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2019, was it all worth it in the end, Part 1?

So after four years of planning and anticipation we are now on the other side of the 2019 summer and we can all get on with our lives. On Friday 13th 2015 England finished their previous World Cup campaign in Sydney with the weather that day matching their performances, damp. For many involved with the squad this would be their last outing with the England ODI team, ranging from senior players to coaches and the managing director. It was out with the old and in with the new, a new dawn, whatever had happened in the past had gone or whatever cliché comes to mind. Fast forward 4 years and it all seems like a distant nightmare that has paled into insignificance much like previous World Cup campaigns.

In a recent book by Stuart Broad he talks about how it felt like the whole world was going cricket mad in Australia during that tournament and that when he got back to England it was barley even registering on the public’s consciousness. The ECB’s plan was to bring the feeling of cricket mania to English shores in 2019 when they hosted the World Cup and The Ashes back to back.

 Easier said than done you may think in a country where cricket had started to become irrelevant with cricket being hidden behind a pay-per view wall for 14 years. This had a knock on affect that the vast majority of kids for who don’t have satellite TV were unable to watch any cricket and were unaware of even the most basic rules. It had been reported that a tiny minority of children could name Alastair Cook when shown a picture which in reality had produced a drop off in participation figures. So 2019 had much to deliver, could it produce a much needed shot in the arm for cricket in England?

What seems like an eternity ago and for when most of us probably felt and looked a lot younger England started their summer in Ireland. The match was shrouded in the story of Alex Hales failing a drug test which meant he would have to serve a ban that ruled him out of the summer. A bitter early blow that in another life would have been the main excuse as to why England would have crashed out in the group stages. England though despite the distraction passed all the early tests as they then went onto beat Pakistan 4-0 back in England.

The World Cup began at the end of May with the great British weather threatening to spoil the party as the opening celebration outside Buckingham Palace had a slightly 1999 feel to the occasion. Fortunately the opening match was greeted with blue sky and we were under starter’s orders at half ten, although Jonny Barstow’s innings was over by 10:35.

On that afternoon the first spark of the World Cup flame that everyone was looking for flickered as Ben Stokes delivered his first and by no means his last piece of greatness on the tournament. His diving one-handed catch on the boundary to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo got over two million hits on the BBC Sport website and was splashed across the back pages the following morning. We had lift off.

With a side like South Africa dispatched so easily in the opening round England fans began to plot their route to Lords six weeks later. How then very English of course to go and throw a spanner in all of the optimism by losing to a Pakistan side that had been thrashed a few days earlier by the West Indies. Summing up match two is easy, Pakistan played well and England didn’t. Dropped chances and overthrows marred England’s fielding effort and Pakistan capitalised with the returning Wahab Riaz finishing off England at the death.

Around 1.5 million people tuned into the finale on Sky Sports of the Pakistan game which was just short of their at the time 1.9 million record. Test Match Special were attracting similar audience numbers to Ashes battles which suggested the World Cup at least was engaging with all the cricket fans in the land, but no more at this stage.

The World Cup rambled on though with India who were the last team to start bringing their own unmistakable sound to proceedings. At the time it felt like this is exactly what the tournament needed as you always get the sense with the Indian fans that they had been eagerly waiting for the tournament to begin. From the excitement they show when they see their heroes warming up at the start of the day or the cheers that greet every run they are truly passionate about cricket.

England had time to refresh after Pakistan and got their campaign back on track with victories over Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan. Jason Roy’s hamstring being England’s only real concern at this stage and how soon they could get him back playing. Eoin Morgan rolled back the years against Afghanistan in Manchester by hitting a record breaking 17 sixes in his innings to remind us all how much he had to offer England still with the bat. It’s amazing to think what English cricket was like 10 years earlier when he made his debut, for instance Andrew Flintoff was still just around.

The tournament administrators must have started to fear the worst when a gap between the top four and the remaining six started to open up. Matches were starting to become one sided and the rest of the group stage was at risk of becoming predictable. It needed another spark to reignite the flame again and on Friday 21st June that’s exactly what it got thanks to another golden oldie, Lasith Malinga.  

At the halfway stage against Sri Lanka it looked like England would walk it chasing 230 to win in Leeds. However Malinga used all his experience and England fell 20 odd runs short, Ben Stokes showing the only real resistance with a little snapshot of what he was going to pull off at the same ground two months later. England was left with needing to win two of their remaining three matches which were against the other top four teams.

