Cricket is—and hear me out on this—England’s true classless gameby Alex Massie / September 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Right now, moments of national unity seem worth cherishing. That being the case, Ben Stokes—who had already snatched the World Cup for England in July—served his country in more ways than one in late August. At a time of rancour and strife, England’s mighty all-rounder did more than simply win a Test match when victory seemed impossible, he also allowed England—and cricket fans everywhere else in these islands—a brief, shining moment of agreement.
None of us had seen anything quite like this, and that includes all of us old enough to recall Ian Botham’s heroics at Headingley in 1981. But just as David Gower allowed us to imagine some sense of what it must have been like watching Denis Compton, so Stokes’s breathtaking performance in Leeds gave younger followers of England’s true national game an inkling of what it was to see Botham in his pomp. Stokes was both a hero of our own moment, and one who could also build a bridge back to the heroes of yesteryear. Everything that was new at Headingley was also old things reimagined and performed for a new generation.
All across England and, indeed, wherever cricket is savoured, time paused as viewers and listeners put their own circumstances to one side to urge—or pray—Stokes and England over the winning line. This was England’s highest-ever successful run chase in Test cricket, but it was much more than that too. It felt like a moment in which fans, always so anxious about the sport’s status and future, could embrace the singular joy of cricket being cricket. Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself this was a moment for you.
Unlike football, no politician, mercifully, feels obliged to pretend to like cricket. I can think of no cricketing equivalent of Tony Blair pretending to love Newcastle United or David Cameron declaring a highly suspicious passion for Aston Villa. Or West Ham. Or whomever. When Theresa May declared Geoffrey Boycott was her favourite cricketer, it was plain that she was in no way showing off: the choice was a natural one for her. The great man has many virtues, but imagination has never been one of them.
Cricket is—and hear me out on this—England’s true…