With the 2015 Cricket World Cup just a few weeks away, I thought now would be a good as time as any to revisit my first real cricket viewing experience.
The 2003 World Cup is remembered by most within the game, as a tournament which went on a bit too long and was steamrolled by Australia’s all dominating One-Day team. Not to mention the political furore surrounding the situation in Zimbabwe – something I was not very aware of as a cricket obsessed kid.
But for me, it was the first time that cricket ever appeared on my radar. We had recently upgraded to Sky Sports at home, and as a sports-obsessed 10-year-old I would compulsively watch any sport going.
In early 2003, the Cricket World Cup arrived, and with it my new obsession for cricket began. The tournament captured my imagination, as the best teams in the world assembled in South Africa.
The immediate hook for me, was the regularity of the games, often two a day. I would spend entire days in front of the TV and would watch any game going. I remember watching Chaminda Vaas run through Bangladesh in the first over, Jon Davidson scoring a blitzkrieg hundred and Canada turning over Test nation Bangladesh.
It all seemed a world away from dreary South-West England. The atmosphere looked electric and the sun was always shining in South Africa (although re-looking at the results, there were 6 matches decided by D/L and two complete washouts). But I don’t remember those bits, and that’s the point, I may be viewing it with rose-tinted glasses, but that’s how I genuinely remember it.
Of course, as an England fan, there wasn’t a great amount to cheer for from a partisan perspective. The match against Australia where Andy Bichel had the game of his life was especially heart-breaking. But one match that sticks in the mind for all the right reasons is the group game versus Pakistan.
It was the first time I’d ever witnessed cricket under floodlights, and the combination of the coloured clothing and the white ball, meant that it was cricket in a way I’d never seen it before. Coupled to the flair and flamboyance of the Pakistan team, it was cricket in a way I’d never imagined.
Previously, I had watched maybe a few hours of the summer Tests on Channel 4, but this was often interrupted for the horse racing or shifted about to accommodate Hollyoaks. Sky provided in-depth coverage of every match, live and uninterrupted; it was compelling. I was hooked.
Looking back at the Pakistan v. England match, I can now appreciate how many cricketing greats were on display. The Pakistan attack that night, was perhaps the best ODI attack ever assembled. Spearheaded by Wasim Akram and the 100mph Shoaib Akhtar, with the small matter of Waqar Younis and Abdul Razzaq for back up – the spin bowling was capably handled by Saqlain Mushtaq and Shahid Afridi too. Yet England managed to claw their way to 226, not an altogether bad score in the pre-powerplay era.
I particularly remember the delivery with which Akhtar broke the 100 mph mark – short of a length and angled in towards the hip of Nick Knight, he nonchalantly knocked it away towards square leg for a single. I was amazed, not only was a man capable of bowling at 100mph, but also the bloke down the other end wasn’t scared of it.
The next day at school, we were all trying to emulate Akhtar, bowling as fast as we could, usually ending up hurling tennis balls in the direction of the batsman’s head and angry dinnerladies.
England wrapped up the win in the second innings, by bowling Pakistan out for just 134. What was most inspiring as a 10 year-old was that the man who had done the damage, James Anderson was only 20, and fresh out of club cricket too. I played club cricket (softball mind you), so in my endlessly optimistic childish mind, I was capable of bowling out Pakistan too.
The World Cup captured my imagination in a number of ways, and I will always be thankful that cricket has been covered so comprehensively since. Of course, cricket on free-to-air TV is vital to gain new fans and to inspire a lot of kids. But for me (a cricket nerd…), Sky’s coverage was perfect. Every match felt like an event, the excitement was palpable and the analysis was interesting, even for a naive kid.
While many cricket fans of my generation will point to the 2005 Ashes series at the moment they were drawn into the game. For me, it will always be that world cup. Hard, shiny pitches, glorious weather and a ridiculous host of cricket stars all plying their trade.
I look back at that tournament now, and realise just how many players were in their pomp during those few weeks. From the entire Australian team, to the Pakistani bowling attack, Gough and Caddick, and the brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.
So when trying to judge the greatest World Cup, or any cricket tournament of all time, you’ll never convince me that it is anything other than the 2003 World Cup.