Yesterday England hammered Australia in a tour de force of cricketing glory. On Sunday, homes, pubs and clubs will open themselves up to a cricketing fiesta, when England take on New Zealand in the ICC Cricket World Cup final. The game will be played on the hallowed turf of Lord’s Cricket Ground in London and watched by as many as 2.2 billion people… but what type of Britain will the final reflect? A country beset by inward division, ill at ease with itself and its place in the world? Or something more upbeat and confident?
The England team who make up this group of, hopefully, soon to be cricketing legends tells us a lot about modern Britain. In years gone by English cricketing dressing rooms often fell into conflict around two camps: ‘Gentlemen’ and ‘Players’. The difference between the two was defined by class. Players were working-class wage-earners, and the Gentlemen usually products of the English public-school system. Amazingly this Gentlemen and Player divide still had a role in the English team up until the 1990s.
The team which will take the field on Sunday will have no such class divide: they will be united in the knowledge they are there because of talent. The batting will be opened by Jason Roy, born in South Africa, and the team will be captained by Eoin Morgan, an Irishman. The leading bowlers, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood hail from Barbados and the northern pit town of Ashington. Star batsman Joe Root became an icon to the LBGT community when he took on, and put down, homophobic sledging in a match last year. There are Muslims, Christians, Yorkshiremen, posh boys and eccentrics – a true rainbow of humanity. The team is a meritocracy of sporting ability and as such is blind to prejudice. This is the best possible projection of modern Britain.
The final will be played at Lord’s, the birthplace of cricket. There is no sporting venue like it, because it has evolved over two centuries. The Lord’s Pavilion was opened in 1890 and is a living, breathing museum of cricketing greatness. Players have been known to get lost in the notoriously complex walk from changing room to boundary. The Long Room, which forms the centre of the building, is known as the most evocative four walls in sport.
The pavilion is juxtaposed by the media centre – often referred to as Cherie Blair’s smile. It rises from the stand opposite the pavilion like a space craft hovering over the ground. It was the first all-aluminium construction in the world, structurally based on an egg using boat technology. This mixture of new and old, tradition and modernity is seen all over the ground, and it is as seamless as it is beautiful. Purpose built sporting stadia can be soulless, built to sell hot dogs and beer. Lord’s is an experience at ease with history and innovation: happy to accommodate 20-year-old party animals in the stands with snoozing octogenarians on the MCC benches.
Outside the stadium, millions in the UK will tune in to cheer on the team (thanks to Sky letting Channel 4 broadcast the match free to air.) Barbecued sausages will be burnt, cans of larger drunk and memories made. Sunday will hopefully be one of those events which gets scorched into the national consciousness to stand alongside the 1966 world cup, the 2005 Ashes and the 2012 Olympics.
So, on Sunday forget the divisions of Boris vs Hunt or Remain vs Brexit and revel in the fact that, as a country, we will be putting what is best about Britain on a global stage. We will see an English team of united, talented men; happy in the company of each other, no matter their background or outlook. The game will be played in a place at ease with both history and modernity and viewed by millions of happy and joyful people throughout the land.