Between the click of the light / And the start of the dream.
‘No Cars Go’ – Arcade Fire
England could be all but out of the World Cup by the end of today. They could be out of their home tournament, the first they have hosted in 20 years, before the knockout stages have arrived. It would be shocking, the shocking arrival of a block of poor form when such performances have evaded England for an entire World Cup cycle. A full administrative regime has been built with this competition at the forefront of its mind, an era of English cricket defined by success in this competition. Defeat and/or failure would be devastating. Or rather, it should be.
Remember the 444-3?
It was the first moment when England realised. We had thought that the previous summer had been a fun flirtation with McCullum-ball, with the idea of white ball cricket as an entertaining spectacle rather than a terrifying ordeal. We knew we had talented players, but we’d had that before, and there was no reason that this would be any different.
And then, we realised what Trent Bridge could be. Alex Hales and Jason Roy came out all guns blazing, the former knocking up 171 (122) on a tiny ground that he knew like the back of his hand. Joe Root came in and charged at a run-a-ball; Jos Butter came in and went twice as quickly. England broke the world record ODI total by one run; the cheers rose in the final balls, not because of the World Record, but because they knew it meant something. It meant England had arrived. It felt like England were planting a flag in earth they had tiptoed on for fifty years.
My girlfriend, at the time living just round the corner in West Bridgford a stone’s throw from the Trent Bridge ground, was compelled to go along just for the chase, the least important and least historic part of the day, purely because it was the sort of game where you wanted to say you’d been there. It was tangible, you could feel it in the air.
Remember Curran’s Game?
Eoin Morgan’s England, a batting side if ever there was one, somehow stumbled to 259 and won, on the truest of pitches at the new Perth Stadium. It’s only a hop across across the river from the WACA, but suddenly it was an Englishman causing terror in Western Australia, with Tom Curran storming to five wickets and keeping a batting line-up that had stormed the Test series subdued. Only one English bowler has ever taken more wickets against Australia on their home turf.
Remember the 481?
Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow both walked away from the centre of Trent Bridge slamming their bats against their pads. They were gutted. This was the sort of disappointment you see when a batsman on his last chance with the first team has failed, dragging on when set, fighting for their place in the side. Hales and Bairstow had made, respectively, 147 and 139. England hit 62 boundaries from the bat, the most that have ever been hit in an ODI.
My Mum, a primary school teacher, rang me at the lunch break to say she’d been following the score on the interactive whiteboard as the innings went on. There were only a few in the class who knew absolutely the context of what was happening, but they really knew. They had a little round of applause as they passed the 444 mark. England had broken the world record again.
Remember the Old Trafford Whitewash?
England were gone. They were down and out, chasing a poxy 208 as the eighth wicket fell, slumped in the Manchester sun at 114-8. The England football team beat Panama 6-1 on that day, cheers emanating from the back of the stands for an hour and half where even the most compelled supporters felt distracted. We all sought distraction, solace, gentle context that reminded us that a 4-1 victory against the old enemy was an outrageous enough victory.
Nothing is outrageous enough for Buttler.
CricViz’s Impact Model says that Jos’ 110 lifted England’s total 99 runs above what we’d expect from the average player in that situation. That’s the most for any English ODI innings ever where we have the data to calculate that figure; it was the most influential innings by an Englishman that we have the means to measure.
It took England to a 5-0 win, in glorious sunshine, in the midst of a summer that a generation won’t ever forget. It was a bilateral win that meant everything to everyone in the ground, to everyone watching. It was a win that was gone, and returned, and tasted as sweet as we possibly imagine. English journalists, like their colleagues around the world, are very mindful of remaining calm and unpartisan. That day was a strain. They were witnessing the best England had ever offered.
Remember the Bat Drop?
England aren’t good front-runners. They aren’t suited to being the world No.1 and inviting their closest rivals onto their patch, and dominating. It’s not what they do. So when, last summer, England played India in a three match series, a quiet preliminary to what we all anticipated as the World Cup final, England losing the opener at Nottingham felt rather expected. They subsided to the wrist-spin of Kuldeep Yadav at Trent Bridge, the sight of all those former triumphs, and all seemed to be falling apart.
And yet at Lord’s a few days later, they won. They won comfortably, as Joe Root notched up an unbeaten century. And then, when they headed north to Leeds and Root’s home turf, their No.3 notched up another, another century, another unbeaten ton as England strolled to victory again. Another win for an England so accomplished it didn’t know quite how to handle itself. The protagonist held the bat out, stared deadpan at the dressing and dropped the mic. Well, the bat.
It was simultaneously the coolest thing you’ve ever seen and the lamest thing you could imagine. And that’s fine, because cricket is full of that sort of contradiction. But English cricket is rarely cool, and when it is there’s normally a healthy dose of another country thrown into the cocktail. Here was a Yorkshire boy, batting in Yorkshire, winning in Yorkshire for England. This was glorious, sparklingly home-grown arrogance. It was beautiful.
This England team is important. For all the reasons you can mock them – they’re too loose, they’re too attacking, they can’t do it on tough surfaces – they’re historic. Because those flaws do exist, to an extent, but they’ve ridden them to become the world’s best ODI team for two years. They have succeeded in spite of themselves.
The point is, England could be gone today. They could lose the match, and with it, lose the right to control their own destiny in a competition they have been working towards ever since that Rubel Hossain spell in Adelaide. It will, for a generation of fans who felt like finally this was their time, be devastating. But it will also, on a level, not matter.
If the point of Morgan’s ‘Express Yourself’ revolution was to create a new style of cricket, then they’ve done that. If the point of it was to inspire memories, they’ve done that. If it was to create pleasure with a team that have, for so long, been seen as embodying neither the grandeur of the Test side nor the joy of the T20 side, then they’ve done that and then some.
Tonight, England sleep as the greatest ODI batting line-up in the world. They sleep as the team who were world No.1 for two years, and still, in the minds of most, are the best ODI team around. They sleep as a group of young men from a nation with relatively no successful tradition of ODI cricket, who have fought their way to the top of the tree through innovation and bravery, who took the inherent conservatism of their country and threw it on the dirt in favour of skill and aggression.
You can see England as the bad guys if you wish, and for plenty of historically good reasons. But this team, this 15, the XI that take to the field tomorrow, are not representative of the worst of English cricket, of England, of Britain. They are emphatically representative of the best of us. Bold, multicultural, consistently innovative and unapologetically global – this is the England that many of us want to believe in, in a time when an awful lot of those values are up for debate. The dream may end tomorrow, but it’s been wonderful, and let’s enjoy the final hours before we wake up. It’s been a blast.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.