Comment: Cricket World Cup hopefuls provide a glorious reflection of modern England
A week that saw supporters of Tommy Robinson spew their wares across national news bulletins will end with millions of people watching a group of men give their everything in the quest to become world champions.
The England cricket team takes on New Zealand on Sunday in their first ODI World Cup final in 27 years, coached by an Australian, captained by an Irishman and held together – with runs, wickets and the more-than-occasional run out – by immigrants and the sons of immigrants.
A cursory glance down a list of their birthplaces express the perfect example of modern England; north and south, four born overseas. Working class or public schooled, this England side is proud, bold, confident and impressively turned out, every interview and social media skit providing a glimpse into a changing room that ticks over with assured harmony.
A lot can be read by watching a cricket team warm-up, they say, and unlike so many of their predecessors, this England team loves to warm-up. Every knock-up in the nets is carried out with a smile on their faces, every fielding drill pierced with bellows of laughter.
Those guffaws come in that brilliant assortment of tones – Yorkshire, Geordie, Caribbean, South African. A glance across the field during the side’s semi-final swatting-away of Australia on Thursday showed an England cricket side not bent-double with fear as on so many occasions before, but thriving on pressure, enjoying every second of the battle with their friends from across the world.
And let’s make it clear, this band of brothers is utterly brilliant at what they do. The unabashed confidence with which they carry themselves is both cause and effect of two years of world domination, brought about by a pioneering style of play that for decades England sides had left to their rivals.
Is this the greatest one-day batting line-up of all-time? It could well be. Channel 4 will broadcast Sunday’s final on terrestrial television, allowing many more millions the opportunity to witness not only a piece of sporting history, but a cricket side that reflects an English public far better than any vitriolic protest outside the Old Bailey ever could.
If England win the World Cup against a not-to-be-underestimated New Zealand team then two Muslim players will step away from the podium for a few moments while their team mates – in what is surely the most bizarre of all victory traditions – shower themselves in champagne. The likelihood is that some players will drink long into the night. Others won’t.
In decades gone by sobriety was a dirty word in international cricket set-ups, but in this England side, in 2019, it doesn’t matter a jot. Come one, come all, they’re there to have fun. They’re there to puff their chests out and enjoy each other’s excellence. They’re there to win the World Cup.
Somewhere in a prison in the south of England on Sunday, a radio will deliver every ball of the World Cup final. With Channel 4 showing the match, inmates might even catch some of the pictures. And as a near-perfect reflection of modern life in this country attempt to propel themselves towards sporting immortality, you’ve got to wonder if Tommy Robinson – bent-double with fear and known in those corridors only as ‘Yaxley-Lennon’ – will be listening in.