As I write this, it is exactly a month since Eoin Morgan and his immensely likeable England side lifted the World Cup at Lord’s. Joyous and memorable as the day was, the team’s victory has been hard to process, especially as it was followed with almost indecent haste by the Ashes.
The World Cup confounded expectations in many ways but still ended up with four of the top-five-ranked sides (South Africa were third, the Aussies fifth) reaching the semi-finals, and the favourites and highest-ranked team emerging with the trophy. Mostly this World Cup was about that side, England, who almost blew it by losing to Sri Lanka, before triumphing in each of their four do-or-die matches.
Their semi-final demolition of Australia was as much as any supporter could wish for against their fiercest rivals, but it was the final against New Zealand that elevated the tournament to something extraordinary. For both participant and fan, there is nothing better in sport, any sport, than almost losing and then winning. England almost lost the game on so many occasions that we have already forgotten all but the most sensational – Boult treading on the boundary sponge, Guptill’s throw deflecting off Stokes’ bat, the successive run-outs, and then the Super Over.
Neither side had ever won a World Cup final. And despite England’s name being on the trophy, that remains the case. Both the “winners” and the “losers” may find it hard in the immediate aftermath. For New Zealand, that is now six semi-finals and two finals ending in defeat. For England, where do they go from here? As with the quest to become the No.1 Test team in the world a decade ago, everything was geared towards this. For the players to keep driving forward, having done something no other England cricket team had managed in 44 years, will not be easy. There will doubtless be a feeling of emptiness, a numbness, a lack of direction, now that the summit has been scaled. And for the long-suffering fans, what does it mean now England have won the World Cup? How do we support a successful side, without the right to fall back on gallows humour as we used to?
In this issue of the Nightwatchman there are several pieces that look back at the tournament, but that’s by no means all. We cover subjects as diverse as team portraits, Dennis Lillee in a floodlit game on a football pitch at the start of the ’80s, the birth of the John Player Sunday League, stonewalling, Kevin Pietersen in a garden centre, Durham’s rise and fall (or were they pushed?), and MM Owen’s wonderful essay about family, cricket and India. We hope you will find plenty here to surprise and delight.
And meanwhile, if you too would like to write for us or just let us know what you think about The Nightwatchman, good or bad, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We read every submission (but promise nothing) that fulfils our criteria: that articles should touch on cricket (however tangentially) and are original, well written and thought-provoking.
Matt Thacker, September 2019
Issue 27 of The Nightwatchman is out now and available to buy here.