World Cup Final: England vs New Zealand – Live Blog

It’s 9am, and cricket is about to start on Channel 4. Anyone can tune in, it doesn’t need a day pass, it doesn’t need a subscription. Just turn the television on, or if you’re one of those millions the ECB insist don’t “consume content” this way, use the 4OD app and stream it. Either way, the England cricket team are there to be watched by everyone for the first time in 14 years.

It’s a treat of course. A special occasion, a one off. And the sheer delight at cricket opening itself to the masses is tempered by the absolute fury that it can have been 14 years since this was last the case. For a sport, any sport to have hidden itself away for so long, as a deliberate strategy, remains extraordinary, and extraordinarily stupid.

The way the ECB have been banging on about “engagement” in the last few days is the mark of an organisation desperately trying to justify its own actions, using every possible matrix to try to deny the consequences of its own conduct. It’s a common tactic of course, the same kind of adding up that led Manchester United to claim they had 659 million fans, through amongst others sleights of hand including all those who support other clubs but who play United and thus count as being interested in them, but with cricket, the numbers are so frighteningly low to begin with that the exaggerated numbers are more terrifying than reassuring.

Still, today is a chance, a rare opportunity, for someone to stumble across the game that we love, and be hooked by it. It’s a common memory for so many of us, to have played in the back garden or the street, and to discover it shown on tv and be drawn in. Times have certainly changed in the world of broadcasting, but a central tenet of sports adherence has not – in order to fall for a game, it has to be seen, it has to be watched. Today can only be beneficial. But the sad part, the desperately sad part, is that instead of being a foundation on which to build, it is instead a one off, a quick glimpse through the palace gates at the riches beyond and little more. Celebrate this instance, but remain furious that it is all we get.

It will be intriguing to see what kind of viewing figures are gained, and it’s not hard to imagine that the ECB’s worst nightmare is if they are strong. They’ll certainly be higher than anything gained on Sky over the last few years, but a strong latent interest will shine a light on their policies like nothing else. Naturally, they’ll protest that it justifies their Hundred approach of showing the odd game to the public, and how they intend to capitalise on reaching non-cricket fans in future. That’s the trouble with the ECB – you can write their responses yourself, if you can bear to continually write sentences including the words stakeholders and engagement.

Of course, this is an ICC event, and the granting of free to air coverage is entirely the decision of Sky, so the ECB claiming credit would be laughably misplaced, but it is unlikely to stop them.

But this is an unqualified “good thing”, an unexpected bonus for those who might well be able to afford a Sky subscription, but who care enough for the health of a sport that they want to see everyone exposed to it, who want everyone to get the chance to appreciate it. Of course Channel 4 are going to switch to the Grand Prix, they’ve had that scheduled for ages, but it is not like the early years of the century – everyone, and I mean everyone, now has digital television and can switch. Perhaps just as importantly given cricket’s absence from the wider airwaves, some who tune in for the motor racing might just hang around for the cricket afterwards as well.

It’s sunny, it’s exciting, and we’re all going to watch cricket. What a fabulous day, and there will be a new winner of the Cricket World Cup. What’s not to like?

As for the game, England are warm favourites against a New Zealand team that epitomises the cliche about them being more than the sum of their parts, but who have some outstanding cricketers in their ranks too. There seems little doubt the team winning the toss will wish to bat first, and that the pitch will be a batting friendly one for such a showpiece occasion.

We’ll all be joining in with the live blogging and commenting during the day, so the usual reminder that auto-refresh is a plug in that we’ve not come across yet, so you’ll need to manually refresh the page. Oh the hardship…

09:10 – 5 Live have started the build up, Sky have started the build up, and half the Channel 4 audience are seeing for the first time that a World Cup has been on for the last 6 weeks.

09:17 – I remember the 1992 World Cup, getting up at 3am to go down to the student union to watch the final. My mate Jason was going to come with me, but overslept the little shit, so I was stood outside his house cursing his name as he drifted. He eventually turned up at about 9 I think.

09:30 – the irony of the Sky feed showing bits of the 2005 series on Channel 4 but with the Sky commentary.

09:50 – interesting watching the interview with Eoin Morgan. Some in the media have been falling over themselves to praise people behind the scenes, like Strauss. It surely can’t be too difficult to give the bulk of the praise to the bloke who has been in charge of the team for the last four years. He’s the one, not a suit.

09:55 – toss delayed to 10:15. So presumably a delayed start too.

10:16 – New Zealand win the toss and bat. Probably not an easy decision given the overhead conditions. Same side for New Zealand. Morgan says he’s not bothered about losing the toss and that it was a 50/50 call. England also unchanged.

10:29 – “I got a duck in the World Cup final, it’s not that bad!”. Brendon McCullum is great – all the pontification about pressure and so on, and he offers a healthy dose of perspective.

10:38 – is it just me who really, really hates anthems before a cricket match?

Ok here we go. Not really nervous, not like before the football or rugby World Cup matches. Odd in many ways, I’d like to be.

10:45 – having said that, it’s worth England being in the final for the sheer bitterness of some of our Australian friends in particular. Marvellous.

Massive wipe at the first ball by Guptill. Fantastic to see, and what I’d hope to watch down the local club.

It’s a World Cup final and we’ve got Michael Clarke on comms. Did we deserve that?

Boy that pitch looks green. 5-0 after 1.

10:53 – great decision from Erasmus not to give a catch behind, and a good one from Morgan not to review it. Have to say, first instinct was it was out. Nope, hit the back leg.

10:55 WICKET! Nicholls lbw to Woakes. It’s been reviewed…oh this looks stone dead. Wow, going over the top. Must be going blind. So overturned, as you were. 8-0 off 2.3

11:00. 10-0 from 3. There’s movement for the England bowlers out there, but surviving the first half hour is going to be key.

I’m absolutely certain that my (abysmal) bowling arm came over at the same speed as Jofra Archer’s. But the ball dribbled out for me and goes down the other end like an Exocet for him.

11:03 – 22-0 from 4. Decent start.

How come I always get the promotion email about World Cup matches from the ECB well after the game is underway?

11:06 24-0. England have started reasonably, there have been a couple of alarms, but no more than ought to be expected.

Archer is perhaps bowling a bit short. The speed is starting to crank up though.

11:10 WICKET! Probably anyway – Woakes bowls full to Guptill and pins him in front. It’s been reviewed, and yep, that’s out. New Zealand also lose their review. 29-1.

Woakes has been good this morning, looking much the more dangerous of the opening attack. Kane Williamson arrives at the crease…

A general thing about reviews. Dharmasena hasn’t had a great tournament, but his error in giving Roy out in the semi-final would have been overturned had England not burned their review on a desperation attempt to prevent Bairstow’s dismissal. So it is here with New Zealand, by hoping for a miracle, they’ve now put themselves at risk of a mistake later. For all the criticism about a wrong decision, teams bring a lot of it on themselves with Hail Marys on ones where it’s a fair enough decision. My sympathy is in short supply.

11:20 bit of short pitched bowling from Archer to Williamson. A fast bowler pinging a batsman is great stuff. As long as you’re not the batsman. 30-1 from 8

Nicholls is struggling a bit here. 10 runs off 26 balls and looking a tad fretful with it.

11:28 Always easy to slate the commentators, and some are woeful. But it’s Atherton, Bishop and Smith on currently. They’re bloody marvellous. Can we have them on for the rest of the day?

1135 40-1, given it’s not easy out there, New Zealand will be pretty pleased with this start. Could have easily lost the final in the first hour, but they’re in the game.

1142 Bit of an iffy first over from Liam Plunkett, but everyone knows this entire game is about watching him bowl, and particularly watching him bat.

1148 50 up, in the 14th over. Been a bit of a struggle, but it’s fine. They’re in the game.

1150 Kane Williamson 4 not out off 24 balls. Which says above all else that people can get too stressed about the early part of an innings, because if he’s still there in 20 overs time, he’ll have a big score. Mark Wood into the attack.

1155 Mark Wood is getting more (away) swing than anyone else. Swing hasn’t been a big part in this tournament, it’s a pleasant surprise to see some.

95mph from Wood. That’s rapid.

1156 and that’s drinks.

1159 Hmm Stokes is limping a bit. Seems to be ok now, ran around the boundary well enough just now.

1202 68-1 from 16, and here’s Danny to take over.

1206 Tight over from Wood. New Zealand seem to be targeting 250-270, which has to be too low against this England team?

1210 Seven from Rashid’s first over, with not much spin off the pitch. It might be worth bowling Stokes a bit early on and seeing if the pitch if more receptive to Adil later on…

1214 Seven again from Wood’s third over. New Zealand are accelerating, and the English bowlers aren’t seeming very threatening in these middle overs so far.

