World Cup writer's notebook

Watching Russell, thinking Ali

The highlights and the sidelights of the World Cup, through the experiences of our correspondents

© Getty Images

These short reveries and musings from our ace team of writers and correspondents are a celebration of the things that make the World Cup worth watching, dreaming of and reading about.

By Jarrod Kimber

June 17: The chair I am standing on is not that safe, but if I don't use it I won't be able to watch Andre Russell in the nets. And I have to watch Andre Russell in the nets.

I remember the first time I heard of Andre Russell, in a scorecard for West Indies A. I saw that he'd taken 5 for 68 against India A and then I looked into him, and found that the first-class game before that he'd hit 108 from 65 balls with ten sixes against a near full-strength Ireland team. That is all I knew of him, a couple of scorecards, and yet in my mind he was this incredible six-hitting demon fast bowler unlike the world had ever seen.

So while the rest of the press head back to write up their articles, the ICC staff prepare for the next day and the rain comes down, I sit down and watch Andre Russell take throwdowns. And watching him work on his weaknesses, it reminds me of old gym footage of Muhammad Ali.

When you look at footage of Ali sparring, he often looks slow and limited. In no way the Ali of the ring. Usually he's sparring with big clumsy men, tall southpaws, huge heavy-handed hitters, and he's letting them corner him, or letting them use their height or strength to monster him. But there is always a moment when he gets bored with this, and he breaks free to flash his feet or hands, and suddenly it's Ali again. Even in the sweaty gym, working on his weaknesses for hours on end, Ali shines.

At the Hampshire Bowl there are indoor nets in the atrium. The light comes through the roof and, during big tournaments like this, half the space is taken up by the press-conference area. Because of the way it's set up, some batsmen have to face back into the nets to ensure the staff and camera crews don't get hit.

In one of these nets is Andre Russell. He's recognisable by his back at first, but he's also bigger than the other batsman, and better than the bowlers. He looks like Andre Russell, or Dre Russ, in everything except the results of his shots. What he is working on is digging out yorkers and ducking short balls. Some short balls only just miss him, the yorkers make him overbalance and look sloppy.

Then the assistant coach gets a throw wrong. It is supposed to be a yorker, but he overpitches, and the noise, the noise, in this echo chamber is deafening. Russell has hit the ball with such incredible power it feels like the net is about to break. After he gets bored with ducking he slaps a hook shot so powerfully the net moves like a tidal wave.

The net bowlers look nervous, one shares a glance with me after a big hit, he's not even in Russell's net and he's already making worried faces. When Russell heads into his net, he disappears from view, so I head up to the viewing platform. But the black sightscreen obscures him. So I do what two of the net bowlers do, stand on a chair to see him bat. There aren't many players who make me stand on rickety chairs to watch them net, but I do it because Russell in person is more phenomenal than the Russell of my imagination. Every big hit we all share glances, there aren't many words, just the sound of Russell hitting the ball and the sound of us reacting to it. When the session finishes, the physio comes over and puts Russell back together again. It's like watching a mechanic rebuild a car. How many more times can Russell do this?

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

The World Cup as seen by Sharda Ugra

The World Cup as seen by Sharda Ugra © Getty Images

A rainmaker's confessions

By Sharda Ugra

June 16: Once I was confirmed as the tournament's rainmaker, advice began, um, pouring in about where my next journey should take me. Far away from the World Cup. Cape Town, where there's a water shortage. Straight to hell to rain on the Devil's parade. In the four rain-abandoned matches in the first fortnight of the World Cup, I pulled off a hat-trick: Bristol, Southampton and Nottingham. On Friday afternoon as my train pulled out of Nottingham, sunshine blazed down on the city. Manchester on Sunday is out of bounds. My photograph has been sent to all railway stations in London to prevent me from boarding a train until the last ball is bowled.

The rain here is very different from Mumbai's top-volume artillery barrage, Delhi's dust-clearing, heat-buster mercy shower, or the two-hour Biblical Bengaluru downpour. Britain's barely audible, polite "precipitation" has anywhere between 15 and 100 words and phrases to describe it.