Friday’s spark continued to grow into the weekend with Afghanistan pushing India into the final over and then the match of the group stage on the Saturday night in Manchester. Old Trafford over the last ten years has gone through massive redevelopment and its new stylish and modern look played perfect host to Carlos Braithwaite’s hundred under the lights. The match between New Zealand and the West Indies had swung this way and then the other before the kiwis appeared to have both hands on the contest. In a summer of spectacular number eleven partnerships this topped the lot in late June. The ball suddenly started to disappear to strange parts of the ground until there was just five needed for victory. With of course John Bishop on commentary and Braithwaite the batsmen it looked destined for another famous Caribbean night. With seven balls to go Carlos decided to finish it in style as he lofted out towards The Point where about a yard in from the boundary Trent Boult took the catch.

It felt like it was that weekend that the World Cup started to break through, probably due to a nail biting match being played out on a Saturday evening slot or England’s campaign starting to become ever more do or die. That situation though became even more perilous when Australia turned England over at Lords, what a time to put in your two worst performances for four years. Questions were asked and tensions rose with Morgan angrily responding to Kevin Pietersen’s criticism in the post match press conference. 

It left England first of all having to beat India at Edgbaston the following weekend knowing they were probably going to be in for a hostile reception. There was however some good news with the return of Jason Roy, and what an impact he made. It was his opening partner though that had been in the headlines in the build up to the game as Jonny Bairstow had suggested not everyone in the media wanted England to succeed. He responded to the backlash to his comments with a timely hundred that built the foundations for a big 1st Innings score. In reply India looked poised to make it an uncomfortable finale however MS Dhoni appeared to have an impromptu net session out in the middle for the last five overs.

England completed their turnaround in the group by comfortably beating New Zealand in Durham and set up their first World Cup semi final since 1992. The opponents for that match looked likely to be India again in Birmingham but Australia flunked their final group match which caused them to play England.

The first semi final will go down as the one day match that went on for two days. It actually ended up being the more dramatic of the two as New Zealand managed to defend what seemed for all money a way below par total. The following day England started like a train and Australia never really recovered, the natural order in one day cricket you felt had been restored after Lords two weeks earlier.

It was so convincing many England fans sat there watching and wondering how they were possibly going to mess this up with 30 needed of the last ten overs with eight wickets in hand. Perhaps the extra incentive of Sky Sports striking a deal with Channel 4 to show the final free to air if England got there played its part? Who knows, all we did know was England were heading to Lords.

The biggest day in English cricket since 2005 started with some usual English summer weather, drizzle. The toss being delayed by about 40 minutes or so in the end played into cricket’s hands as it meant the extraordinary finish was played out a more convenient time after the Wimbledon men’s final had finished. Not that we were to know at the time.

Again similar to the semi final New Zealand appeared to post a below par score with Liam Plunkett bowling well in possibly his final game for England. The pitch however was slow and difficult to score off and debates on social media raged on about what the best spectacle to show the rest of the country was. Colin De Grandhomme who at first glance looks no more threatening than Paul Collingwood turned into Glenn McGrath on speed. His ten over spell going for less three an over suddenly churned up the stomach of every England fan watching. We were supposed to win at half time, were England about to blow it at this late stage?  

Stokes and Buttler’s partnership steadied the ship a little a brought the finish line in site for England but when the latter spooned one in the air and was caught the tide turned once more. England’s tail was as useful as it had been against Sri Lanka showing little support for Stokes at the other end. Plunkett the best of them backing up his bowling performance with a couple of lusty blows but when he was caught in front of the pavilion it all rested with Stokes.

Sometimes in sport fate just intervenes and there’s nothing you can do about it. Look at Chelsea and Liverpool’s Champions League triumphs in 2005 and 2012 or England’s football success in 66. For all the events to play out as they did in the final two overs of the match in England’s favour surely show they were destined for glory. First there was Trent Boult’s catch whilst standing on the boundary and then stokes’s deflection for six which as it turns out perhaps should have been five.

Either way it left us all square at the end and it was time for Allen Stanford’s tiebreaker idea, a super over. Six balls each, two batsmen and the team with the most runs at the end wins. Just what cricket needed a simple penalty shootout type format that first time viewers could relate to, also with the added bonus of starting at 6:30pm. Obviously by now everyone knows what happened and every time I now do something my internal monologue in the voice of Ian Smith goes, “by the barest of margins he’s managed to open that jam jar by the barest of all margins”.   

So mission complete then? Over 8 million people were watching over the different channels and the following morning it felt like the world had gone cricket mad again for the first time in 14 years. Newspapers gave cricket front and back page coverage, news programmes topped the bill with cricket features and social media went into cricket overdrive. It was a slightly strange and serial from the point of view of a cricket fan of 15 years to see cricket well, cool again.

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