1219 Another seven runs from Rashid’s over, and again no real threat.

1223 Seven runs from Wood’s end too. Since Woakes finished his 7-over spell, New Zealand are scoring at 6.4 runs per over, which could lead to them scoring over 350 altogether. Very worrying…

1226 Better from Rashid, only four of this one, but nothing to worry the batsmen. Ominous.

1230 WICKET. Williamson given not out edged behind, but that decision was by Dharmasena so England have reviewed. Huge spike on the UltraEdge and Plunkett has got Williamson out. Huge wicket from nowhere!

1242 A couple of tighter overs after the wicket and the pressure is back on the New Zealand batsmen. Losing Williamson could have cost New Zealand 50 runs or more from their total.

1248 WICKET No need for Dharmasena to fret about this decision. Plunkett bowls a full ball and an inside edge rips out Nicholls’ off stump. Amazing what happens when you bowl full.

1302 Three tight overs from Plunkett and Rashid, New Zealand’s wheels are spinning but they’re going nowhere fast. Stokes has apparently recovered and is bowling his first over.

1306 Stokes keep it tight, conceding four, and now it’s DRINKS.

13:08 – Dmitri taking over now. Teddy permitting.

13:10 – Rashid bowling his 8th over, with no wickets. Four singles from the first four balls and then two dots. Think they aren’t really taking a chance here, putting their eggs in a 250-270 basket. There’s not a lot in this wicket, so I’m not sure that’s a top idea.

13:12 – Ben Stokes on for his second over. All quite low key so far. Latham pulls the second ball firmly for a single to backward square. Ross Taylor does pretty much the same to the next ball, but just a single. No getting away from the lack of boundaries. Another nick for a single off the fourth ball. Two leg-byes off the fifth ball as it flicks off Taylor’s hip to fine leg. Wide off the sixth ball which went right over the blue line. Kumar being a bit harsh. Guided down to third man for a single off the last ball. Seven off it – 141 for 3.

13:18 – Not sure this will be enthralling the nation. Mark Wood replacing Adil Rashid, to bowl his fifth over. First ball he nails Taylor in front, and with no review he has to go. Is that New Zealand’s last chance to post a big total? Erasmus is fireproof at the moment. Has he got this right?

WICKET – Ross Taylor LBW Mark Wood 15 – 141 for 4

Our band sings (well I do) this song, and our guitarist plays a damn sight better guitar solo than this. Neesham in. Is the game gonna go his way? LBW was too high, so congratulate Guptill for blowing the earlier review. And let’s see Erasmus get some grief (I don’t mean that, but Kumar got stick for some stuff earlier today on the back of a bad decision on Thursday). No runs from the next four balls. Make that five. A wicket maiden from Mark Wood – 141 for 4 from 34.

13:24 – “Funny How the Missus Always Looks The Bleedin’ Same” – How am I ever going to get that lyric into a blog post title? Stokes on again. One from the first, full bunger not dealt with for the second. Two left-handers in now. Stokes strays on to leg stump and Neesham clips it through mid-wicket for a rare boundary. First in 15 and a half overs according to Bishop. Follows up with a wide. Neesham clobbers the short ball through wide mid-on for another four from the fifth ball. A driven single makes it 11 off the over and the score with 15 overs to go at 152 for 4. Are we seriously expected to pay £20 extra to watch Dillian Whyte?

13:28 – Wood gets smacked first ball by Neesham but no run. Blocks the second, with Wood registering 92 mph on the speed gun. Evades a short ball third up, but connects with the fourth – Woakes dives to save three runs on the boundary. Jimmy giving it big lash early on. Play and miss on the fifth. Blocks the sixth, with just one run from Wood’s sixth over. 153 for 4.

13:33 – Stokes removed, and Liam Plunkett back on. First ball to Neesham who hit straight to backward point first up. Drop and run on the second ball. The Barmy Army trumpeter plays, whether you like it or not. Dot ball. Michael Clarke doesn’t remember much about the 2015 Final. Just like I don’t recall the early days of this blog. Plunkett goes short, and Latham goes for a pull, for four. Bounced before the “rope”. Quick single next ball. Dot ball off the sixth ball. Six from the over. 159 for 4 from 37.

13:37 – Latham times a ball through the covers for four from Wood’s first ball, but follows up with a play and miss to a pitched up delivery. Lovely to see the ICC dignitaries enjoying the cricket. Latham to third man for a single. Let’s see those ICC characters again. The public demands it. Dot ball to Neesham off ball four. Nothing from the fifth, a short ball Neesham ducks under. A squirted dab into the offside gets Neesham a single. 6 runs from the over, 7 from Wood’s last three, and it’s 165 for 4 with 12 overs left.

13:41 – Wasted. That’s a tune for the MCC members. Might be about the 2005 legacy, eh? Dot ball first up from Liam, just missing off stump. This is Plunkett’s ninth over. Dab down to third man for Neesham. Ah the Women’s world cup winners. What a legacy they’ve built since, aided and abetted by the ECB. Single to Latham, then two for Neesham. Not fireworks by any means. Neesham hits the next ball for four, an offdrive off the back foot that Woakes couldn’t reach. Then Liam gets his revenge, fooling Neesham who lofts it straight to mid-on and it is caught by Joe Root.

WICKET – Jimmy Neesham Caught Joe Root Bowled Liam Plunkett 19 – 173 for 5

A key wicket for England as in comes the Big Man. I’ll call him CdG for the purposes of this live blog. It is easier.

13:47 – Wood gives up a single to Latham first ball, and CdG now faces. He takes two to wide third man to get his score going as those lags, the Barmy Army, sing Livin’ On A Prayer. No more comment offered. Nothing doing from a misjudged shot third ball for CdG. A full ball on leg stump is beautifully timed, but Bairstow dives and the ball goes in clean and is returned rapidly. Still two runs, but great fielding. Dot ball from another 92 mph delivery. Wood is rapid at the moment, so no way he stays fit this summer! Single from CdG – 179 for 5, with six from the over. 10 to go. dum de dum dum dum dum.

13:51 – Lovely to see the full ICC box again. Half expect to see that Infantino chap turn up. Last over from Liam – two dot balls to start the 41st. What the public wants is more ICC freeloaders on screen. Single to deep midwicket for CdG off the third ball. Short ball clopped to deep midwicket for a single by Latham, who is onto 25. Oh, it’s our PM. For at least another week. Play and miss off the penultimate ball, so Liam has one more. 3 for 42 at the moment. It’s how he finished, a dot ball. 181 for 5. Here’s Ray Winstone. I miss him “having a bang on that”.

13:56 – Archer back on, and a single for Latham to start. Archer has 5 to bowl. Play and miss to the 85mph second ball. A total miscue from a short ball for CdG gets a single as it balloons off his helmet over backward point. I now get a two minute break. Latham strokes a single from the fourth. Sharp single from the big man, which would have been tight if hit. Wide from the sixth ball. Bouncer off the last ball. 186 for 5. 8 overs remaining.

14:01 – Single off the first full pitched delivery from Wood, as it goes down to fine leg from CdG. Single off the second. A run a ball gets New Zealand just around 230. 4 leg byes as the ball flicks CdG, a nice and nasty bonus. Two runs for CdG as he takes on Adil’s weak arm and gets home. Chopped down to third man for a single off the fifth ball of the over. Latham miscues a short one for a single. 10 off the over, and it is 196 for 5. I see Naylor has cheesed off some of the parish. Ah yes. One of my early blogging inspirations. And another of my regrets.

14:06 – Single from the first ball of Archer’s over. Another leg bye off the second. No, Simon, it hasn’t gripped the country. Stop telling nonsense. Short ball flapped for a single by Latham. Wide given for the next bouncer. 200 up. Miscue doesn’t carry to cover from CdG. Had a few of these through the innings. They’ll get ’em in leg byes as CdG is through early and it ricochets for a single. Wide off the supposed last ball of the over. Still six off the over so far. Wide again. Short and wide of leg stump. Single off the last, pictures of MCC eccentrics and 8 from the over. Pip Pip. 204 for 5 with six to go.

14:11 – Wood’s final over. No run from the first ball. Swing and a miss from the second. Lovely shot for six over mid-wicket by Latham as he picks up a straight full delivery from Wood. Wood hits Latham a midships the next ball. Top edge falls short of Archer who pings in a return to prevent a second. Buttler gathers and slings the stumps down, it is being reviewed and CdG is just in. A lot closer than it looked. One run. Bouncer, not given wide off the last. Wood done. 1 for 49. 7 from the over. 211 for 5. Five overs left.

14:16 – We are the army, the barmy army, we are mental and we are mad. Single for Latham from the first ball. Single for CdG from the second. Slower ball dabbed for one by Latham again. Wood clutching his rib at the end of his spell. Three weeks from the Ashes. CdG gets tied up with another short ball. Dot. Slower full ball means CdG mis-times. No run. Slow ball bouncer (78) and CdG waves what looks like a stick at it. 3 from the over. 214 for 5. 24 balls remaining.

