Friday, 4 July 2014

Column 18, 2014 – Being an England cricket fan

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 90, Friday July 4, 2014.
[Full text below]

“Yes Jimmy! That’s it mate! C’mon!” I am perched on the very edge of the sofa. Hands clasped, elbows resting on knees that won’t stop jiggling. Jimmy Anderson has just blocked another ball, and is on the brink of the most incredible nought not out in the history of the universe.

This is what it’s like being an England cricket fan.

A day before I had turned away in disgust, unable to watch any more as innocuous medium pace tore through our top order like a dose of salts, leaving five wickets to bat out the last day. Surely it’d all be over before lunch. But it wasn’t. And suddenly, it’s thrilling.

This is what it’s like being an England cricket fan.

I got home in time to see Moeen Ali turn down run after run, protecting Jimmy from the strike, inching towards a maiden Test ton it looked like he was actively trying to avoid. He said afterwards “I had to fight myself a bit.” Yeah I bet you did Mo. And boy did you win that battle. “I’d rather have got 99 and the draw than a century and lose.” It’s easy to say stuff like that, but he said it with his bat. In his first Test series. What a prospect.

This is what it’s like being an England cricket fan.

Monday, England were dismal. Captaincy utterly devoid of ideas or imagination, and two of the best bowlers in the world suddenly, inexplicably, incapable of bowling a length ball. Not for an over or two – all day. We were beyond poor.

This is what it’s like being an England cricket fan.

And now Jimmy has faced 54 balls for his 0, and has just two to survive to pull off the most unlikely draw. This last hour has been epic, slowly becoming the most gripping, exhilarating cricket I’ve seen in years. They can’t do it, can they? Yes. They can. It’s going to happen. And then Jimmy gloves that brutally perfect Eranga lifter at his throat and it’s all over. No. They can’t.

This is what it’s like being an England cricket fan.

Since the rout down under there’s been a lot of talk about re-engaging with the fans. A lot of carefully briefed players parroting on about the honour of representing their country, how much they care, how much it means, how important it is to demonstrate their passion. A lot of words.

It’s a perfect irony that Jimmy’s post-match interview managed to convey all those sentiments so powerfully, precisely because he was unable to speak.

Fighting back tears, those 30 seconds with Mike Atherton had more emotional punch, more truth in them than a thousand corporate platitudes.

It took a selfless debutant and a seasoned pro with his soul bared, but amid the rubble of that game, there was a glimpse of a future worthy of the fans.

- ends 483 words -

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