 28. Dot ball from the fourth. This is the 47th over, so just 20 balls to go. Starc top edges the fifth ball but it doesn’t reach Plunkett, and he gets a single. 50 partnership up. The last ball brings another horrible looking pull, but Smith gets a single, keeps the strike and it is 217 for 7 with three to go.

13:58 – Buttler nails the stumps and runs out Smith after he tries to get through for a short legbye – brilliant from Jos. Taking off the glove he hits the bowler’s end stumps and Smith is marginally short of his ground. A vital knock if aesthetically like walking past a sewer. We’ll need to get used to it, I’m afraid. He’s just too good, even when he’s bad. Big wicket.

WICKET – Steve Smith  Run Out (Jos Buttler) 85 – 217 for 8

Woakes then gets a nick off an expansive drive from Starc, and he’s got to walk now. Thin nick to Jos Buttler and England feel a little better about life.

WICKET – Mitchell Starc   Caught Jos Buttler  Bowled Chris Woakes 29 – 217 for 9

Nathan Lyon in at 11 for the team hat-trick. Blocks the first ball. Risky single off the 4th ball of the over, and gets away with it. Behrendorff would have been out by miles. Dot ball from the 5th, one from this over so far. Dot ball from the 6th too, and one from the 48th over. Not going to matter, but we should have brought Woakes on one over earlier. End of the over, 218 for 9.

14:05 – Mark Wood bowling his 9th over, the 49th of the innings. Lyon fishes at the first, but misses. A run off the second, not sure if it was a leg bye or a single. I think given as the later.  Behrendorff dabs a ball to third man for a single off the third ball. Clarke saying it’s not Smith’s day because the ball went between his legs. He didn’t exactly bat with fluency, Clarke. Two more singles off balls four and five. Final ball and Mark Wood yorks Behrendorff and England will need 224 to win and make the Final.

WICKET – Jason Behrendorff    Bowled Mark Wood  1 – 223 All Out

So – Woakes 3/20, Rashid 3/54, Archer 2/32 and Wood 1/45.

OK. We would have settled for that at the start, no doubt. Smith made batting look hard, but in his own way, and while you may think from above that I’m having a go, I’m not. He doesn’t give his wicket away. He just doesn’t. It could be a long Ashes summer. There are not those devils in the wicket, but Starc is a danger. It appears a bit of a short of a length wicket, as most boundaries appeared to come from pitched up deliveries. But that’s a nothing score, and England will be livid if they can’t chase this down. This run chase will be 90% in the head. Don’t panic and it will come to you. See you after the break. Hopefully.

 

14:38 – Negative vibes, bad precedents, worrisome stats, fears pervading. This should be comfortable but we know that it won’t be. Roy to face the first ball from Jason Behrendorff. First three balls all good. Roy plods one down to third man to get his account under way off the fourth ball. First ball to YJB and he crushes it through point for 4. Exhale. A little. 5 for 0 after the 1st over.

14:42 – Mitchell Starc time. Holding my breath here, no idea why. I’m not as invested in this team as others. Four dot balls, the last one at 92 mph. Roy getting in line at the moment. Fifth ball a bit shorter, hits Roy in the midriff, timed at 94 mph. The sixth ball is a wide. So still no maidens. Solid behind the final ball – 6 for 0.

14:50 – Win predictor says that Australia have a 7% chance of winning. Does it feel like that to you? No runs off the first four balls, and then a beauty that goes the other way to YJB, who doesn’t quite nick it. A maiden. 6 for 0.

14:53 – A sensational drive off Mitchell Starc’s first ball of the fourth over by Jason Roy goes for 4, and then clips one through wide mid-on for two more. Then came a knock on the door, and back for the last ball of the over and it’s another magnificent drive through extra cover for four. 10 from the over, one parcel for someone I’ve never heard of, and Teddy has been woken up by the knock on the door. I bet the Guardian and Cricinfo never have that. 16 for 0 from 4.

14:58 – Behrendorff keeping it tight to YJB since that first ball. He appears a little frustrated, but off the third ball of the over he shovels the ball into the leg side for a single. Teddy laying down again. Roy plonks one through midwicket and the two openers scamper two runs. A little dance from Roy to the last ball yields no run. Three from the over. 19 for 0 from 5.