14:19 – We interrupt the generic pap music to say Woakes is coming back. Wood wanders off. Hurry up and bowl Chris, that tune is dreadful. Latham pushes a single first ball. Slower ball is tucked behind square for 2 off the second. Single from the third ball. Latham cross bats a single. Slower ball is chipped in the air by CdG and he loops it to mid-off.

WICKET – Colin de Grandhomme Caught Sub (James Vince) Bowled Chris Woakes 16 – 219 for 6

James Vince gets his name on a World Cup Final scorecard. More than KP and Sir Al ever did! In comes Mitchell Santner, but Latham is on strike. Stroked to midwicket for a single. 220 for 6. 6 runs from the over. 3 overs remain.

14:26 – Archer to Latham. Single down to deep backward square. Single to Santner for the first run of his innings. Dot ball from a short ball third up. Driven single for Latham on the fourth ball. Single to Santner. Single to Latham. Dull. 5 from the third last over, and barely a chance taken. 225 for 6.

14:29 – Appeal, Woakes for LBW against Latham. Review. Missed run out. Need the lav. Ted’s asleep. Doesn’t look out, although he did wander. Pitched outside leg. A run taken. Santner clumps one to midwicket. Single. Lazy cricket gives New Zealand five runs. Short ball bouncer, wide, boundary. Muppets. Wide full toss, slow ball, chipped up, and Woakes gets another wicket. Horrid cricket.

WICKET – Tom Latham Caught Sub (James Vince) Bowled Chris Woakes 47 – 232 for 7.

Vince becoming a legend here. The catchmaster. Wonder if Vaughan can leverage that into an Ashes place. Someone shoot the guitarist. Woakes bowls a beamer to Santner, no ball and a free hit, which Santner misses (a slower ball telegraphed by second class post). Quick single again, a direct hit is missed, but probably safe. Vince not quite the legend. Woakes last ball to Henry is slower, and Matt massacres it over cow corner for a one bounce four. 238 for 7. 13 from the over. Last six…

14:37 – First ball, Santner move across, ball goes over leg stump. Dot. Another quick single second ball. Throw misses. One run to Santner. Bouncer third ball is adjudged as a wide. McCullum ranting on about 240. Full and straight next, and it smacks into off on the full.

WICKET – Matt Henry Bowled Jofra Archer 4 – 240 for 8

Next man in is Sweet Child Of Mine (not so sweet with this clown on the guitar) Trent Boult. Three balls left. Slow yorker. Dot ball. Boult drives the penultimate ball for a single, and scampers down the other end. Last ball to Santner who has five from eight balls at the tail end of the innings. It’s a bouncer and Santner ducks!!!!! A dot ball without a shot being played. Curious and even more curious. Innings over 241. Just 242 to win. New Zealand going to need early wickets. I think this is England’s to lose. It’s not a great wicket, but it isn’t 241 in 50 overs. England never took their feet off New Zealand’s throat.

We have a half hour break.

15:09 – Sean on the decks for the upcoming passage of play. How is everyone’s nerves? The Sky commentators seem to be confident of an England victory, i’m not so sure mind!

15:12 – This new ball is going to be crucial in the outcome of the final. If England can see off Boult and Henry and be 40-0 off 10, then they become overwhelming favourites

15:14 – Roy is a lucky boy. Boult raps him on the pads and NZ review, umpires call saves England from the worst possible start. Must admit that looked dead in real time. Just the single from the over.

15:21 – The ball is doing all sorts at the start of the innings, i’m glad i don’t have to face Boult and Henry on this. Roy connects with one sweetly down the ground. England’s first boundary.

15:27 – Steady from England here with Roy keeping hold of the strike. The Kiwi bowlers still looking dangerous mind, they need a wicket in the few overs though.

15:32 – Bairstow joins the party with 2 boundaries off Trent Boult. Are the Black Caps getting a little desperate now?

15:36 – OUT: Well they’re not getting desperate anymore, Henry gets Roy with an out swinger that is caught by Latham. Root comes to the crease and England will need something big from the Test captain.

15:43 – This has been a fascinating passage of play and kind of resembles the morning of Day 1 at a Test with a good old fashioned battle between bat and ball. ODI cricket is so much better to watch when there is something there for the bowlers as well as the batsmen.

15:50 – Bairstow playing Boult very sensibly here, leaving the one that goes across him and then a lovely pull for 4. Oh look, Tom Harrison is in the crowd, desperate to jump on any successful bandwagon no doubt. I hope Bairstow hooks one into his mush.

15:53 – Henry bowls a maiden over, he has bowled a very fine spell here, much fuller than the England bowlers. The Big Man is loosening up and coming on to bowl, the conditions could certainly suit De Grandhomme’s type of bowling.

15:56 – Many people commenting how flat the atmosphere is at the Final. It’s pretty much like every Lords international i’ve been too.

15:57 – CHANCE – The Big Man drops a relatively straight forward catch of his own bowling from Bairstow. How costly will that drop prove to be??

16:06 – Tense. The squeeze is on here from the New Zealand, England have to be a careful not to get bogged down here. 2 boundaries from Bairstow, the first a nice push of his legs and then nearly chops on next ball relieves a bit of pressure. Meanwhile:

16:12 – New Zealand bring on Ferguson for his first bowl of the game. England didn’t face him during the group game, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against him and that tremendous moustache.

16:16 – Root is getting bogged down here, not his fluent self by any means. An ambition LBW shout from De Grandhomme and then an ugly swipe from Root.

16:17 – OUT! A horrible innings from Root comes to an end with another ugly swipe and a tickle behind to Latham. New Zealand are most definitely still in this.

16:19 – Drinks and a good time to handover the reigns to the ice cold TLG. I’m going to hide behind the sofa meanwhile

16:20 – well now, TLG here and this is interesting. Tight and nervy all round. You’d say objectively that England ought to win from here, but there’s that nagging doubt and the pressure is on.

16:26 – A quick switch across to the laptop, as this blog has now got so long the WordPress app is struggling to load it properly.  I mentioned the tension with this game, and the cynical old sods writing this are all a bit tense.  Which is strange, considering it’s a feeling that’s been absent from all of us for quite a few years now.  Which just goes to show that once this ridiculous game has wormed its way in, there’s no stopping it.  Oh it’s 65-2.

16:31 – A gorgeous cover drive from Jonny Bairstow, but which is then followed by WICKET! As he chops on to his stumps from Lockie Ferguson.  It’s been coming too, he’s cut a few past his own stumps, with his bottom hand being overly dominant today.  England are in a bit of strife.  72-3

16:37 – Anyone wishing Moeen Ali was in the batting order today yet?

16:39 – Just two off that over.  Funny thing with England, if they go after the bowling, you back them to pull off a run chase, but the moment they get hesitant and cautious, you can almost see the nerves.  That’s not to say they should be having a slog at it, they’re probably approaching it the right way.  But it doesn’t half look as if they’re worried.

16:44 – 82-3.  You know, it’s almost like England on free to air tv hasn’t gone away, I’m pretty sure we left it in 2005 with England in a tense tight sitution.

16:47 – You’re thinking you don’t mind really if New Zealand win the World Cup, aren’t you?  Decent bunch of chaps, not Australian, underdogs, punching above their weight, a victory for cricket and all that.

16:49 – Checking our stats page, it seems we had a visitor to the blog who searched for “cricket for posh people”.  You what?

16:50 – WICKET! Oh drama.  Is Morgan caught?  Yes he is.  Pretty poor shot, and a fine catch from Lockie Ferguson.  England are in trouble here.  86-4 is not a promising position, and Ben Stokes is going to have to try and pull the fat out of the fire once again this tournament.

16:56 – 24 overs gone, 89-4.  Two new batsmen at the crease, both destructive, and with a target that’s modest enough it can be whittled away quickly.  But England have little room for manouevre now, the batting quality remaining is good, but we’re very much into the all rounders.

17:00 – How are the fingernails?

17:03 – Extremely unimpressed with Arron in the comments for drawing the England/Jimmy White parallel just as I was thinking about it and before I could write it.

17:04 – 98-4.  It’s interesting seeing people think the pitch is not up to scratch.  There’s something in that, given it’s not rewarded stroke play.  On the other hand, if this goes to the wire, then irrespective of anything else, the viewing figures are going to soar, and the chewing of fingers is going to reach cannibalistic levels.  For that’s the point, it can be certainly stated that fours and sixes might drag in the uninitiates (T20 suggests exactly that), but drama is what really does it, whether high scoring or low scoring.

