Winning hearts? Maybe not yet for the neutral fan but there’s good news. ©Getty
OK England you can have this World Cup, and we, the rest of the cricket world, will not scoff at you begrudgingly.
You know how it is. You know how not many apart from your own were supporting you in that final, and not just because New Zealand had suddenly become the world’s favourite team courtesy of their captain.
You even know how Indians cheered for Pakistanis when they beat you and the rest were fervently backing the Australians of all people against you in the semis. And of course you’d have sensed the overwhelming amusement when Sri Lanka beat you and sent your World Cup-winning hopes to the brink. But it’s just how it’s always been, whenever you’ve been in a World Cup, especially when it comes to cricket. And while you kept chanting, “It’s coming home” a majority everywhere else were passionately wishing and praying, “Let it go anywhere but England…”.
It’s taken the world nearly a week since those dramatic scenes at Lord’s to wholeheartedly acknowledge this ultimate culmination of an epoch-breaking four-year period. What has stood out over the last half-a-dozen days is just how graceful you’ve been as first-time world champions.
There’s been no gloating or voluntary rubbing into the face of every team that didn’t win about your triumph. There have been no open-top bus rides around the streets of London or any over-the-top garishness that a number of cricket fans outside the British Isles feared, if not expected. The trophy, which Eoin Morgan justifiably brought along for the post-match press conference, was last publicly spotted duly being carried out by an understated Ben Stokes and Mark Wood before Durham’s T20 Blast game on Friday.
If anything, it’s unlikely many outside England were aware that it meant this much to you. Yes, winning a World Cup is the pinnacle achievement in every sport. But whether it was a bunch of former English cricketers breaking down in the Lord’s media centre on Sunday (July 14), Mark Wood writing about wearing his medal on his drive back home or even the many grannies who were caught losing themselves at that moment when Jos Buttler demolished the bails, not many expected the entire nation here to be gripped with such deep emotion.
That World Cup title hardly looks like a chip on your shoulder — more a soothing balm England desperately needed amidst a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Yes there were genuine tears from some English players of yesteryear who in their time embodied the very reasons their team to constantly invoke everyone else’s scorn. Some couldn’t even watch the last few deliveries of the final over in regulation time — as Wood would reveal in his excellent column on BBC, neither could many of the contemporary Englishmen in the dressing-room. In the same article, the fast bowler also describes Stokes’ various moods during the final moments, which involved the match-winning all-rounder breaking down himself.
It was the morning after Ben Stokes’ worst night on a cricket field.
There he was sat quietly in a corner, slightly shielded by the leaves of one of those towering ornamental plants so typical of five-star hotel coffee shops. Across the table sat his partner. Not much was spoken between the two even as a string of English and West Indian players walked past them either exchanging faint smiles or an obligatory wave of the hand.
Nobody seemed to know exactly what to say to him, like he’d been bereaved or just in deep mourning. Among them was Carlos Brathwaite, the man who’d smashed Stokes for four consecutive sixes less than 24 hours earlier at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata to close out one of the more dramatic games of cricket, which also happened to be the final of the 2016 World T20.
But how many genuinely felt gutted for him or even out-and-out empathy? Was it just yet another occasion in English sport where their team had let them down but the rest of the world saw it as the Grinch stealing his own Christmas. Nobody from the opposition felt it necessary to put an arm around Stokes, like they did with Martin Guptill at Lord’s. And it’s unlikely, if the opposition on the park in London weren’t Kane Williamson’s Black Caps, we could even imagine any player giving Stokes a shoulder if England hadn’t gotten over the line.
So why is it that most neutral cricket fans don’t ever want England to win anything major? You wonder, to quote Iron Maiden, if it’s simply because they are the “white men who came across the sea” and most of the world is still smarting from the colonial hangover. Or was it akin to how you’d always be wary of an erstwhile bully having his moment in the sun for fear of inevitable repercussions, which would somehow mean you being undermined? Whatever the case, England have been the antagonists for several other countries when they play sport, especially when they broke Williamson’s heart, and with it every non-English fan in London and the rest of the world.
So why is it that most neutral cricket fans don’t ever want England to win anything major? ©Getty
But as it turns out, the English cricketers have gone back to business, some even already appearing for their counties in the domestic T20 tournament. But more than the players, it’s what the World Cup win has done to cricket in this country that’s been most heartening.
While a mention of cricket would quite often get you an apathetic response in various parts of England, suddenly everyone wants to talk about it. It ranges from your Turkish barber in London’s Camden Town to the waitress in Cornwall’s Port Isaac who’s heard her grandma talk about cricket for the first time in 40 years or even the curator at King Arthur’s Hall in Tintagel. Locals in faraway Boscastle in the southwestern tip of the country describe the scene at a local pub on finals day as having been akin to a football World Cup match.
Cricket’s putting smiles on faces, maybe for the first time since 2005 and maybe even long before that, and it’s not just the players who are confessing to having watched multiple replays of the final. Such is the overdrive of emotion around the country and more so in cricketing circles, you find it difficult to bring up — even in jest — how lucky England were in the end while recalling the match on a podcast.
The truth is England deserved to win the World Cup. They’ve after all kept ODI cricket alive since their old avatar of 50-over cricket was put to rest by Bangladesh at Adelaide in 2015. It was only justice being served when the big little moments started going their way in the end — karma perhaps for having managed to transform a format of the game that had stagnated four years ago. “I’d have laughed at you if you said then that we’ll be in the final four years from then,” Morgan had said after his team had comfortably beaten Australia in Birmingham.
Less than a week back, it’s unlikely many outside England though would have been laughing when the tide of the match turned drastically towards the home team. But as the dust settles and the enormity of their team’s achievement sinks in around the nation, perhaps it’s fair for the rest of us to say, England we feel you.
Go let your hair down. You may not quite have won our hearts yet but you’ve certainly warmed it, maybe even left it feeling a tad fuzzy.