15:02 – Starc gives up a wide from his first ball to YJB. The next is a massacred square cut from the red headed raging Yorkie, and another four. Demolished. The ball screamed for mercy as it raced along the carpet, picking up friction burns before smashing into the boards. Two dot balls follow, the second seeing YJB hurtle down the wicket, but Roy giving it the No No No No No.  A glide down to third man off ball four brings up a single. Oh, we’re one ninth there….  Roy then hits an amazing six as he flips a leg side ball far too close to fine leg for comfort, but it sails over for a maximum. Hussain’s heart has been extracted from his throat. Roy blocks ball six, and there’s a lovely dozen from that over. 31 for 0 from 6.

15:07 – Pat Cummins comes on for Behrendorff. Two dot balls to start to YJB. Cummins being talked up. Teddy now moving on to his bed. No idea he has to remain in the same position. A bit of a false shot third ball, but no harm done. Sways out of the way of a shortish ball for the fourth of the over. Nice drive off ball five for no run, as it goes straight to cover. The final ball is mis-timed through extra cover for two runs, thus preventing a maiden, adding on another 1%ish of the total required, and making the score 33 for no loss after 7. Teddy moves again. He does have some Australian in his bloodline. I think it’s his grandad. Someone tell Conn.

15:12 – Behrendorff replaces Starc. Roy does one of his wanders and plays and misses, then blocks ball two. LBW appeal for ball three, which England get a legbye, and Finch ignores the appeal as it pitched several miles outside leg. Bairstow clips the fourth ball to deep backward square for a couple more. A little uppish drive, quite close to Behrendorff is timed superbly, and goes for four straight down the ground. A guide to gully off the last ball gets no run, and England are now 40 for 0 at the end of 8 overs.

15:16 – Cummins again. Roy on 19, YJB 18. Two dot balls to start. Third is short and Roy ducks underneath. Another dot for ball four. No rush, chaps. We’re all breathing really well right now. There’s a real lobby for Jason Roy being selected for England’s test team, which I still think is mad. The last ball of the over is another gorgeous shot as he whips a ball through square leg with a majestic piece of timing and it races for four. Maiden thwarted, another 3.6% of the total required knocked off, and England move on to 44 for 0 after 9.

15:21 – Behrendorff starts his fifth over, and YJB pushes one through square leg for a single. A repeat, slightly better timed, brings Roy another run. YJB repeats again, slightly in front of square for a third single. Two through the covers for Roy, as the two nearly collide when they run. Another single, as England take a run after it hits YJB’s bat. Conn starts to froth at England cheating, but up comes the 50. YJB plays out the last ball, and it is 50 for 0 from 10. A very decent start.

15:25 – On comes the Mouth of Adelaide, Nathan Lyon. Jason Roy facing. I feel sick. Then Roy smacks his first ball straight over long-on for 6 – there was a fielder on the boundary that it sailed over . Dear lord. He’s going to be KP ain’t he? Misses the second ball after a little fiddle outside off. Roy gives himself room to hit the next ball out to the sweeper on the offside for a single. Bairstow sweeps ball four for a single. Now Roy reverse sweeps for four. Good grief. A leading edge, a pirouette, and a single makes it 13 from the over and England are 63 for 0 after 11.

15:29 – Cummins to bowl his third over as he changes ends. Second ball, Roy hoiks it down to fine leg for a single and moves to 40. Hopeful appeal from the third ball to YJB, but Finch knows that’s a load of dollop and doesn’t review. Talking of dollop, Cummins bowls a short pitched load of rubbish, sails over Carey, and add a very welcome 5 to the total. Another short ball brings two balls as this time it is on the offside, but the bad news is YJB goes down in some pain as he slipped turning for the second. We’ll have a little break here. 71 for 0. On resumption there’s a shortish ball which hits YJB on the hip. No harm done. A firm drive, for no run concludes the 12th over. 71 for 0.

15:40 – Lyon bowls again, Roy makes room, hits it to sweeper, and gets a run. Now we have Slater and Clarke in tandem on the mic. Lord help us. YJB tries to sweep ball two. Nothing. Slaps the next to square, no run. Clarke burbles. A horrible wipe skews over third man and somehow gets four, as Starc’s dive is in vain. YJB plays straight to ball five. Straight to backward point off the last, no run. 76 for 0.