17:09 – Stokes eases the pressure a bit with a crunching straight drive to bring England’s hundred up.  The required run rate is just starting to climb a bit, up to 6.22.  Manageable certainly, a problem if a wicket or two falls.  And just to expand that earlier point, I’m not convinced that this is a poor spectacle right now.  Earlier in the day that could be said, but you don’t have to be a county member or a club player of 20 years standing to understand this is very tight.

17:15 Nelson up!  111-4.  These two are starting to look more at ease now.  You know what’s going to come next…

17:21 – A few singles here and there.  Nothing is happening but everything is happening.  Cricket is so good.

17:26 – Buttler cuts just out of reach of Guptill, and it races away for four.  Naturally, it gives the commentators the chance to talk about what would have been the catch of the tournament for the thousandth time.

Expect much, much more of this kind of thing if New Zealand win.

17:31 – 136-4.  Starting to tick over nicely.  And up comes the 50 partnership, that to channel my in Ronay is as welcome as a Green and Black’s ice cream on a hot day ooh aren’t I a clever one.

17:34 – time for a Powerade Hydration Break*.

*Just fuck off.

A masterclass in “I don’t know what the hell to say because I’m nervous, so I’ll state the bleeding obvious”.  We’ve all been there.

17:40 – 35 overs gone, 141-4.  A healthier looking scorecard, but still on a bit of a knifedge.  Those dull middle overs eh?

17:43 – Big lbw appeal against Buttler, Dharmasena says no, and we go to a review…looks to be heading down the legside though.  Yep, missing leg completely according to Hawkeye, so that’s New Zealand’s bowling review gone.  And since he’s had such a kicking from so many people, a good decision from Dharmasena, albeit not the hardest he’ll have had to make.

17:47 – Don’t bowl there.  Short and wide to Buttler who crashes it past point for four.  Stokes is the more conservative of his pair, with Buttler looking to be the aggressor.  Runs required is now under 100.

17:50 – The pressure is beginning to switch around.  New Zealand are now starting to badly need a wicket.  Required rate 7.24 though, and rising.

17:53 – Gorgeous straight drive for four from Buttler off Neesham.  Seven off the over, just what England need from here.

17:55 – Stokes in on the act, hooking Ferguson in front of square for four.

17:59 – 5-5 in the final set in the tennis by the way.

18:01 – Of course, if England do win this, they will be the only country to have won cricket, football and rugby World Cups.  It doesn’t matter much, except that it’ll cause an outbreak of fury amongst Australians and comments about it being a United Nations team.  It’s worth it for that alone.  166-4.

18:02 – Ah the Buttler ramp shot.  How good is he at that?

18:03 – Into the last ten overs, 72 needed, six wickets in hand.  You’d say England really ought to do it from here, or at least you would in a normal JAMODI.  In the World Cup final?  Feels a bit more fraught than that.

18:05 – Three balls gone this Ferguson over.  Three dots.  Pressure…And a wide follows.  But a fine over with just three off it.  Required rate edges up to 7.66

18:09 – New Zealand are putting the squeeze on here.   Just four runs off that over.   177-4, eight overs to go.

18:13 England probably need that one big over.  But they’re struggling to score at the moment.  Lots of singles, not many boundaries.  Creative from Buttler, almost scooping it, changing his mind and running it down to fine leg.  But only for a couple.  Six off that over.  OK, but no more than that.  8.42 an over needed.

18:17 Trent Boult returns.  Buttler crashes it over extra cover for four and goes to 50.  And Stokes joins him with a single down the ground.

18:23 – 53 runs needed from 36 balls.  Fantastic shot from Buttler, again over deep extra cover.  48 from 34.  Followed by a, well, a hoick, that heads down to third man.  Fine piece of fielding on the boundary saves a couple of runs.

18:26 – WICKET!  That’s huge.  Buttler skews it off the outside edge out to deep point, and the sub fielder Tim Southee runs in and takes another fine catch.  The game takes another twist as Woakes comes to the crease.  196-5.

The ECB have all the luck.  They do everything in their power to hide the game away from as many people as possible, and then when they fluke a game being shown on Free to Air, they get a thriller to remind everyone what is missing.

18:29 – Woakes gets off strike at the second time of asking.  England need a boundary or two, and it’s all on Ben Stokes.  The pendulum has swung dramatically with that wicket, and New Zealand might well be favourites here.  Four!!  Stokes somehow pings it through midwicket off the back foot, lacking any kind of finesse whatever.  But it’s unlikely anyone cares at this stage.

18:34 – WICKET!  Woakes has a massive heave at Ferguson, and it goes straight up in the air.  Latham makes an awful meal of it, but clings on, just.  And at this stage, no runs off a ball is a nice bonus.  All of which means it’s Plunkett time.  203-6

Plunkett can’t get his first couple of balls away, which is hardly surprising given the situation.  But it all adds to the ever spiralling required run rate and the pressure.  But wait, he then responds by belting it through midwicket for four.  But that’s it for the over, and again England are short of what they needed.  They have a chance, but it’s getting harder and harder.

Hussain is on commentary talking about the pitch dying and what a clever and brave decision it was to bat first.  Not so sure that was said by too many at the time.

18:40 – Right, 34 needed from three overs.

Four!!  Again over midwicket from Stokes.  30 from 17 balls.

Next ball through square leg for one.  Five off the first couple of balls is just what was needed.

Lads – get me a drink will you?

Plunkett too goes towards cow corner, and picks up a couple of runs.  Good over so far for England.

Dot ball.

Down the ground this time, the pair scamper for two.  217-6

And a single to finish the over.  24 runs needed from 12 balls.

18:44 – We’re all perfectly relaxed aren’t we?  Indifferent.  Calm.  Utterly chilled, right? Neesham to bowl the penultimate over, and England really need it to be a big one.

Single for Plunkett.  23 off 11.

Single to Stokes.  22 from 10.  A super over has been mentioned – I think England would take that right now.

18:47 WICKET!!  Plunkett goes down the ground, but doesn’t get the distance.  England are falling short here.  The one positive is that Stokes is back on strike, but this is now needing something spectacular.  22 from 9 as Archer comes in.

Six!!  Wow, that’s extraordinary.  Stokes goes big over deep midwicket, and Boult catches him, but his foot treads on the boundary rope.  Guptill is quick to signal it was six as well.  16 from 8.

Single from Stokes.  Archer has the last ball of the over to face.  WICKET!!  Archer has a slog, misses and is bowled.  England are 8 down, and it’s going to be entirely down to Stokes to pull off a miracle.  15 needed from the final over, or 14 to take us to a Super Over.  Which would be fun, wouldn’t it?

18:52 – Right, the final over, to be bowled by Trent Boult, who has been excellent as ever.

Stokes declines the single.  15 from 5 balls.

And again.  15 from 4.

Six!!  Bloody hell.  Stokes absolutely smashes a slog sweep for six over midwicket.  9 from 3.

Well that is accidental, but probably controversial.  It counts as six runs, as Stokes hits a couple, and as the throw comes in it deflects off him for an additional four overthrows.  Completely accidental, but this puts England right in the box seat.  Never seen anything quite like that.

I need a drink.  So do the umpires it seems, as they have a chat, but it went for four overthrows, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Sheer good or bad luck.

3 from 2

WICKET!! More mayhem.  England go for 2 runs to try and get Stokes back on strike.  Rashid is run out by a mile, but Stokes is back on strike.  2 needed off the last ball, but 1 for a super over.  What drama.

Here we go:

WICKET!! It’s a tie!!  Surely!  England go for two, but Wood is run out, and we have a super over.  Jesus Christ.  That was the most extraordinary final over I’ve ever seen – the six caught on the boundary, the accidental four overthrows, the two run outs.  What a finish.  What an incredible finish.

Fantastic innings from Stokes.  What a magnificent bowling and fielding performance from New Zealand.  Who the hell do the teams pick for a super over?  How big is Channel 4’s audience right now?  Where the hell is that drink?

19:08 SUPER OVER

Stokes and Buttler come out to bat for England.

Outside edge from Stokes, over third man, and they sprint three runs.  Buttler on strike…

A single.

Four runs!  Another slog sweep from Stokes, that goes flat through midwicket and beats the diving fielder.  8 runs off the first three balls and it’s a fine start from England.

Single.  9-0 off 4 balls.  Buttler back on strike.  A six would be nice…instead it’s a fine yorker, that Buttler screws out to deep extra cover.  Nicholls doesn’t pick the ball up and they get two.

Four!  Buttler goes over midwicket!  That’s a big total in one over, and New Zealand need 16 to win.

It’ll be Archer to bowl for England.  If the scores are level, it comes down to who hit the most boundaries, and that’s England.  So New Zealand do indeed need 16, if they get 15 then England will win.  Which is kind of a pity, because I was thinking we might have super overs for the rest of eternity, in a glorious, never ending arm wrestle for the title.