In the dressing rooms, the waiting makes people crazy. Unlike everyone else on the ground, teams have no access to their phones, which are put away with the anti-corruption folk. All the players do is sleep, read, play cards (county-cricket habit) or get forced to listen to the Old Bore's jokes. Coaches would rather have the entire day washed out at one go and retire to their hotels, instead of keeping watch on their precious flock, in perpetual suspense, gauging the mood of the room.

In press boxes, rain makes us jumpy, triggers a series of cyclical events that drag on for hours (rain, covers on and off, inspection on and off, rain - on loop), and wears down the bubbly optimism with which we set off in the morning. There's dive-bombing onto British weather websites - metoffice/darksky/raintoday/BBC weather/meteoradar. At some point someone asks, "Do these things really work or are they just guessing?" Another enthusiast cites The History of Drainage: from Aqueduct to Flush Toilets and Cricket Grounds to announce how long it will take. The covers are immovable, the conversation is dropping, knowledge about weather and irrigation systems is meaningless. Andrew Miller usefully invents the GreyScale. Former cricketers emerge from comm boxes for tea and biscuits and are stalked for quotes or selfies.

The best thing out of Bristol - a photo with the two Ws. In Southampton, there is time to let Harbhajan Singh finish lunch before he sits down to share stories about his buddy Yuvraj Singh, who has considerately retired on a rainy Monday. In Nottingham - where I once again experience the whirlpool that is an Indian World Cup campaign - there's a chance to meet friends and catch up on the goss. Do you know what happened at the restaurant so-and-so went to yesterday just before the Indian team landed up? Stay tuned in to our Live Reports. I may finish that story.

Sharda Ugra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

"I know! I can't look at myself either right now" © PA Photos/Getty Images

The day Kane Williamson played an ungrammatical shot

By Jarrod Kimber

June 13: Gulbadin Naib is probably the slowest seam bowler in this tournament - don't let his biceps fool you. And so when he delivered a slow full toss on the stumps, it changed Kane Williamson.

The normal Williamson urge would be a slightly-within-himself high-percentage boundary shot, just as the algorithm that runs his poetic batting requires. But whatever human traits are left in Williamson take over as he sees this juicy floated filth wobble down his way. Williamson's urges grab him, and he swings his bat across the line. It's a mow, a dirty slog, a heave, there is no art, no science, only boundary lust.

You can tell this is not natural to him, he doesn't commit the way Glenn Maxwell would, there is no open front leg like with Chris Gayle. It's like this shot has only occurred to him, and he's just gotta play it. Williamson's wild swipe dribbles off the inside of his bat to midwicket like he's slapped it with month-old celery.

On the walk down the crease he is swinging his bat, imitating the shot he has just played, but now he's playing it as if to say, "I can't believe I played this filthy abomination, what even is this?" As if by swinging one, two, and then three times, he can shake the virus from his game. Like smoking an entire carton of cigarettes to rid yourself of the urge ever again.

He stands at the non-striker's end, in his normal batting stance, and practises the shot he should have played, a straight punch over the bowler's head. Now he is not happy with that, so he does it again, this time with more bottom hand for elevation. It's like he sees his game in a biomechanical way that others cannot. Then he hits his thigh. He seems frustrated that he's played one grammatically incorrect shot. He doesn't look angry, but discontented. As if this will disqualify him from being in a future cricket textbook hall of fame, or worse, somehow be the reason that New Zealand won't overhaul this small Afghanistan target.

When Williamson is finished with all his self-improvement, he takes a big breath of air - a human control-alt-delete - and goes about being the most attentive and supporting non-striker he can be.

Show some gratitude. They struggled so we could be entertained

Show some gratitude. They struggled so we could be entertained © Getty Images

I miss incompetent England. Do you?

By Andrew Fidel Fernando

June 11: Forgive me if I'm getting a little emotional, but there was a time when representing England at the World Cup used to mean something. A time when England transcended the tournament they were playing in, and stood for the good of the game at large, not merely their own narrow interests.

I'm talking about England's long tradition of arriving at the tournament full of confidence, only to crash out in wonderfully comic fashion, filling a billion hearts around the world with joy.