15:43 – Cummins induces an inside edge from Roy but it thuds into his pads and no run. A little surprised by the bounce from the second, and no run. A wonderful fine hip flick from Roy crashes into the fine leg boundary for four off the third. Short for ball four, but not deemed a wide. No run from ball five. Bunts ball six in the air, falls short of mid-off. 80 for 0.

15:47 – Over number 15, and the Lyon experiment ends. Mitchell Starc is back. YJB smashes the ball over mid-off first ball for four. A single down to third man, and I need to take a Teddy toilet break! As I open the door, Roy wallops one over mid-off for another four. A well-timed square cut is stopped, and that’s followed by a wide. Roy on 49. Given width, he smacks the next one through extra for another four, 53 off 50 balls. Conn will no doubt refer to his birthplace. A single off the last ball, and it is 95 for 0 off 15 and drinks. Teddy is now livening up. You feeling it, people? Fighting like cornered TV companies behind a paywall.

15:55 – Steve Smith coming on. Interesting. Someone puts an umbrella up. Roy smears a single first ball. Wide second ball. Brilliant fielding saves a boundary from the second legitimate delivery, and keeps it to a single. Roy gets hold of the next, clears Maxwell, and even though he doesn’t get all of the full bunger, it goes for 6. He hits the next one straight for 6 as well. File this under “not a great idea“. The next one went absolute miles, air-mailed to London, it may never come down. Finch is shopping at Louis Vitton here. And he still can’t afford it. That’s the metaphorical white flag folks. 21 off the over, the last six being 100 metres. 116 for 0.

15:59 – Stoinis on, and YJB clips for a single. A diving stop keeps Roy to two instead of four as he pulls a short one to mid-wicket. It’s going to rain a little bit, judging by my radar software but it won’t last very long. A couple of dot balls, and I get my first message saying that he’s waiting for the wheels to come off. There’s a wide to bring up the 120. Roy murders the last ball with a sort of swivel shovel for four to bring the total to 124 for 0. Hundred to go people.

16:04 – Mitchell Starc, 0/38 off four, is back. This is just the 18th over. YJB is nailed on the crease, and is given LBW. YJB reviews instantly. He’s not hit it. Looks dead. So he takes the review with him as well, which is a bit silly.

WICKET – Johnny Bairstow  LBW Mitchell Starc 34 – 124 for 1.

Joe Root in. First ball is short, hits Root’s glove, avoids Carey and goes for 4. Luck with Root there. Into line for the next one and plays it well. Starc’s 27th wicket. Record. Root glides a leg side ball very fine again for another four. Starc shopping at Harvey Nicholls at the moment. Wide outside off stump next, and Root smashes it through point for another boundary. A wicket, but 12 off the over. 136 for 1 from 18 overs.

16:10 – Roy belts Stoinis’s first ball for four through mid wicket, then dabs the next to third man for a single. Jason now on 84. A couple of dot balls. No tweets from Malcolm Conn. Another dot ball to Root. A sedate five from that over. 141 for 1.

16:13 – Roy nurdles the first ball from Cummins down to fine leg for a single. Joe Root then smashes one through backward point for 4, and the total needed is below 80. The next makes a lovely sound, but finds deep square for another single, Actually, it’s his first single, but another to the total. Roy is given out down legside, and is caught by the wicketkeeper. He believes he never touched it, and is furious. Save your rage for YJB. He has missed that by a mile. Roy goes for 85.

WICKET – Jason Roy  Caught Alex Carey Bowled Pat Cummins 85 – 147 for 2.

I told you YJB’s review was a nonsense. That’s what happens when you let your ego get in the way. Roy missed that by a mile. A shocking decision.

Roy shouldn’t have stayed around to argue. Morgan in. He’ll be up before the beak afterwards.

16:20 – Kumar’s got the memo on the umpires. Starc back on. This would be a hell of a choke from here. Root gets a couple from the fourth ball of the over. Off the last ball of the over, Root brings up the 150 with another couple. 151 for 2. 21 overs gone.

16:24 – Cummins on, and Morgan gets off the mark with a glide to fine leg. 72 to win. Root takes a single off the first ball he faces in the over, down to backward square. Cummins bowls a short one, Morgan sways out of the way. Morgan is like a jittery man at the crease, all movement. Lets another short one go by, dropping his hands. You feel he just needs to nail one to ease any thoughts. Wears the last one. Two from the over. 153 for 2 after 22.