Guptill and Neesham come out to bat.  This can’t be easy, it’s been seemingly years since they batted today, and to have to come out, fresh and tee off for one over is a bit of a challenge to say the least.  England have the advantage already, even without having scored 15 runs off theirs.

Archer bowling from the other end to that he’s been bowling from.  Interesting call.

Starts with a wide.  15 from 6 now.

Fine yorker second ball, but it’s drilled down the ground by Neesham for two.  3 off the first ball effectively.

Six!  Huge over midwicket from Neesham.  And suddenly New Zealand are almost there.

Two runs.  A misfield from Roy allows a second run.  5 from 3 needed.

Two again.  3 from 2.  England really need a wicket.

A single.

And here we go, two runs needed from the last ball.  Not only did it go to the last ball of the normal game, not only did it go to a super over, it’s gone to the last ball of the super over.  What a game.

England have won the World Cup!  And even at the last, it was extraordinary, a run out going for the second run.

Collecting thoughts from that finish is going to take a little while.  Sport is just the most incredible thing, and that was the most extraordinary possible finish.  Undoubtedly this will be shown again and again over the years to come, and please God the TV audience on Channel 4 was enormous.  I’m sure it would have been, because word would have gone around about the utterly incredible conclusion.

England finally get their hands on the World Cup, New Zealand, have the consolation which is no consolation at all of being the unluckiest runners up they could possibly have been.  It can’t be said England deserved the win, because it can’t be said that New Zealand deserved to lose.  But someone has to win, and someone doesn’t.  The deflection off a diving Stokes to go for four overthrows was probably the margin between the sides at the end, and that probably says it all.

After such events, the “Greatest of All Time” comments come out of course, and usually cause eye rolling, but in white ball cricket, that might be hard to argue against.  This one really might well have been.

England have been gracious in their interviews, New Zealand are understandably crushed.  At this point, I’ll call time on the live blog, and go and get something to drink.  Thanks for the company, and of course the comments are still open.  TLG.

 

 

 

World Cup Matches 44 & 45: Sri Lanka vs India, Australia vs South Africa (and a bit of TV, FTA and the ICC)

And so we arrive at the end of the group stage, and more by luck than judgement, there is even a little bit to play for in the last two games. Not in terms of qualification though, after Pakistan’s always likely to be vain attempt to gatecrash the top four ended in victory, but not by enough, against Bangladesh.

Thus, it’s merely the order of the top four that is in question, and the incentive, such as it is, of who plays whom in the semi-finals. The most likely outcome is that Australia will play New Zealand at Old Trafford, and that India will play England, once again at Edgbaston. It’s probable that India and Australia would prefer to play New Zealand, both because of their recent stumbles, and also because England are unquestionably a side everyone else fears somewhat, even if they would certainly feel they can be beaten. But it’s hard to see beyond victories for both the Big Three members playing tomorrow, and that the semi-finalists includes them plus England is unsurprising, if somewhat depressing. But then, the whole structure of cricket at a global level is intended to allow them to maximise their income and power, so it is exactly as desired in the corridors of power. In most sports, an unexpected outcome in a tournament is something to be celebrated, only cricket responds by trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Today Sky Sports announced that if England reach the World Cup final, it will be broadcast free to air. At present it isn’t quite clear what “free to air” would mean, but it appears highly unlikely it will be via a mainstream channel with a large reach. This isn’t so surprising, there are other major sporting events on the same day, such as the men’s Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix (another outstanding piece of scheduling for cricket), and clearing the decks for six hours of cricket at short notice is somewhat impractical, albeit it would be amusing to see the response if a main broadcaster expressed interest in doing so. What seems more likely is for it to be on something like Sky Mix, or even online via Youtube or Sky’s own app and website – the BT approach to screening the Champions League final.

Such an initiative is to be welcomed, but the focus and pressure on Sky to allow it to be shown free rather lets the ICC specifically, and the ECB more generally given this tournament isn’t in their purview, off the hook. The World Cup is behind a paywall because the policy of the ICC, as instructed by its members, was to maximise revenue in their TV contracts. The moment that was the intention, pay TV was always going to be the only outcome. The principal contract for England, India and Australia is held by Star Sports, who paid $2 billion back in 2014 for the rights to ICC tournaments up to 2023. It was for them to then sub-contract to national broadcasters and, naturally as a business, to maximise their revenue accordingly. Everything stems from that, the drive for revenue at every stage, and the reason why such tournaments not only won’t be on free to air, but effectively can’t be.

This isn’t Sky’s fault, they too are a business trying to make money, but it is the ICC’s for making the financial aspect the key one. To suggest, as some notable employees of Sky have done, that this is down to the free to air broadcasters failing to bid is a specious argument – they simply cannot financially compete on the same level as pay TV, and see little point in spending money preparing bids, or even considering preparing bids, for something they cannot win. It almost certainly is the case that the kind of wall to wall coverage required is now only in the purview of the satellite broadcasters here, but it’s still a matter of justifying the status quo by pretending that the creation of this situation is entirely separate from the bidding processes in the current market.

Where it does get more interesting is in the argument as to whether some cricket on free to air would benefit Sky themselves. This is one of those that only those inside broadcasting (we’re outside that too) can answer, but holding expensive rights to a sport in major decline cannot be a healthy financial position for them either, even if the fear in the future is that cricket sinks so far that Sky will be able to buy all the rights for a song as no one else cares. It seems unlikely this will happen for as long as there is more than one pay TV broadcaster, for cricket is a boon for them, filling lots of screen time for comparatively little cost compared to, say, drama. In any case, to say no one else cares about cricket is a weak defence. Firstly, the single positive of the Hundred, that there will be some shown on the BBC, implies otherwise to at least some extent, but more than that, if more cricket is of no interest to the terrestrial broadcasters, it’s because cricket isn’t of sufficient interest to them. But it was, at one point. And now it isn’t. For the ECB to have failed to nurture their broadcast partnerships over the last 15 years has been an abrogation of their responsibilities to the game. At another time, a World Cup the majority were unable to watch would have provoked howls of outrage. Now it is largely indifference whether they can or they can’t, and limited awareness that it’s even on.

Equally, there is the wider argument about the role of the various governing bodies. It is simply wrong to argue that all the ICC can possibly do is sell the contracts to make as much money as possible, because it isn’t what other sports do at all. Wimbledon could certainly make far more from selling off their event to the highest bidder, but refuse to because they value the exposure they get on the BBC. More pertinently, World Rugby, for their own showcase World Cup, specifically talk about finding free to air partners. Indeed, their wording is very precise:

“Securing deals with major free-to-air broadcasters who are passionate about sport is central to World Rugby’s mission to make rugby accessible in a global context. With each Rugby World Cup we are broadening the sport’s reach and appeal through a broadcast and digital strategy that is aimed at reaching, engaging and inspiring new audiences within existing and emerging rugby markets.”

This is completely alien to the approach taken by cricket, to the point that it is diametrically opposed in almost every clause in that paragraph. Very few people are so single minded as to believe that everything should be on free to air, irrespective of contract value, and given World Rugby’s activities and attitudes in other areas, it’s hardly that they can be held up as notable supporters of the common man and woman in every aspect. But it is a striking difference in strategy, to intend the widest possible audience for their blue riband event.

It is highly noticeable that Sky appear to feel they are on the defensive about this whole subject. It’s not necessarily why they’ve made the decision to offer the final conditionally free, but also how some of their staff appear to be spending considerable time messaging cricket supporters and blogs with impassioned defences of their position. It’s a different approach, certainly, and perhaps not a coordinated one, but the righteous indignation, when it isn’t even them who are bearing the brunt of the annoyance, is interesting.

What the viewing figures might be for any final, broadcast for free, with England in it will be interesting. It really isn’t just the free aspect either – buried away on a minor channel that only subscribers are aware exists is not going to cause a dramatic change, although in a perfect scenario, a very tight, exciting final might just allow word of mouth to spread, and for non-adherents of the game to seek it out.

For this is a positive, without any question. How big a positive is more debatable. If the stars were to align, then just maybe it could grab attention, even with all the competition. This is what every cricket fan surely wants.

One other small item. It’s been reported that the other counties are displeased with Warwickshire for offering guaranteed contracts with the Birmingham Phoenix franchise in an effort to lure them to the county. This is the kind of esoteric, obscure item that barely anyone notices, but has a big impact. For the Hundred franchises are meant to be entirely separate to the counties. But what did the other counties expect? That this would be adhered to? That it wasn’t really going to go down the route of concentrating power and wealth in the hands of the chosen ones? We get accused of being cynical too often, but to not see this coming is extraordinarily naive on the part of those upset by it. It’s more likely to have been a deliberate strategic approach by a governing body that has long disliked having 18 counties to deal with.

