Cricket World Cup: First Double Header
June 8, England v Bangladesh, Cardiff: As an Englishman (albeit hanner Cymraeg on my grandad’s side) it’s a strange feeling to go to Cardiff and support England, but such a wonderful day was had there that it soon began to feel completely natural.
Just the walk to Sophia Gardens from the train station is a joy in itself: the Millennium Stadium to the left, Cardiff Castle up ahead. Get there, turn left, walk along the walls before turning for a lovely stroll through the park. You’d have no clue you were headed to a major international sporting contest, but for the helpful volunteers and the intangible atmosphere of anticipation. A bridge over the River Taff, affording another partial view of the other stadium, and you’re pretty much there.
When your home cricket ground is the Ageas Bowl, it’s not easy to be impressed by any other, but Sophia Gardens has its charms. To me, it didn’t look like a cricket ground, for reasons I couldn’t identify at the time, but I’m now attributing to the blue seats, incongruous against the white I am accustomed to, and usually expect to see. It has unusual dimensions too, with vast looming grandstands at one side and end, but due to the proximity of the river, only a few rows of seating at the other end.
But anyway, what makes a cricket match is what happens on the pitch, and Jason Roy – who had endured a bit of a stinker in the previous match – hitting the first of what would eventually be 14 England sixes as he led the charge, supported by first Jonny Bairstow and then Joe Root. And it was a crazy moment as he brought up his three figures: a characteristic fielding error ending an uncharacteristic barren spell with out a boundary, but Roy unable to celebrate his milestone at first because of a freak collision in which he flattened the umpire!
When both had dusted themselves down and resumed, Roy really went on the offensive, bringing up his 150 with a blistering assault as he really went ballistic, three sixes of the first three balls of an over. The crowd were willing him to go full on for all six – what unforgettable moment that would have been! – and he went for it, but instead of finding sky and boundary, he found only sky and the fielder’s hands.
With him gone it was left to Jos Buttler to provide the pyrotechnics, targeting the short end and putting two balls into the river, although one of those sixes was so big that I suspect it might have flown all the way over the river and landed on the other side!
The victim of the worst of that assault was Mosaddek Hossain, who went for 19 off his second (and last) over. He was someone I was looking forward to seeing, after he was a surprisingly successful low-budget overseas signing for me as a teenager on International Cricket Captain 2015, and I’ve followed him ever since. But on that he was listed as a batsman only, and his off-spin was strictly part time.
More fun was to be had at the end of the innings, with Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett peppering the boundaries to add 45 from the last 17 balls, helping England to their World Cup record score of 386. I couldn’t help thinking that 400 was there if they’d pushed for it though: we’d played safe on second or third runs when the Bangladeshi fielding had been consistently hopeless, Joe Root laboured for his runs, and Eoin Morgan was more cautious than he needed to be early in his innings. But that’s a minor gripe and it was always going to be a winning score.
We headed to the fanzone during the break, via the very narrow river end stand. Somehow they managed to squeeze in a burger stall, called Soul Food, which sold cheeseburgers for £8.80, a price that compared favourably to those at Lord’s for the cup final walkover. But I managed to find somewhere even cheaper in the fan zone, a stall unpretentiously named ‘MEAT’ in big block capitals. Needless to say, I was won over, and I fed my face a mere £7, proving that the value of a soul is in fact £1.80.
Play was back underway by the time we started heading back to our seats, but so blessed were we that when we stopped to watch just one single ball, with a view restricted to the batting strip, through the river end stairway, it was when Jofra Archer clean bowled Soumya Sarkar with a ball fierce enough the dislodge one of those infamously heavy bails. Said ball then got very big on us, illustrating both the pace of Archer’s bowling and the shortness of the boundary by carrying for what would have been six byes if the bail had stayed put (which it would later off Ben Stokes’s bowling).
By the time Archer’s hostile first spell was through, the game was over as a contest, and although Shakib Al Hasan did brilliantly in making 121, the entertainment level was ebbing away, and it took the obligatory Mexican Wave to reinvigorate the atmosphere, along with the ball being thrown to crowd favourite Ben Stokes, whose dismissal of Shakib allowed me to see Mosaddek Hossain come into bat, and he didn’t disappoint, striking four classy boundaries in a 16-ball cameo of 26. But by the time he holed Stokes out to Jofra Archer, we were already on our way out of the ground, and as those two went on to remove the tail, we were weaving our way through Take That fans waiting to see their heroes and heartthrobs at the Millennium Stadium. And I’m sure they would have enjoyed it just as much as we’d enjoyed the cricket; I’d cheered myself up after the cup final walkover by seeing Take That’s show in Southampton the following night, and although that’s not what I usually listen to (Feeder, Patent Pending and Ugly Kid Joe are my favourite live bands), it was a great show with a great atmosphere.
As was this World Cup, and surely nothing could take our enjoyment away from this great event?
June 10, West Indies v South Africa, Southampton: Except, of course, the weather. This being Britain after all. The forecast was always bad. Then it got really bad. And finally, by the time I’d decided not to travel to the ground, it reverted to being merely bad again.
Since I got a Hampshire CCC membership, there has been at least one match per season where a pessimistic forecast ha made me stay away, only for a full and uninterrupted day’s play to occur. And my word, was I fearing that when this match started on time, with Mark Nicholas saying, “The ground staff are confident that the worst of the rain will miss us”. Yikes. So with respect to those who did make the effort, I was relieved when the players went off after half an hour, and fully vindicated by the fact that they never went back out again: this means I’ll get a full refund for my ticket too, but all I do at night is pray; hoping for the other games, the rain will stay away.
These are England v West Indies at Southampton on Friday, and West Indies v Bangladesh at Taunton on Monday. So it turns out that we’re watching a round robin mini tournament between these three sides, seeing all of them twice. And as long as the rain stays away, I can’t wait for the next two.