16:29 – A bit more peace and quiet. Good fielding saves a single off the second ball. Starc in his 7th over. A nudge from the fourth brings a single to Root, who is on 23 from 21. Aaron Finch is now fielding at backstop, short ball outside off, Morgan flips it over square cover for four. Morgan is like a cat on a hot tin roof, but prods the last ball out. 158 for 2. 66 to win. 27 overs left.

16:34 – Cummins to Root, who gets a sharp single, aided by a misfield. Comes round the wicket to Morgan, who nearly spoons one up to Cummins off glove and splice. An edge gets the captain another run – a single to third man. A wide, harmless delivery to Root is pushed to sweeper for another run. Another bouncer to Morgan is too high, and is given wide. A fuller ball for the last one of the over is pushed over mid off for four, and heads drop just a little more Down Under. 166 for 2.

16:39 – Starc again. No point dying wondering. Three dot balls to Root. The fourth is full on Root’s legs, and another glance for four. A single to mid off off the last, and five from the over. 171 for 2. After 25 overs. Australia were 103 for 3.

16:43 – Bairstow and Roy to open in tests says Drug Cheat. Yes. YJB is our keeper, that will work. Lyon now on and Roy hits through square leg for a single to open up. 52 to win. An attempted reverse sweep from Morgan is missed. Morgan does try again, and he gets four to backward point / backward square leg. He then edges the next delivery for two, and it is 178 for 2. 46 to win.

16:47 – Behrendorff back, and Root gets a single straight away. Morgan gets done by a slower ball and gets lucky as it just evades Finch at mid-off. It’ll say 2 in the book, and there aren’t any pictures in there (Smith’s would be interesting). Morgan pulls a lolloping long hop for four behind square. Just a single pulled off the last ball and it is 186 for 2. 38 wanted.

16:51 – Morgan chops one late from Lyon down to backward point for a single off Lyon’s first ball. Root milks a single to long on second ball. Morgan sweeps fine for four third ball. Exhalation all round. They’ve got this. Morgan backs away and then drive/cuts in front of square for four, and by far his best shot. Gets away with the 5th delivery as Morgan dances down the wicket, and then glides just short of backward point. He takes a single off the last ball, 11 from the over. 197 for 2. 28 overs gone.

16:55 – I’m sure Aussie have won an ODI at Edgbaston since 2001, haven’t they? Anyway, Behrendorff continues. Morgan miscues the first ball. And the second. Doesn’t play a shot at the third. Defends the fourth. Both Root and Morgan are on 33. Nothing from the fifth, and nothing from the sixth. Bills have to be paid, so we take an early drinks interval.

One thing we should observe in the run up to the final. The old mantra that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. Let’s see that rush for credit.

17:01 – 197 for 2 from 29 overs. It’s brilliant to watch. I thought there were no demons in the wicket, and there haven’t been. The bowlers have won this game for England. No doubt. Root takes a single from the first ball of Lyon’s over. Morgan belts a shot over cover for four, and brings up the 200. Count them down. A shovel in front of square brings Morgan two more, so it’s now 20 to win. A single off the fourth ball. Root reverse sweeps for another boundary. 15 to win. Single off the last, 210 for 2. I’m thinking the ODI that they might have won was rained off (2005), but the Aussies belted us in a couple of series after that.

17:05 – Behrendorff’s eighth over. Those five wickets he took last time seem a long long time ago. Wide from the second ball. 13 to win. Root swats, as Nasser called it, a four in front of square from a lolloping long hop. 9 to win.  Root hits a full bunger down to fine leg for a single. 216 for 2. 8 to win. Root on 44.

17:09 – Before the end of the game, I would like to thank Teddy for being a wonderful dog this afternoon. He’s been calm and sound, and helped me to do this live blog. Thanks all to those who have followed it as well. We’ll do the final. Starc on, Root drives through the offside for a majestic four, and it’s down to two to win. They’ve been amazing. Root pulls to midwicket for a single. He should finish on 49 not out. Starc to Morgan….takes a single. Scores are level. Miscounted. 2 to win. Root on 49. Starc bowls, no run. 1992 was the last time, so they say, and there’s been nonsense since then. Just took common sense, picking the right players, changing the way they play. Root denied the winning runs by Maxwell. Over ends on a Richie – choo choo choo for choo. (222/2)

17:14 – Morgan smacks it over mid-on. Game over. Dame Edna, Paul Hogan, Skippy, Malcolm Conn, Rod Laver, Paul Keating, Men at Work, Icehouse, Guy Pearce, Boomer. Your boys lost. For once. Let England enjoy it.