Update: the article concerning the recruitment for the Hundred has been pulled, and according to George Dobell, a retraction sought. Curioser and curioser.

Comments as ever below.

And There Upon A Rainbow, Is The Answer.. England v South Africa

First up, this is my first scribbling since 22 March. There are many reasons, one of which is laziness, another one of which is boredom with cricket, and especially the social media that surrounds it, and the authorities that run it. But through everything, cricket still matters. It is still a sport that means too much to too many for it to stay out of your conscience for too long. So last week I bit the bullet, had to turn down tickets for today, but thought I’d watch the opening match of the World Cup at home.

The Cricket World Cup is a curious thing. Unlike it’s football counterpart, it doesn’t have the sense of gravitas among the general public. Some of this is to do with its shorter history, another is due to the respect to which the format is held, and to some extent the priorities the ordinary fan has for this summer.

But let’s get to the game today. England are going into the tournament as favourites, and I note from the tedium of some of social media that they are supposed to apologise for having played well in the past few years. While the traditional media report back all that culture trust and other management speak garbage that you’d think we’d all be immune to by now (Steve Archibald had it right), the rest of the world read this as arrogance. I know few cricket fans who don’t think that the key weakness, namely the early collapse, won’t sink us at some point. Cardiff 2017 rings too many bells for too many England fans to think the name is on the trophy.

South Africa won the toss on a dry, but hardly tropical, day south of the river, and decided to insert England. The view is England like to chase, and that the real issues come when we are asked to bat first. South Africa decided to open the bowling with Imran Tahir. Nasser did his usual old nonsense about it designed to get Jason Roy (harking back to a previous World final) and then, once Roy had taken a single, saying that Jonny Bairstow was a good player of spin. To a general laugh at chez Dmitri, YJB nicked the first ball he faced and Tahir did that thing that makes me want to strangle him (that absolutely effing nonsense celebration – as I write, its on the screen. I really, really hate it).

Jason Roy looked a little iffy, with a tendency to drive in the air through backward point, while Joe Root looked much more solid (a cover drive for the first boundary was absolutely beautiful). These two didn’t consolidate, because consolidation isn’t five-to-six runs an over. Both fell just past their half centuries, wickets I missed, but Roy in particular will be disappointed by his dismissal. Roy, when he clicks, makes making those tons look stupidly easy, but he needs to be in rhythm, and I never felt he had that today. Even so, to make a 50 while not at his best is really still useful. England avoided the 50 for 3 that kills the test team, but at 100 for 3, the high 300s were really out unless Buttler clicked.

Morgan and Stokes put together another very decent partnership, with the captain looking in excellent nick. A partnership of 116 was ended in the 37th over when Morgan didn’t quite get hold of a lofted drive and was caught very well by Markram on the boundary. Morgan hit the only three sixes of the innings, but the target now looked nearer 350 than that all pervading 400 that England are supposed to get because they are arrogant, etc. etc. What looked to have happened was England assessed this wicket early and thought 350 was at the top end of what could be got at the halfway stage.

311 would seem, therefore, to be a disappointment. I tweeted with about 10 overs left that England would need to hope that 300 would be enough. Buttler didn’t fire, making 18 before chopping on. Moeen Ali, who hasn’t been at his best with the bat recently, also got himself out for 3. The England tail, that boasts a number 11 that has quite a few first class hundreds, stuck together with Ben Stokes who made a mature 89, before getting out in the penultimate over. 311 for 8 was the final score, but there was time for Jordan Archer to get out on the field of play, and hit a couple of very nice shots. He came out and looked like he belonged. Small signs of what was to come, maybe?

I was intrigued by the reaction to 311. There was a sense of gloom. Many thought it was 25 light, and there seemed a lot of “big-upping” what was a pretty routine bowling attack. Rabada is a fine test bowler, but I’m not sure of him in the ODI format (maybe I don’t see enough). Ngidi was OK, Tahir was his usual self, Phehlukwayo was the most economical, but the attack wasn’t fearsome. South Africa are caught between two stools – they don’t appear to have world class allrounders to call on, and that Duminy is in the team is great news for us, because D’Arthez loves him, but bad news for a nation with aspirations to go far.

I remembered a Champions Trophy game, I think, when Sri Lanka chased down a score like this at the Oval as if it were a walk in the park, and there are question marks that this ODI team is a little too dependent on the batting. The sense was that one of De Kock or Du Plessis was going to need to fire with a big hundred, or Amla would anchor the innings. Jofra Archer put paid to two of those three legs of the tripod – I missed the bouncer that took out Amla, who looks for all the world as if this tournament is one too far for the great man – but did force Du Plessis into a hurried hook shot which was pouched on the boundary. The hyperbole over Archer was stoked to white hot, which always has me recoiling in horror at the sheer lack of thought that goes into it. Because Faf was the second wicket in an exciting opening spell he removed key man. Because he was quick he’s different. Let’s simmer down. 

Archer had got Markram to nick a pretty pacy delivery to Root at slip prior to Faf. South Africa looked in strife at 44 for 2 in the 10th over. The tail looks to start early with South Africa.

Rassie van der Dussen had had a decent winter of ODI cricket (after today he still averages 80 in 10 games) and looked the part today. Together with de Kock, the South Africans went from consolidating, to rebuilding (whichever you want to take first, I don’t care) to beginning to threaten. de Kock had a great escape when the ball hit the off stump, the lights went off, but the bails didn’t. Perhaps FutureBrand could look into how these wonderful pieces of equipment could be enhanced so that genuine wicket-taking deliveries aren’t denied because the bails are too heavy. It’s a simple task compared to coming up with exciting names for Hundred team names. With that tenuous poke over with, the report can go on to say de Kock passed fifty, unfurling some excellent lofted shots, and just as I started to think there was a chance, he took one risk too many and was caught on the boundary after a Plunkett half-tracker didn’t get the punishment it deserved. I prefer my middle-order seamers to be lucky and good. And Liam is a good Surrey man (we won’t mention Edgbaston in this report).

129 for 3 brought in JP Duminy. As in JP Duminy is the future and always will be. I still have that innings of his against Australia all those years ago on DVD, and in trying to attain that superlative knock again has always been the holy grail. He’s an experienced campaigner now, and he always looks the part. Maybe his grizzled look, his steely nature, his potential could come to the fore. There was a beautiful dance down the pitch to Moeen and a whip over mid-wicket for a glorious boundary. He’s in, now. JP looks likely. Oh no. Oh no. What is D’Arthez going to think about that shot? Off you go JP. 142 for 4.

The Ben Stokes created a run out, took the last two wickets and took a catch, as the rest of the team, Rassie aside, subsided, and England won very comfortably by 104 runs. Archer took three wickets, and everyone can act very, very smugly. Lord, we can even ignore Denis channelling his inner Malcolm Conn.

Oh yes. The catch. Allow me this one little rant. As a sporting culture these days everything has to be the greatest ever. It’s the greatest ever batsman, greatest ever run out, greatest ever ODI player, greatest ever shot. Everything really, really good in sport has to be the greatest ever or its not worth bothering with. The thing with this is when something absolutely gob-smackingly awesome takes place before your eyes, and those people who have labelled things above the ordinary into the stratosphere go beserk over something, it has little effect. Discount the opinions of these fools. Judge by your own eyes, and put it into your own memory bank. Stokes took an awesome catch with the ball over his head – he admitted he’d made a mistake coming in too far – and yes, I was amazed. Remember something, people. Take the sport you watch, enjoy it your way, and trust your own judgement. Watch it on terrestrial TV (I know, an old name), tonight at the witching hour, or get it off social media. And don’t go on Twitter to say you want to marry that catch as if you are some edgy, top writer.

So, one win for England, probably another 5 needed out of 8 to get to the semi-finals, possibly 4. England didn’t seem near the very best with the bat, but were solid in the field and got the key men out before trouble befell them. There looked more in the locker. South Africa looked a little off the pace, but they are going to need to take early wickets and keep scores down with that batting line-up. England may not top 400 in this competition because this is proper cricket, not glorified friendlies, and whether they can go hell for leather when the intensity rises is going to be a key question. 311 was enough today.

A few other observations. The coverage didn’t annoy me. This may be because there was an absence of Slater, Nicholas, and others I’m not a huge fan of from the ICC cast list. Nasser was too enthusiastic, and needs to wind it in. Smith and Pollock are absolutely fine. Isa Guha is really good, she just needs to keep the shouty bits down, but she’s a real plus for me. Atherton fits in beautifully when he doesn’t have to bantz. Kumar Sangakkara could read me my Tax Demand, and make it sound like the finest poetry. Ganguly was neither here not there, and in this era of commentary, that’s fine by me.

