Homecoming 2.0: The Chalice of Champions

 

Adverts on the underground, radio slots on the BBC, trophy roadshows, viral marketing, press engagements in trendy dens, graffiti artists on Bristol walls, a listening party for the official song, football influencers taking selfies with Jos Buttler, ex-Love Island stars on Instagram stories and a launch party in front of Buckingham Palace. Welcome to the Cricket World Cup, 2019 edition.
Has there ever been a build-up like it? Certainly not in terms of effort, and definitely not in England. A number of Champions Trophies have come and gone, but the last time the actual World Cup came to these shores, the tournament was underfunded and the results – not least the hosts’, bundled out in the group stage – lent themselves to parody.The instinct here can be to worry cricket is trying too hard with its overt push away from its traditional market in favour of a new audience – any new audience. But awareness and accessibility are two aspects that needed vast improvement here for a generation or longer, well before the watershed Ashes of 2005, after which television coverage of the sport was via subscription only.The game here has always relied on word of mouth: from the friend who had a spare ticket to the friend who needed a spare wicketkeeper, handed down in this country from loved one to loved one. And for the longest time, that was enough. A Freemason sect where the secret password was “Botham’s Ashes” and a glove-punch with sixty-quid Bradbury gloves. Something different was needed.To the credit of the World Cup organising committee and the ECB, both dovetailing on this project, change has been instigated. There were 3.2 million ticket applications – four times what was available – and organisers expect a third of those coming through the gates will be walking into their first experience of live cricket. Fittingly, then, it is one of the most open World Cup fields, perhaps in the history of the tournament.
You could make a case for at least five teams winning the thing without needing to take out the regular insurance of labelling New Zealand as “dark horses”, wondering if mercurial Pakistan turns up and lauding Australia’s tournament track record. That being said, there does seem an impending sense the defending champions will find a way to retain their crown. As the warm-up fixture against England showed, fans will be gunning for them. The boos or catcalls will follow them around the country but will almost certainly fuel Aaron Finch’s side as well.Quasi “home” advantage will be a big boost for India and Pakistan – one positive legacy of the 1999 tournament, remembered fondly in this respect for the deafening noise their fans made in the stands wherever they went. Once again.