Cheerio. Someone can write up the match report. England v New Zealand on Sunday at Lord’s. I have been Dmitri Old, and it has been my pleasure to watch an England team play like that.

 

 

World Cup Semi-Final: India vs New Zealand

After 45 matches, and into the third calendar month of the competition, we finally reach the semi-finals.  Three games to go, the secret tournament gets to the business end amid a frenzy of indifference in the host country.

The semi-final stage really ought to be the one where the anticipation is huge, and where the wider audience is tuning in far in advance ready to view a showpiece occasion.  In New Zealand, Australia and India, that could well be the case.

This has been repeated in numerous quarters ad nauseam, but it doesn’t make it any less true, or less concerning, nor is it a dig as Sky Sports, no matter how sensitive their employees are or how “outrageous” they consider articles on a blog lamenting the invisibility of the game to be.  That they are so touchy tends to re-inforce the truth of the complaints – no one gets so irate unless it has touched a nerve.

Still, while the viewing figures for today will be as miserable in this country as they usually are, it is a World Cup, it is a semi-final, and a big event for the cricketing world.  And the two teams involved today have had sufficiently contrasting recent form to make India overwhelming favourites.  Despite their defeat to England, they have looked every inch potential winners of the competition, whereas the Black Caps three successive defeats have resulted in them stumbling into the knockout stage on net run rate.  The outcome of this one ought to be obvious.

But underdogs though they might be, New Zealand’s malfunctioning batting order do have enough to cause problems, and have the bowling attack to make any opponent queasy.  Their slump has been a rather surprising one given the quality on offer, even if player for player, the Indian team would be reckoned superior overall.  New Zealand embrace their underdog status at the best of times, and with this one, when someone as notable as Sachin Tendulkar wishes MS Dhoni all the best for “the next two games” it will certainly provoke a wry smile in the Kiwi camp.

India should win.  New Zealand have been poor.  But it could be fun if they decide to show up for it.

Comments below.

 

World Cup 42 – Afghanistan vs. West Indies (and reaction to the England game)

So England have qualified for their first World Cup semi-final in 27 years and without doubt the most relieved people won’t necessarily be the players but more likely those who are in charge of running English cricket. After the various pronouncements after the 2015 World Cup and the change in emphasis from the red ball game to the white ball game, which many of us still fiercely disagree with, anything less than reaching the last four would have been disastrous and another sad indictment on the ECB. That they have managed to qualify for the knockout stages of their own home World Cup is a relief for all concerned or at least those who have access to Pay-TV anyway.

England went into this game knowing that the only way they could guarantee qualification was with victory and that the knives were sharpened in case they didn’t. They immediately had some fortune by winning the toss and electing to bat on what at first looked like a belter of a pitch, but one that became considerably slower and more two paced as the game went on. Roy and Bairstow once again showed their class at the top of the order by registering another century stand and scoring the bulk of the runs, with the former scoring a run a ball 60 and the latter hitting another ton before falling for 106. I can’t emphasize enough how important the return of Jason Roy has been to the team and not just the fact that he has replaced James Vince. Roy and Bairstow complement each other perfectly with the former often hitting his straps straight away to put the opposition under pressure, which then allows Bairstow to take his time at the start of the innings and then accelerate once he has got the feel for the pitch.

The rest of the side then faltered somewhat on a pitch that became more difficult to score on and all of a sudden, a forecasted score of 350+ became a bit of a slog. The finally reached 305-8 at the end of the 50 overs thanks to some inventive hitting from both Plunkett and the ever-maligned Rashid and there would have been more than one or two nervous England fans biting their fingernails during the interval. Thankfully any cause for alarm was quickly extinguished during the early part of the New Zealand chase.