We have an opening thread for tomorrow’s game, but any comments on today most welcome. As you can see, being away hasn’t induced brevity. Do follow our Twitter feed (although I’ve taken Twitter off my phone for my sanity) and our individual feeds. We are going to try to cover this 6 week epic. By the time it has finished, I’ll be in my next decade of life. It goes on that long.

Cheerio. Back soon.

Dmitri

World, Shut your Mouth: The 2019 World Cup

Thursday morning will see the start of the 12th cricket World Cup, as hosts England take on South Africa. The tournament remains below the radar in the country in which it is held, with tickets available for most of the matches and as ever coverage only on pay television. It has been heavily criticised for being just about the only supposedly global tournament to reduce the number of finalists by eliminating smaller countries before it starts, and it still goes on for the better part of two months before unveiling the winner. It’s for that reason many find it hard to get excited in advance – when the end is so far away, the beginning seems barely part of the whole.

And yet. For England in particular, this is what they have been building towards since the omnishambles of four years ago. Test matches, so long the priority for the ECB, were unceremoniously shunted aside in a clear desire to capture the 50 over crown. To a fair extent, the re-prioritising has been successful, as England enter the tournament as favourites and at the top of the rankings, while playing a style of the game that is utterly irresistible much of the time, and falls flat on its face occasionally.

Lifting the trophy on 14th July would represent a justification of sorts, even if controversial in and of itself among England supporters. It is therefore hugely ironic on the one hand, and indicative of the muddled approach at the top of the game, that England’s last warm up before the competition took place at the same time as the last 50 over domestic final as a mainstream cricket event.

That the ECB scheduled an England match at the same time as the Royal London One Day Cup final is one thing – given the way county cricket has been repeatedly scheduled to make it as hard as possible for supporters to attend, suggesting it might be deliberately spiteful is no longer an extreme viewpoint – but scrapping top level 50 over cricket domestically entirely, and because of a new, untried format, is astonishing, even by ECB standards. Some argue that T20 skills translate so directly to 50 over cricket that it will matter little, but any tail off in England performances over the coming years will be linked directly to this decision.  It is of course all about ensuring the Hundred takes priority, and if you haven’t read Danny’s piece transcribing and responding to Three Quarters Of a Million Pounds a Year Man Tom Harrison’s interview on BBC Radio, then please do click here:  Dissecting the Hundred

The ten team tournament does at least have one positive, in that the round robin nature means everyone plays everyone else, but most important is the lack of quarter finals, which have the effect of rendering the whole group stage largely pointless. To move straight to the semi-finals means that there is peril and jeopardy in each game – every defeat is damaging, every win vital. Whether that is worth the justification for removing what were once associate members is a different question.

England’s form coming into the World Cup has been quite remarkable, a 70% win rate in the 2 years before bettering by some distance any of the winners in the last three editions.  Yet even with the addition of Jofra Archer, it is predicated heavily on the power of the batting line up.  England don’t appear to be one of those sides boasting prowess in all facets of the game, albeit the high rate at which they leak runs does need to be placed in context:  it is a function of England racking up huge scores themselves to at least some extent.  England might be favourites, but they have a slight sense of vulnerability about them that will need to be answered in the semi-final and final stage.   India will feel they are equivalent, while Australia and New Zealand in particular might feel they have a puncher’s chance – particularly in the former case now that Smith and Warner have returned. On which subject, the bleating about the two of them being booed yesterday was remarkable. Of all the things to become annoyed about currently, this is surely an awfully long way down the list.

Afghanistan are probably the second favourite team in the tournament for most, given both the political background, and the way the ICC so often actively work against the game being taken to new outposts.  They continue to get stronger, and if they can pick up a scalp or two, it will be celebrated by all bar the teams they beat.  Their bowling attack is potent enough to cause problems that’s for sure.  Of the rest, it’s South Africa who have been in the best form without causing many to suggest they’ll go and win it, while Pakistan….who the hell knows and the West Indies may, just may, have turned a bit of a corner.

Of the individual players, Jos Buttler and Virat Kohli are the two most obviously box office.  But a World Cup can bring to the fore someone less heralded.  That it will probably be a batsman is just where the game is now, and all the insistence that 270 makes for a more interesting game is so much humbug.  Close games make for the interest, not the score.  Low scoring matches tend to be the most tense because every single ball matters – the same reason a tight Test match is riveting – but to suggest 270 is the optimum scoring level is to ignore decades of everyone drifting off to sleep in the middle overs of an innings when the batsmen just took the singles on offer and the bowlers were content to let them. The balance between bat and ball has always been an issue in limited overs matches of whatever duration, but let’s not pretend there was a golden period where it was perfection.

Ticket prices have always been a factor in World Cups, the empty stadiums in the West Indies in 2007 being the nadir both in terms of unaffordability and the resultant depressingly empty grounds.  England this time around should be rather better, though it appears few are sold out at this stage.

As for us on here, we will be trying to cover each game, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs to lead into it, and who knows, we might even live blog one or two as well.

Just Rejoice at that news…Rejoice

Mixed feelings is the lot of most people for most eventualities in life – good things can happen, but with a caveat. Absolute certainty is forever dangerous, the prerogative of the zealot. Thus it is that England’s 5-0 demolition of Australia in the Meaningless Ashes series evokes several different responses and emotions.

To begin with, the pain of realisation that we are barely a third of the way through the white ball international schedule can be tempered with enjoying the clear irritation displayed by Malcolm Conn, as his beloved Cricket Australia Australian cricket team were demolished by the side he gleefully reminded had been beaten by Scotland. Whether fans or press pack, looking forward to the latest surly, childish tweet from him was always a delight.

Equally, England’s batting line up repeatedly fired, and while Jos Buttler deservedly got many of the plaudits (especially for the extraordinary knock in the final match), he was anything but alone. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales were all at different times utterly devastating, while Eoin Morgan, without quite getting the volume of runs of his team mates, destroyed Australia’s bowling when he got going. An England batting line up where Joe Root appears to be something of the weak link has something seriously going for it.

Of course, for various reasons this wasn’t Australia’s best side, but the absence of players through suspension cannot be used as any kind of excuse, any more than it could in the winter when a player was missing from the England side for legal reasons. Injuries perhaps, for Australia lacked their primary pace bowling attack, but even there, justifying heavy defeat by complaining about absence is as pointless as it ever was, while belittling English success on the basis of the standard of opposition remains a curious national obsession.

Nevertheless, it can be said that it wasn’t Australia’s best team, certainly, albeit England too were missing a couple of players in the shape of Stokes and Woakes. The best teams available to both were largely selected, and to that extent it was representative. Of more importance is the relevance of the series itself, shoehorned into the heart of the summer, nominally as part of the preparation for next summer’s World Cup, but since that could have been equally done by extending Pakistan’s stay (and they did win the Champions Trophy last year) the reality that it was down to financial considerations is abundantly obvious. The crowds were largely decent, so the ECB will consider it mission accomplished.

Australia explicitly stated in 2011 that they were prioritising Test cricket, and the decline in their ODI performances since then intriguingly correlate with that, particularly given their Test performances have remained strong – the South Africa debacle notwithstanding. Yet, and here is where the excuses about missing players ring hollow – they have lost 14 of their last 16 ODIs. Pretending that the return of those players will make all well for next year flies in the face of poor performance even when all are present and accounted for, but above all else it makes interesting reading and Daniel Brettig goes into more detail here. When considering England’s alternate strategy of focusing on the white ball form of the game, whatever their protestations to the contrary, it is striking that there appears a connection, though India may raise a hand at this juncture. The marginalisation of red ball county cricket, reduction in Test volumes across the summer and creation of wheezes like The Hundred could be argued to have been highly successful in terms of creating the conditions for generating a strong England ODI and T20 side. To that end, the ECB could claim vindication for their strategy, yet they are unlikely to do so precisely because it’s a strategy that finds little favour with England cricket fans. It is, unquestionably, an irony to see the ECB succeed in their aims yet be unable to truly take credit because of the corollary impact and what it would say about them.

If the stated aim is to win the World Cup, then England are in good shape, with a couple of provisos. No team will be confident of setting England a score for the simple reason that no total seems safe from the destructive capabilities of the batting line up. The world record set two years ago was extraordinary, the pulverising of it in this series simply astounding. That 500 became a realistic prospect is something that seems scarcely credible, as was the rather odd feeling of disappointment when they didn’t get there. It must be said that pitches so flat that bowlers become cannon fodder for batsmen is fundamentally unhealthy, and by far the most exciting game in the series came in the final match, where bowlers had the upper hand, and the century from Buttler had real value because of the circumstances.

