ROBERT HARDMAN: Hype-free, humble and not an open-top bus tour in sight. Why our very diverse cricket stars really are the best of British
When England’s victorious cricketers started spraying a bottle of champagne — the first of many — from the winner’s podium, the squad’s two Muslim members, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, dashed away so as not to be showered in alcohol.
There was no awkwardness, no taking of offence, no fuss. Obviously they wanted to be part of the celebrations but also honour their religion which forbids the consumption of alcohol.
Their little-noticed action summed up so much about all the positives to take away from what was arguably the most extraordinary World Cup final of all time in any major sport.
When England’s victorious cricketers started spraying a bottle of champagne — the first of many — from the winner’s podium, the squad’s two Muslim members, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, dashed away so as not to be showered in alcohol
It was all the sweeter because it happened without the sort of hype which surrounds every excursion by the England football team.
Cricket fans will have been glued to every step of the six-week tournament, but many of those watching Sunday’s final will have been tuning in to the sport for the first time.
The final was the tournament’s only game on free-to-view terrestrial television. The audience would have been even bigger had the match not coincided with the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history.
This really was Britain’s finest day of sport since the London Olympics of 2012. But it was English cricket which came out on top — and on so many levels.
Their little-noticed action summed up so much about all the positives to take away from what was arguably the most extraordinary World Cup final of all time in any major sport
Afterwards, we heard an Irish-born England captain reflecting that he had not just been blessed with the ‘rub of the green’ on this occasion.
‘We had Allah with us as well,’ said Eoin Morgan, with a nod to his Muslim team-mates. ‘It actually epitomises our team,’ he added.
Here was an England team as diverse as any of our contemporary national sides, no matter what the class warriors might say.
Those who criticise cricket as a niche pursuit will always point to Lord’s, with its old-school traditions and elderly male membership in their egg-and-bacon ties.
At the start of this World Cup campaign, English cricket was singled out for being especially toff-heavy.
A report called Elitist Britain, produced by the Sutton Trust and the publicly funded Social Mobility Commission, noted that 43 per cent of England cricketers had attended independent schools. Cue much tutting, especially from the Left.
Cricket fans will have been glued to every step of the six-week tournament, but many of those watching Sunday’s final will have been tuning in to the sport for the first time
The impression of cricket being dominated by a gilded elite born into privilege was grossly misleading, however. For a start, there wasn’t an Old Etonian to be seen — unlike the race to run the country.
On closer inspection, the England team were certainly not rich kids who had coasted their way into the national side.
They are all extremely talented athletes from modest homes who had excelled long before a few of them were offered varying degrees of help from independent schools.
Jos Buttler was already playing at county youth level when he was offered a scholarship by King’s College, Taunton.
Jonny Bairstow only made it to St Peter’s, York, via a scholarship fund set up after the premature death of his professional cricketer father.
While Eoin Morgan was born in to a cricket-mad family on an Irish housing estate near Dublin, he was a force to be reckoned with long before he was offered a summer spell at Dulwich College.
Yet, according to the sociologists, he qualifies as a fully paid-up Old Alleynian (as Dulwich alumni are known) — just like PG Wodehouse and Nigel Farage.
These schools were actually promoting social mobility by giving a helping hand to prodigious athletic talent.
If there should be any critical fingers wagging after Sunday’s win, then they should be directed at all those local authorities which have flogged off their school cricket pitches and removed cricket from the curriculum.
The common thread which unites all these players is a sense of graft instilled by a devoted parent.
The final was the tournament’s only game on free-to-view terrestrial television. The audience would have been even bigger had the match not coincided with the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history
England bowler Adil Rashid hails from two of the most potent traditions in cricket — Yorkshire, where he was born, and Pakistan, where his father, Abdul Rashid, was born.
Rashid Snr did not merely encourage his sons to play. He converted the basement of his Bradford home into an indoor practice net so that the three boys would polish their skills all year round.
No amount of fancy fee-paying facilities will ever surpass that sort of head start.
Nor has Adil felt the slightest need to compromise his religion or his heritage for his sport. Ditto Moeen Ali, known to a legion of fans as ‘The Beard That’s Feared’.
Football may have problems making inroads into the Asian community; less than 0.5 per cent of professional footballers come from a minority that accounts for eight per cent of the UK population. Cricket, however, has no such trouble.
Quite apart from diversity, Sunday’s game was also a lesson in sporting chivalry: witness the moment when England’s Ben Stokes — hitting for six — was caught by New Zealand’s Trent Boult.
At that very moment, Boult’s foot was brushing the boundary, thus nullifying his catch.
He instinctively chucked the ball to his team-mate Martin Guptill, whose own instinctive response is what sticks in the mind.
This really was Britain’s finest day of sport since the London Olympics of 2012. But it was English cricket which came out on top — and on so many levels
He immediately signalled to the umpire that Stokes deserved his six runs.
Were this a goalmouth scramble in a game of World Cup football, we all know exactly how this plot would unfold.
Both sides would remonstrate furiously with the referee, accompanied by similar histrionics from both managers in their dugouts — amid a chorus of expletives from both sets of fans.
Sunday’s match was notable for the complete absence of yobbery among a crowd which appeared to include every cricketing nation on Earth.
Another stand-out moment came at the bitter end as Guptill failed to clinch the two runs which victory demanded. As most of the England team jumped for joy, Joe Root made a point of going over to console the distraught Guptill.
It was an echo of the famous moment when England beat Australia at Edgbaston in 2005 and England’s Freddie Flintoff crouched down to comfort an inconsolable Brett Lee.
I am not naïve enough to suggest that we were watching 22 angels battling it out on Sunday. Many of those players have had their unedifying spats and tantrums — including one which ended up in court, in the case of Ben Stokes.
Had this been a final between England and the old enemy, Australia, the mood might well have been less magnanimous.
Here was an England team as diverse as any of our contemporary national sides, no matter what the class warriors might say
And cricket has a long way to go if it is ever to claw its way back to the national prominence it enjoyed before selling out to pay-per-view TV.
Yet, the sport has so much to be proud of right now, and not just for a game of high drama beyond the realms of any scriptwriter.
At a time when our ‘national’ sport so often disappoints, it is genuinely refreshing to see an alternative squad who have conquered the world while keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
They have no grand plans for an open-top bus tour. I have heard no knee-jerk calls for absurdly premature knighthoods and gongs.
Once the hangover has passed, they have much more important matters to worry about. The Aussies are on their way. Let battle commence for the Ashes.
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