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An ode to the summer game

The 2019 Cricket World Cup gave England the chance to become cricket world champions for the first time ever. Guest writer Keval Nathwani eloquently describes the magic of a world cup being played on home soil and what it means for the future of the game.

Cricket is synonymous with the English Summer. Warm and languid days as line after line of batsmen face their bowling adversaries in unceasing attacks, met with spirited defence on a perfectly cut oval lawn. While countrymen, in the spirit of their local habitation, clap politely as the noble men before them joust with bat and ball. An archetype that lies seared in the English subconscious. A buried memory submerged in the vortex of modern life.

But in the summer of 2019 this changed. On The Mall, that thoroughfare of national euphoria, the revival of cricket as premier in the league of English sport, would be staged at the Opening Ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup. England and Wales would play host, for the fifth time, to a sport and a competition that over a billion people world wide watch and enjoy. A sport that is a legacy of British history. A sport that has revived nations. A sport that has catalysed reconciliation. And a sport that, above all things, reveals the best of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

From 30th May to 14th July the world was treated to endless exhibitions of the art of cricket. Ten teams, playing at eleven grounds across England and Wales in a round robin initial series of 6 weeks leading to a semi final series which culminated in an ultimate final. A final by whose victory laurels would bestow the unvarnishable title of ‘word champions’. Every team offered 50 overs (300 bowls) in which to bowl their adversary and then to have the favour returned. Each ball was an opportunity for glory. Not of the individual, not even of the team, perhaps not even of the country. But for the love of the game. For the sheer unbridled delight at having embodied the laws of nature and used them to produce a feeling of complete ecstasy that tens of thousands in the stands, and millions more worldwide could share. Cricket and the World Cup unify this joy into a spirit of international community. A community who abide by laws both written and unwritten of fair play and honourable behaviour. A community so strong that when Kofi Annan declared before the United Nations, “that’s not cricket”, the world knew exactly what he meant.

Cricketing legends, have been central to the lasting allure of the game. Whether it be Brian Lara and his gravity defying upswing that punished the ball over the bowlers head, or Sir Gary Sobers’s elegant classical shots that gave him the means to hit six sixes with relative ease. Cricket and its ambassadors have never disappointed in their unique display of skill. The Cricket World Cup was no exception. Ben Stokes contorting himself like a human möbius loop to take a catch from Andile Phehlukwayo after carrying England with 89 off 79 balls in a 104 run win against South Africa, was one such example. Aaron Finch’s tremendous 153 off 132 balls leading to a win against Sri Lanka proved that the batting arena was not likely to be outdone by the rest of the exceptional catches during the tournament. This was proven by Carlos Braithwaite when he ended his herculean effort after hitting his first ODI century only to be caught at the boundary for what would have been a match winning six for the West Indies.

However, the lasting memory for most in this marathon series will undoubtedly be of the final at Lord’s. New Zealand began with an intimidating attack after a half century from Henry Nicholls and 47 from Tom Latham pushed New Zealand’s score to 241/8. At the same time, England’s new star bowler Chris Woakes, affectionately known as ‘Brummie Boycott’, took three wickets alongside Liam Plunkett. The Kiwi’s replied with a tight fielding performance that resembled a military defence that Napoleon might have recognised, as England fell to 86/4 in the twenty fourth over. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler fought back with patience, collecting precious ones and twos in a century partnership before Buttler was caught. England required forty six runs off five overs. Ben Stokes left England at the final over with 15 runs to win. On the third delivery he pushed the ball for six over deep mid wicket, and a deflection off his bat accrued another heavily debated six runs. The final two balls managed a run each leaving the score tied at 241. The Super Over finished with a 15 run draw and with England winning on a higher boundary count (26:17). Which meant that England had won the World Cup title for the first time.

So England have won the World Cup and the future of cricket in England looks as bright as it has ever been. To have men, women and children aligned on an oval lawn huddled over a wicket like marionettes is an eternal view in parks, villages and streets up and down the country. But the challenge remains to draw in a new audience and to marry the financial concerns with the preservation of this unique and beautiful game. The survival of cricket in England will depend on it being played at all levels. The World Cup has cemented that for generations to come.

Keval Nathwani is the editor of The 1828 Journal and a History student at King’s.

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