Never mind song and dance, cricket’s greatest extravaganza has begun. We’ve reached the point in the proceedings where everything every player or coach says sounds the same. We’ve exhausted our store of cricket stories and are resorting to writing about songs, for goodness sake. Somebody take guard already. Somebody else mark out a run already. Let the umpire call play already.
You know the World Cup needs to start already when the organisers start flinging out press releases about songs.
Like the International Cricket Council (ICC) did on Tuesday: “As part of its exciting partnership with the ICC, Uber, the world’s largest personal mobility company, has released Way-O, Way-O, a song to energise fans at one of the world’s most anticipated sports tournaments – the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, 2019.
“The rhythmic anthem is a cultural blend of harmonies, written by Sonal Dabral (Ogilvy) and composed, produced and curated by Michael (Mikey) McCleary. Promoting a truly global spirit of togetherness, acclaimed artists across five participating countries have put together Way-O, Way-O. The makers include Sanam, a popular Indian band known for its renditions of classical Bollywood songs, alongside other globally acclaimed artists such as Jahmiel (Jamaica), Catherine Taylor Dawson (United Kingdom), Simba Diallo (New Zealand) and Choir group – Khayelitsha United Mambazo (South Africa).”
Who are these people? Do any of them know a googly from a thigh pad? Could they pick Virat Kohli or David Warner out of a police line-up? Would they believe that Jofra Archer plays for England?
To The Oval, please, Uber driver, for the opening match between England and South Africa on Thursday. Spare us the conversation and don’t you dare play that damn song on the radio. But the organisers should be cut some slack. Whatever else you could say about the suits – and don’t get us started – you can’t say they haven’t worked hard to put on what should be a cracking tournament.
England start favourites to win the Cup on home soil.
“We started thinking about it quite some time ago, as far back even as a year before the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand,” tournament director Steve Elworthy told BBC radio on Tuesday. “We took a small team across to Australia and we spent a couple of weeks with the organising committee there just to have a look at their preparation, and hoping we could bring some of that insight to our tournament.”
One of the differences between the 2015 edition of the event and this World Cup is the size of the venues, which has demanded creative solutions from Elworthy and his staff.
“Australia and New Zealand sold in excess of 1.2-million tickets – they’ve got massive stadiums – whereas we’ve only got around 800 000. But we had huge demand with over 3.2-million applications for tickets.
“What did we do with that demand? The things we started thinking about were how would we get people who were really interested and actually wanted to be part of the World Cup to experience it. So, we’re delivering eight fan zones up and down the country with live screenings. We’ve got mass participation events in different cities as well.”
The cricket itself should be worth the bother. It never hurts when the home side are also the favourites, not to mention the No 1 team in the game. And that they have rivals of India’s quality breathing down their necks.
Virat Kohli and Eoin Morgan shared a coach at the captains’ Press conference last week, but each was plainly wary of the other – as if their respective gameplans could be gleaned just from looking at each other too closely.
Virat Kohli-led India boast of an impressive batting order. Besides, England’s blueprint is hardly a state secret: bat like the blazes – that means you, Jos Buttler – and you won’t have to worry too much about the bowling, which is not the worst what with Stuart Broad and James Anderson lurking. India, too, are hardly reticent about throwing bat at ball. But, whatever Sachin Tendulkar’s views on Jasprit Bumrah, the truth is India don’t have an attack as well equipped as England’s to put out the fires that will flare when the batsmen get it wrong.
Not that that should happen too often. With ball expected to meet bat on even terms, at least in the first half of the tournament, before a forecast hot, dry summer burns some of the moisture out of the pitches and brings the spinners into play, totals could go through the roof.
England have been reluctant to claim the advantages they will take into the tournament, either because of the bespoke awkwardness that comes with being English or because that’s the clever thing to do when expectations have roared into the stratosphere.
India, by contrast, thrive on self-belief – whether it’s Kohli’s or that of their supporters, who will no doubt make their voices heard in significant numbers wherever their team plays, or the very sight of MS Dhoni still there after all these eight years having won it with a mighty six on that magical night in Mumbai.
As Kuldeep Yadav said on Monday, “Kohli and Dhoni are the backbone of our team. Dhoni gives us freedom and Dhoni boosts our confidence.”
It’s an intriguing difference of approach that will only add to the narrative as the tournament wears on. There is every chance that England and India will be there at the sharp end of the event. They are that good and they know it, whatever the English are trying to say currently.
Then there’s Australia, never to be written off and reinvigorated by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner from their bans for ball-tampering.
The other antipodeans, too, will take some beating. New Zealand know they don’t pack the strongest team, but no side plays a better mental and tactical game.
Pakistan will draw inspiration from their 2017 Champions Trophy triumph in England, where they thumped India in the final.
South Africa? There’s no AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn is battling to get on the park, but Hashim Amla scored half-centuries in both warm-up games to answer questions about his form. And if there’s a better captain than Kohli at this tournament, it’s Faf du Plessis.
We’ve reached the point in the proceedings where everything every player or coach says sounds the same. Every ‘i’ has been dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. We’ve exhausted our store of cricket stories and are resorting to writing about songs, for goodness sake.
Somebody take guard already. Somebody else mark out a run already. Let the umpire call play already. The World Cup needs to start already.
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