New Zealand knew that to chase this score down they needed to finally have a decent opening stand rather than relying on Williamson and others to dig them out of a hole, this though, was exactly what they didn’t get with Nicholls getting a rough LBW decision, that he chose not to review, from the ever hapless S. Ravi. Guptill who also looked pretty out of touch this tournament quickly came and went, leaving Williamson and Taylor as the last vestiges of hope for the New Zealand team. Both these batsmen looked in decent touch and having weathered the early England storm, were hoping to kick on, before they were both run out in very different fashions. Williamson was incredibly unlucky to see a return drive from Taylor clip the fingernails of Mark Wood and cannon onto his stumps when he was out of his ground, whereas Taylor had a complete brain fade and took on Rashid arm for a run that wasn’t there and found himself short of his crease. From there it was a case of when rather than if, even with a battling half century from Tom Latham, and New Zealand quickly subsided to 186 all out. I doubt England were expecting as comfortable a victory as they got when they turned up to the Riverside this morning, but some good all-round performances alongside getting the best of conditions, meant they got just that.

So England officially qualify for the World Cup semi-finals and another trip to Edgbaston and unless something seriously strange happens in the Pakistan vs. Bangladesh game (and I mean ICC investigating strange), New Zealand will face the first placed side at Old Trafford. It is likely that the England will come across their favourite nemesis India once again, whilst New Zealand face their antipodean counterparts Australia, though a loss for Australia against the Proteas and a resounding victory for India vs. Sri Lanka could mean a switch at the top of the table.

It will be interesting to see how the media react to this victory and whether they are going to pronounce them a saviours already. For me, I still think they are outsiders to win the World Cup after India and Australia who have looked to be consistently stronger. This side still isn’t playing at its peak and is far too heavily reliant on Roy and Bairstow at the top of the order. There are definite concerns about Buttler’s form (though he might well make me eat my words here) as well as Rashid’s from with the ball and Morgan’s habit of going missing in the big games. I hope they remember that reaching the semi-finals was an absolute bare minimum and that England have had some luck reaching them. That being said, I won’t be surprised if I read an article from Shiny Toy or the like proclaiming them to the be the best ever One Day team, it comes with the territory especially from known idiots like Vaughan who will say anything then happily contradict himself the next day, to try and stay in the limelight. It certainly will be an interesting few days in the build-up to the semi-finals for the small majority who have access to the games at least.

As for tomorrow, we have ourselves another dead-rubber with Afghanistan playing the West Indies for nothing else than pride. Will we see another decent game like we saw on Monday or will either or both of the teams be mentally checked out and ready to head to the airport? And yes, I’m looking at you West Indies!

Feel free to comment on your thoughts about today’s game, tomorrow’s game or anything else you’d like to get off your chest, below:

World Cup Match 41 – England vs New Zealand – Must-Win Part 2

It perhaps shows the ODI fatigue of ourselves at BOC that it wasn’t until 9 o’clock this morning that someone even thought to ask “Is anyone writing today’s post?” Having the day off today (as part of my normal rota, rather than actively making sure I could see an England game), I drew the short straw.

With Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies falling by the wayside over the past week, the arithmetic is now quite simple for England. If they win today, they go through. If they draw or tie today, they will almost certainly go through on Net Run Rate. If they lose today, then they will still go through unless Pakistan beat Bangladesh on Friday. New Zealand are also technically vulnerable, although they would have to lose by a very large margin today to allow Pakistan to catch them on Net Run Rate.

The stories this morning about the teams’ fitness seem to be playing into England’s hands. Roy and Archer have both been declared “fully fit”, which must have surprised the Indians after Roy was considered physically unable to field a single ball just three days ago. For their opposition, New Zealand’s dangerous fast bowler Lockie Ferguson is being rested as a precaution due to having a tight left hamstring.

In other news, Sky have completely ruled out any possibility of airing the final on Freeview, even in the event that England are playing. This would seem to make a mockery of the claims Sky and the ECB made when the latest TV deal was signed, when both declared themselves partners in trying to increase participation and interest in cricket. Or, to quote Sky Sports’ Managing Director Barney Francis:

“[This TV deal] extends our partnership with the game into a third decade and will see us work with the ECB to excite and engage cricket fans of all ages.  We will continue to innovate in our coverage and make it accessible across our channels, products and services.  And drawing on our experience of getting millions on their bikes with our successful 8-year Sky Ride initiative, we are committed to working with the ECB to help grow the game at all levels.”

