“Posh boys in white suits.” This short, uninformed sentence used to be my overwhelming approach to the game of cricket. I honestly don’t know where it stemmed from, as it was never something my school promoted. Then again, they were never that fussed about football either and I spent the majority of my 20th birthday stressing over whether Liverpool would win their sixth European cup.
Perhaps it was my lack of understanding, not even of the players or teams, but of the basic rules of the game. Why were there so many different ways of playing? What the hell are the Ashes? Why does the cup look like that? Why has this test match been going for four years? I want to say these were the exaggerations of a naïve young boy, unaccustomed to the fact that there was a world of professional sport out with my own interests but sadly, up until the events of the summer, my opinion on cricket was yet to change.
At the beginning of the summer, in my head at least, there was no major international tournament to look forward to. Whilst Liverpool had lifted their sixth European cup, from a neutral perspective, the final had petered out to a rather dull affair. The Open was not due until the end of July and Wimbledon, whilst providing a brilliant final, would see an unsurprising name once again on the victor’s board in Novak Djokovic.
Unbeknown to me, the 30th of May marked the beginning of the Cricket World Cup, taking place just south of the border in England. The only link I have ever held to the sport is that my dad is a huge fan. So, after years of listening to me slagging it off and my constant asking of random questions, he finally got me to just sit down and watch. Nobody, least of all me, could have predicted how enthused I would become.
Admittedly, things did not get off to a bright start. Wickets, overs, run-rate, spin, all contributing to an endless list of words as useful to me as a list of Astrophysics terms. However, by the time the group stages were over, I had a basic understanding of how a game was won or, at the very least, what the teams were trying to do in order to win. The tournament was exceptional, with games often going down to the final few overs. However, it was the final day that provided the most excitement.
England, who beat old-rivals Australia comfortably in the semi-finals and the favourites for the tournament, were playing New Zealand, who put in an impressive performance to dispatch India in the previous round. It was a thrilling match, one that went to the final over and beyond. A ball hitting Ben Stokes’ bat on his return to the wicket was one of the most extraordinary sights in sport, indicative of the fine margins that define any kind of professional game. After each team’s innings, the two sides were equal on runs.
Just as I thought I was getting to grips with the terms, a super-over was thrown in, the first time this has had to be used in a one-day-international cricket match. Six balls. Most runs win. It reminded me of when we just shout next-goal wins at a game of five-a-side, only there was a world-cup and careers on the line. In a game that I had often found so complicated, this can easily be pinpointed as the turning point. All those complex terms and confusing graphics Sky Sports insisted on plastering on the screen reduced to the simplest and slimmest of margins. England was to win with the last throw of the game. It could easily be said it wasn’t just the best cricket final of all time; it might just be the best sporting final.
At the centre of all this was one of the best sporting figures in recent years. Ben Stokes, a somewhat controversial figure amongst many after a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub. However, from a cricketing point of view, he was sensational, being named man of the match in the world cup final and then clawing England back into the third test of the Ashes, hitting 135 not-out. To put into perspective how good his performances were, Paddy Power have already paid out for him to be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
So, there you go. If there happens to be any cricket fans reading, I hope this article acts as an apology. There is still some parts of it that I don’t get, and more than likely never will. Cricket is unlikely to ever hold a place in my heart in the way that football does, but nonetheless, it made for an entertaining couple of months, where checking world-cup scores and keeping track of the ashes became part of a daily routine. If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that there’s a lot more to it than posh boys in white suits.