The belief of most cricket fans tends to be that these make the best matches, a proper balance between bat and ball and the excruciating excitement of a team limping over the line as true batting peril and hunting packs of bowlers come to the fore. Yet the likelihood is that those cricket fans are wrong. Casual observers probably watch to see the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground, caring little for the skill of the bowler, but enjoying the resounding thwack of willow on leather. This may be something of a depressing thought, yet the sidelining of Test cricket where that balance really does apply suggests there is truth in it, no matter what we might wish to believe. Put it this way, it’s more likely to receive a text to turn the television on because Chris Gayle is going berserk than because Liam Plunkett is rattling through the top order.

The final match also highlighted the potential flaw in England’s side, particularly when the ICC get hold of pitch preparation next summer – that England have a tendency to fall in a heap quite spectacularly from time to time. Some context is needed for that, for no one day side, no matter how strong, wins every game. England are defeated rarely, and if the semi-final last summer can be perhaps put in the category of a one off, it doesn’t mean that some caution about their prospects isn’t in order.

Perhaps for that reason the victory at Old Trafford was particularly impressive, for despite the collapse England still found a way to win. Or more specifically, Jos Buttler did. He is in an extraordinary run of form, whether at the IPL, in this series, or indeed in Test cricket. Whether this is just a purple patch, or whether he has found his feet in the wider game of cricket is a moot point, for this can be said of any player suddenly thrust to the fore through sheer performance. It is enough for the present to enjoy his extraordinary run and to hope that it continues.

The arrival of India will perhaps answer some of the questions underlying England’s level of performance, but it seems beyond question that they are among the favourites for next year. Buttler’s supreme displays have overshadowed players who in any other circumstances would be in receipt of unqualified praise – Roy and Bairstow actually scored more runs this series for a start.

This series was also played out in the backdrop of a football World Cup, which has deliciously highlighted both the appetite for watching event sport, and the invisibility of cricket to the wider public. The two England football matches have attracted extraordinary viewing figures – over 20 million for the game against Tunisia, and while the totals were lower for the beating handed out to Panama, the 83% of total television audience (when the cricket was on, note) is one of the highest on record.

Cricket isn’t football of course, and a World Cup is a seminal collective experience, but there are some observations that can be made from that. Firstly that a likeable team whom the public believe are deserving of support receive it, and secondly that the claims of the ECB over the years amount to so much nonsense. The near 10 million who watched the climax of the Ashes in 2005 were specifically discounted as a future factor when justifying the move to pay TV on the grounds that the digital age meant that such community viewing was no longer possible. Young people in particular apparently no longer consumed sport in such a manner, too distracted by social media to sit and watch a game.

The huge audiences for the football demonstrated that this was so much drivel. All ages watched the England football team, all ages cheered the goals. The cricket team could never hope to match those raw numbers, but it is beyond question that were they to move to the latter stages of next year’s World Cup, both the interest, and the audience would climb dramatically if it were widely available, not least because it would be promoted across all media, social or otherwise. Instead, even if England were to win the thing, it will remain a niche occasion. It is this in particular that remains unforgivable, that the ECB blew the opportunity offered to a sport that had captured the public imagination as on few occasions previously. Cricket is not football, but the shared national experience when our team does well is something beyond price, and really does inspire a generation.

The football team may not have beaten anyone of note yet, but kids across the country were kicking footballs afterwards, just as in 2005 they were taking a bat and a ball to the park. For all the protestations about the viability of the professional game without Sky’s money (how on earth did they survive before 2006?), this fundamental importance has been ignored. The argument these days appears to be an almost apologetic one, that ok yes, perhaps they have destroyed the game in national consciousness, but it’s too late now and they can’t survive by changing tack. It is weak, defeatist nonsense driven by self-interest.

Buttler should be a household name. Roy should be a household name, Hales should be a household name, the captain Eoin Morgan should be a household name. Children should be trying to emulate Adil Rashid and make their friends look foolish with one that grips and turns. But they aren’t, and after a series where whatever the caveats, England were both exceptional and thrilling, this is the most disappointing part. Forget for one moment the debate about red ball and white ball cricket, when England really do have a team that can inspire a nation, hardly anyone saw it.

It is that, above all else, that can never be forgiven.

Wallcharts at the Ready

If ever there was a day for multi-screening, yesterday was it. Four World Cup matches, a succession of rugby internationals, the US Open golf, a Test match in the Caribbean, and the small matter of an ODI.

At the end of it, Australian sport had suffered the kind of day that England fans tend to be grimly accustomed to, with defeat to France at the World Cup, defeat to Ireland in the rugby, and defeat to England in the cricket. Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive character trait, but amusement was both widespread and frankly enjoyable.

Enthusiasm for this series against Australia appears limited, not least among those buying tickets. As much as it was claimed the game was sold out, there were plenty of empty seats on show in Cardiff. Either the Welsh have an awful lot of money to throw away, or someone is gilding the lily. Still, disappointing crowds are not that unusual for internationals at that venue, and it was hardly deserted. But the sense of going through the motions is unsurprising given both the timing of the series and the sense that this nothing other than a financial obligation tour.

England are 2-0 up without giving the impression they are remotely playing at their best, and with Australia missing so many key players there is little to engender a feeling of this being much more than practice for either side. Those players who look dangerous in the short form continue to do so, those who appear to be struggling show little sign of answering the questions about them.

A football World Cup always dominates the sporting environment, and a Test series during it would struggle for attention too, but despite being as relatively inaccessible (pay TV) as the cricket, the rugby summer tours have a greater sense of occasion to them. The sarcastic description of one day games as JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One Day International) has rarely felt as apposite as here. The pretence that this is about the build up to next year’s cricket World Cup doesn’t cut it, especially given the absence of Pakistan from the schedule despite being here for two Tests.

With 13 white ball matches across the heart of the summer before the Tests get underway again, we have barely got going. This becomes troubling for a number of reasons – the press themselves in unguarded moments will confess to struggling to write anything new about them, and while that isn’t especially an issue in itself, the translated ennui among cricket followers is. Andrew Strauss obliquely referenced the lack of context with his concept of a points system, which while widely derided does at least draw attention to the fundamental problem.

Ironically, cricket had its solution to this in the past, by making the ODIs part of the build up to what most still consider the main event. The last but one England tour of New Zealand comprised three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests. The sense of a build up towards a sporting climax was inescapable, and provided that much needed balance and importance. The same applied to the 2005 Ashes series, where there was certainly no shortage of white ball cricket scheduled, but it felt like part of a wider whole, and by the time the first Test came around, anticipation was at fever pitch.

The problem with this Australian tour is that winning or losing is instantly forgettable for both sets of fans and success or failure doesn’t matter – except to make Malcolm Conn look an idiot, and he doesn’t usually need help with that.

The more dramatic cricket news has still happened in the Test arena, firstly with Afghanistan’s debut, and secondly with the ball tampering allegations concerning the Sri Lankan team in the West Indies. In the former heavy defeat inside two days matters little in the wider sense of welcoming a new team to the Test game, and if the cricket boards show little inclination to support expansion, the same can’t be said of the Indian team. They conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, showing every indication of being fully aware what an extraordinary achievement it was for Afghanistan to have reached this point. They deserve credit for recognising it in such a classy manner.

In contrast, the refusal of the Sri Lankan team to take the field after being accused of changing the condition of the ball offered up plenty of reminders of Pakistan’s similar action at the Oval in the forfeited Test. The problem here is the failure to support the umpires in their decision-making. Already whispers of legal action have begun, which is precisely why umpires are so reluctant to take action in the first place. Whether they are ultimately right or wrong is beside the point, if officials aren’t allowed to make decisions and receive support, then they won’t make them. Darrell Hair’s ostracism and belittling remains a stain on the game whatever his character flaws. The umpire’s decision is not final, and it should be.

England’s next match takes place on Tuesday, the day after their football counterparts open their World Cup campaign. Whatever the result, it is undoubtedly the case that the football will be all that receives extensive coverage. Of course, a World Cup is truly special, but it’s also on free to air television, making it a community event. The audience figures for the Spain-Portugal match are simply astonishing, reaching a peak of over 10 million across TV and online. Cricket may not be able to match that kind of reach, but it highlights for the umpteenth time the absurdity of claiming that free to air doesn’t matter.

Peter Della Penna tweeted that the BBC had made an offer to Sky to broadcast the Scotland-Pakistan T20 on the red button which was declined, as Sky didn’t want it distracting from the England Women’s ODI they were showing. To begin with, the realisation that the Scotland matches were under the umbrella of the ECB contract came as a surprise – in return for England playing them, it had been outsourced. As a result, Scotland’s match wasn’t shown anywhere in the UK when it could have been. Yet it makes explicit the position that a low key international not involving England could be more popular with the viewers, even when online or interactive TV, than a pay TV one that does. The very importance of that can’t be overstated, given it is exactly what is repeatedly denied by those who propound the pay TV model.

Assuming no more shenanigans, there will be Test cricket on later. But let’s be honest, we’re going to be watching the World Cup.