Back to today, with a close loss for New Zealand still virtually assuring their place in the semi finals it seems unlikely that the Black Caps will bat with the same intensity that they might in a more important game, so England really should be able to win this game against a team who are already looking forwards to their own semi final. But, as any English cricket fan will tell you (particularly after the last few weeks), England have a tendency to make things difficult for themselves and their supporters at times and you can take nothing for granted.

As always, please comment on the game or anything else which catches your attention below.

World Cup Match 40 – India vs Bangladesh

The funny thing with dead rubbers is that they normally go one of two ways, either they are a complete procession with one team already mentally checked out or they prove to be a very different kettle of fish with both teams playing without any pressure of needing to win the game. The Sri Lanka vs. West Indies game looked like it was going to be the former but, in the end, it turned out to be a close game between both sides, with only decisions at key times leading to a close Sri Lankan victory.

It certainly didn’t start that way with the West Indies bowling attack showing all the urgency and intent of MS Dhoni’s innings on Sunday; indeed it would have been fitting if they’d brought their beach towels and a small BBQ to grill some shrimp on. Sri Lanka made the most of the West Indian inertia with the ball as Perera and Thirimanne helped shape the innings around a wonderful century for Avishka Fernando. I certainly hadn’t come across this young lad before today, but the poise at the crease alongside some varied stroke play means that there is some hope for the Sri Lankan fans to grasp as for their team’s success in the future. I can certainly see some flaws in his technique, and these will undoubtedly be tested in the future, but it is always heart-warming seeing a 21-year kid make some runs on the international stage.

It seemed doubtful that a checked out West Indian team would get near the 339 that they needed for victory and to no-one’s surprise they slipped to 84-4 and then 199-6, with many of the so-called big hitters in the side once again getting out cheaply. Nicholas Pooran and Fabian Allen had other ideas and they brought the West Indies close to a world record run chase and victory before both perishing in the end as the run-rate climbed higher. Pooran has been around for a while now and has been in and out of this West Indian batting line up, but he played an innings which was just as good as Fernando’s and hopefully will now be given a longer leash to prove his credentials. As for Allen, he didn’t have the best time with the ball, but showed that he could be a dangerous batsman lower down the order and deserves time in international cricket to hopefully improve some areas with his bowling. All in all, it proved to be an entertaining game for fans in the North East who have starved of international cricket by our appalling administrators.

Tomorrow’s game sees India play Bangladesh in what is a must win game for the tigers. I have been very impressed by Bangladesh all tournament (I saw their game against South Africa live at the Oval) and it is clear that they have benefitted from playing international cricket more regularly. Though this seems at odds with the current ‘modus operandi’ of the ICC who are determined to keep international cricket as an old boys’ club. It would be refreshing to see Bangladesh perform well against a strong Indian side tomorrow, but I just don’t see them winning unless MS Dhoni decides to have another ‘strange moment’. As for India, you would guess they will be fired up after some of the criticism they received after their defeat to England and a win would secure their place in the semi-finals leaving 3 teams fighting for the final 2 slots. Here’s hoping to a close game at least, but I can see India winning comfortably.

Away from the World Cup, Ali Martin retweeted a piece that I totally missed last summer (and apologies if this has been covered elsewhere on the blog, my memory isn’t quite what it once was) about the possibility of showing one Test a summer live on FTA:

Now it’s a lovely idea and one that every cricket fan would surely embrace, but there is just one major issue, Sky would never allow it to happen. Sky’s model is all around paying their sporting content and only showing it on their platform (hence why they chose not to bid for Champions League rights), so why on earth would they suddenly become so charitable when they really don’t need to be? Sky have also paid an enormous amount of money to secure cricket rights up until 2024, which is the very same cash that is currently lining Tom Harrison’s pockets each year, whilst being squeezed by other providers who are chipping away at Sky’s stranglehold on the sports market such as the rights for Spanish Football and coverage of the Australian cricket summer amongst others, have been snapped up by rival Pay-Tv firms. So for them to offer to show one of the premium Tests for free on FTA TV would be totally unviable for them from a commercial stand-point. It’s a nice idea, but in the real world, I’m afraid it will never happen, and cricket will once again remain behind the paywall.

Feel free to comment with any thoughts on the above or on tomorrow’s game below: