CWC 2019: Legacy assured for England players with World Cup triumph awakening a nation

Rory Dollard 09:56 15/07/2019
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Nobody thinks about legacy in the split second when a World Cup is won and lost, but in the swing of Ben Stokes’ bat, the resolve at Jofra Archer’s fingertips or a hopeful hurl from Jason Roy, England’s history-makers might just have reset the course of their sport.

The drama that unfolded at Lord’s will take an age to unpick, with enough defining moments and pivot points to fill a season let alone one unforgettable day out at cricket’s most fabled ground.

For those involved there are stories to be told for a lifetime, for those lucky enough to see it happen at close quarters there are memories that will never fade, but the most resonant moments might have occurred in living rooms and pubs up and down the country.

Of those who tuned in to witness the national team’s first live outing on a traditional free-to-air platform in 14 years there will have been children, lapsed fans, hangers-on and bandwagon-jumpers of all stripes. Somewhere in that curious collection, English cricket might find a brighter future.

The 2005 Ashes has too long been frozen as a moment in time. Like Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the industrial revolution and the casting of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, all associated events are simply described as ‘before’ or ‘after’.

Now, arguably for the first time since those days, the country’s traditional summer sport has captured the hearts and minds of the wider public.

A solitary, celebratory appearance in the mass market will not single-handedly reverse cricket’s gentle but profound slide but it could plant a seed.

In 2016 research showed more British children could recognised WWE wrestler John Cena than then Test captain Alastair Cook. Only one of those athletes had the catchphrase “you can’t see me” but it was true of both, at least for those without access to Sky’s high-quality subscription platforms.

On Sunday some children will have seen Jos Buttler’s genre-bending ramp shot for the first time or witnessed the raw steel that pushed Stokes to his decisive contributions. But this World Cup has also seen a team that relies on a mild-mannered Muslim (Adil Rashid), a breakneck Bajan with a British passport (Archer) and follows the lead of a Dubliner who crossed the Irish Sea to fulfil his ambitions (Eoin Morgan).

The next time they are asked to name an England cricketer, they probably won’t say Andrew Flintoff, who has been a boxer, an actor, a panel show stalwart and a Top Gear presenter since he last wore the Three Lions, but still regularly tops such surveys.

And it all started with a leap of faith. Not the kind of metaphorical vault that takes place in the intersection between dream and reality, but the literal variety that takes place at deep midwicket.

England were already well on course to see off a thoroughly underwhelming South Africa side in the World Cup’s curtain-raiser when Stokes threw himself one-handed at a lost cause. Defying probability, possibly gravity and certainly his own expectations, Stokes pulled off a once-in-a-lifetime catch. It ended Andile Phehlukwayo’s innings and began the job of nudging England’s cricketers into the role of mainstream entertainers.

Such watershed moments require a jumping off point, and for the 2019 World Cup that point was a few yards in front of a rapt OCS Stand.

Yet in a tournament comprising six weeks and 48 matches, keeping the momentum at fever pitch was always likely to be a tough ask. A series of predictable results followed close behind, then the rain came and washed four games in six days down the drain.

Even when England were upset by Pakistan it was taken in stride, with the world number ones performing too well in defeat to provide their rivals much by way or schadenfreude and the elongated group stage robbing the moment of jeopardy.

Concerns were brief but real. When the biggest controversy on offer surrounded the flashing ‘Zing’ stumps and their reluctance to shed their bails, and the major talking point was who had or had not underestimated the all-round talents of Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, it was tempting to wonder quite how long the tournament’s shadow was cast.

In the end it fell to England, as hosts, to reignite the flame. They did so at first with a bombastic display of showboating against Afghanistan, Morgan hitting a world record 17 sixes among an unprecedented 25 maximums from his side.

Appetites suitably whetted, England somehow followed up with an identity crisis of the worst kind. In losses to Sri Lanka and rivals Australia they were infuriatingly timid, rock stars recast as recruitment consultants.

Jonny Bairstow and former England captain Michael Vaughan traded barbs in the press, described by the former as tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping but ultimately serving as today’s blue touch paper.

Pushed to the brink of early elimination they pushed back, besting India, New Zealand, Australia and – thrillingly – New Zealand one last time.

The whirlwind that engulfed both teams at Lord’s will surely have swept the nation up in its wake. Legacy assured.

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