For 20 years, they were resplendent. Who can forget poor old Richard Illingworth in 1996, getting splatted for four fours in a row by Sanath Jayasuriya, who won that quarter-final for Sri Lanka without batting even 13 overs? What about 1999, when England rolled up to their home tournament, got decked by South Africa and India, and were knocked out before the World Cup song had even been released? This was high art - the kind of comedy that makes you want to kiss your fingers and gesture in the way of an Italian chef.

Across the years, there have been upturned pedalos, batting orders that collapsed like circus tents, opening bowlers who were shamed repeatedly through the covers, non-spinning spinners who were shunned disdainfully over midwicket, and captains who wore long, morose looks during long, morose stints in the field. The post-mortems that followed each loss were glorious. While England coaches were put through brutal press interrogations, and the English media dealt in industrial quantities of flagellation and fatalism, the rest of the world looked on with the corners of our mouths twitching, our eyes filling with tears, our bodies unable to contain eruptions of laughter.

Remember that game against New Zealand in the last World Cup? The one where England were monstered for 123 all out, before having that score chased down in 12.2 overs? Or the quarter-final from the previous World Cup, when, having moused their way to 229 for 6 in Colombo, they were convinced they had enough on the board to win? Sri Lanka's openers were so all over the chase that at one point Tillakaratne Dilshan apologised to his opening partner Upul Tharanga for hitting a four, because there were only so many runs left and Tharanga hadn't made his century yet.

As the 2019 World Cup hits its straps, there are few losses more keenly felt than the absence of an incompetent England. They are not only no longer risible, they are one of the teams to beat, putting up gargantuan scores, driving forward the game's evolution. They have gone from being Ewoks to the Death Star in the space of four years.

Perhaps another team will fill that breach. But much as Sri Lanka are trying, it's not the same. There is a slapstick wonder about them, yes, but they have never commanded anything like the resources at the ECB's disposal, nor does their media quite do hand-wringing in the same way, so the joke is incomplete.

Much as we celebrate the batting frontiers this England team may open up, let us take a moment to reflect on what we have lost: the World Cup's most consistently comic presence.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Come together: how about players from both teams lining up in one rank when the anthems play?

Come together: how about players from both teams lining up in one rank when the anthems play? © Peter Della Penna

Where do you stand on national anthems?

By Sharda Ugra

June 9: Where do you stand on national anthems playing before World Cup matches? Do you stand at all? I happen to be a committed stander (but anthem-playing in cinemas annoys me immensely). I don't think every ODI has to feature anthems, but at World Cups they sound appropriate. When anthems play, I think of every cricketer from Gisborne to Georgetown in that solemn line as someone's son or daughter who slammed doors going out for practice or coming back in, leaving behind a trail of dirty clothes. So I stand to salute the mums.

Anthems at the cricket World Cup first turned up in 2003, to add an evocative do-this-for-your-country prelude to every game. West Indies repurposed David Rudder's calypso "Rally 'Round the West Indies" into the anthem that strung together six member associations across many island nations. Inside cricket press boxes, when the anthems begin, some journalists get to their feet with a bit of an eye-roll over what they consider an unnecessary round of cheesy patriot games. Not standing also comes with a misplaced sense of coolness: several people will be genuinely working at the time, but for others who ooze Busy Professional frowns and stay seated, the best response is a giggle or a snort.

An Indian ex-colleague at ESPNcricinfo, Abhishek Purohit, happens to be a bit of an anthem specialist and can hold a tune; at one staff party, he produced a pitch-perfect rendition of "Pak Sarzamin". This was 2011. By now he can belt out the anthems of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Nepal, and is trying to improve his "tooti-phooti" [broken] rendition of "Sri Lanka Matha". FYI, the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore has written two South Asian national anthems (the Indian and the Bangladeshi), and possibly had some role to play in a third (the Sri Lankan) - but he abhorred the idea of nationalism. He called it, among other things, a "menace".

Cricket draws its sustenance from the idea of nation versus nation but these are days of hardened hearts and angry voices. The more we can do without faux animosity and bitterness the better, and oddly no one shows that better than Indian and Pakistani cricketers in how they deal with each other on and off the field and in how they tackle the madness around their matches. (Television anchors and hyper-nationalist reporters from both countries sadly refuse to learn from them.)

As the anthems played in Cardiff before the match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, two countries bloodied and traumatised by recent terrorist attacks, a utopian idea struck. Maybe it would be better if the teams had lined up together - captains at either end or at the centre, with a Sri Lankan next to a New Zealander, followed by another Sri Lankan, then another New Zealander, and so on down the line. Shoulder to shoulder and ready to compete. Lining up next to an opponent at anthem time wouldn't dim the bowler's resolve to knock the stumps out of the ground. It wouldn't make batsmen's eyes light up less on sighting a slower one and tonking it for six. What it would do is leave a still, deep resonance.

Along with being calls to the motherland, anthems are messages that TV pictures send out to fans to remind them of the import (actually inconsequential) of what they are about to witness, to stir their tribalism. At this point in human history, the world has had enough of that. Having players side by side as the anthems play could be cricket's - and the World Cup's - return to what's best about our sport: its variety, its differences, its quirkiness, its everyday madnesses (honestly, three formats?). In which everyone - participants, witnesses, bystanders - is eventually standing on common ground.

Hooked, line and sinker: Rashid sends a Marcus Stoinis delivery into the great beyond

Hooked, line and sinker: Rashid sends a Marcus Stoinis delivery into the great beyond © Getty Images

The otherworldly talents of Rashid Khan

By Jarrod Kimber

June 7: The Afghan players wander out on the field for a net session; the support staff isn't out on the field. The guys are joking and laughing. There's a tall one, some shorter wiry types, and a few thickset players. There's one who stands out, perhaps because he's so famous, or maybe he's just one of those guys who stands out. He takes a bat into the net, no pads or gloves or anything else. Another player delivers a spinning ball to him and he charges at it, swings hard and straight. The ball clears the boundary and lands 12 rows back.

The other players laugh and crow about it. Rashid Khan smiles.

We are used to seeing Rashid at the top of his mark, almost twitching, such is his desire to get through the crease and grab another victim. Or breaking into that cheeky grin from under the floppy fringe in the moments after it's clear he has made a batsman look confused.

But there is also Rashid Khan the batsman, who bats like he is the best bowler in the world and he wants you to know he can own you with the bat too. He has an incredible eye, a swinging tailender's spirit, and some new-age hitting technique. In the days before T20 he would have ended up as your favourite No. 10; now he's an improving lower-order hurricane.

When facing Marcus Stoinis in Afghanistan's first game, he charged down the wicket and lofted a ball on the up straight back for six. He followed that with two more boundaries that showed his skill and smarts.

But it was the last shot that showed that he thinks this world is his. Stoinis had used length, gone for a yorker, tried a bouncer and got the line wrong. Now came the first ball he got right, a high short ball outside off that was correctly set up to make Rashid play a standard shot. It should have been a hook shot to a ball too high; it was not; he played it like a samurai slicing open a dragon as it flew past his ear.

It was a front hook shot to a ball outside off stump above his head that went to deep midwicket. You could be forgiven for thinking the ball disappeared into whatever parallel universe the shot was invented for. But it stayed in our world.

Well, not ours, Rashid Khan's world.

Sarfaraz: moving target

Sarfaraz: moving target © Getty Images

Sarfaraz and Woakes' cat-and-mouse game

By Karthik Krishnaswamy

June 5: Chris Woakes to Sarfaraz Ahmed, fifth ball of the 40th over. As the bowler enters his delivery stride, the batsman begins to back away towards the leg side.

This sort of premeditated movement is routine in limited-overs cricket, but if you're watching on TV, it's not that easy to figure out why it's happening, beyond the basic idea that the batsman is making room to target the off side. Where the fielders are, and where the gaps are, is anyone's guess.

Now, however, a graphic has appeared on the bottom left of the screen - in this case detailing the field England have set. It has been a feature of this World Cup, and while it doesn't appear as often as it could (all the time, ideally), it's one of the best things to happen to cricket on TV.

Ishita Mazumder / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

This is Woakes' field to Sarfaraz: three fielders on the leg-side boundary, third man back, mid-on and mid-off inside the 30-yard circle, a ring of three infielders square on the off side.

The fielders in the graphic aren't just dots on a generic circular ground. This is Trent Bridge, and the dots occupy a space that is faithful to its idiosyncratic shape, something like a rectangle with rounded edges, with one corner lopped off, making for a long diagonal. To the right-hander, the shortest boundary on the ground is either at deep-backward square leg or deep extra cover, depending on which end the bowler is delivering from.

The short boundary is on the off side as Woakes bowls, and given where the boundary fielders are positioned, it's not difficult to see what his plan is. Bowl short and into Sarfaraz's body, and get him to hit square on the leg side, towards the longer and better protected boundary, with third man in place for the edged pull or hook, or the ramp.

Sarfaraz, of course, knows what's happening. In the second Powerplay, with only four fielders protecting the boundary, bowlers can't help but telegraph their intentions with the field they set. They have a little more breathing room in the last ten overs, with a fifth outfielder giving them a plan B, or a chance to bluff the batsman.

With two balls left in the second Powerplay, Sarfaraz knows what Woakes is thinking, and Woakes knows that Sarfaraz knows what he's thinking. He knows Sarfaraz might try to upset either his line or his length. He could try to run down the pitch and hit him down the ground, or he could try to make room and hit through or over the ring of off-side fielders.

Option A isn't that easy against a bowler of Woakes' pace and the V isn't really Sarfaraz's strength. He is more of a shuffler, a hustler, a square-of-the-wicket kind of guy. Twice already this over, he has tried option B, and Woakes was alive to it on both occasions, following him, cramping him for room, conceding leg-side singles.

It isn't easy, however, to keep following the batsman and get it right every time. Woakes isn't aiming at a spot on the pitch or a set of stumps. Sarfaraz is a moving target, and on this occasion he times his movement perfectly: early enough to attain a stable base when the ball gets to him, late enough to prevent the bowler from getting a proper sighter.

All the calculations, all the cat-and-mouse, happens in a blink, and thanks to the field-placement graphic, the viewer can make some sense of it too. Woakes bowls it short, into the pitch, a slower offcutter. He probably wants it to get up to around shoulder height, and perhaps jag in off the pitch to deny Sarfaraz room to free his arms. He doesn't miss by much, but the line isn't quite close enough to the batsman, and the ball sits up at chest height. Sarfaraz flat-bats it over the leaping mid-on fielder for four.

Sarfaraz v Woakes won't go down among the World Cup's iconic contests, but it's perfectly representative of what ODIs increasingly look like: highly tactical contests of small and unforgiving margins.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

The result was not surprising but it was superb for the tournament

The result was not surprising but it was superb for the tournament © Getty Images

The World Cup is officially alive

By Andrew Fidel Fernando

June 3: We were waiting to be captivated. As far as World Cups go, this one was specifically engineered to spring the fewest surprises possible. There were two agreed upon favourites, a well-defined chasing pack, plus stragglers. The best tournaments shimmer with possibility. Four matches in here, storylines already seemed to be setting in World Cup concrete.

It's not that the hosts, bless them, didn't try their best to bring the tournament to some sort of life. Jofra Archer delivered a searing spell. Ben Stokes claimed what was described variously in the English media as the catch of the tournament, slash the century, slash of all recorded time. Sublime though these acts were, they were still in service of the pre-ordained tournament narrative.

The first broadening of horizons came in Bangladesh's opening partnership. Soumya Sarkar, whipping Lungi Ngidi off the hip, crashing Kagiso Rabada through cover, taking apart arguably the best new-ball attack around, while Tamim Iqbal, the usual devastator, practically limped to 16 off 29. There was a resorting to type in the remainder of Bangladesh's innings, with Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah producing the bulk of the remaining runs. But then, in their defence of 330, the Bangladesh quicks conjured up another unexpected delight: hints of reverse swing, in a tournament in which virtually none was anticipated.

Perhaps it is fitting that Bangladesh provided the first proper spark, because in a ten-team event where it is almost impossible to fly in under the radar, they have done exactly that. Not breaking records over the past year, as the best teams have done, or lurching from low to low like the worst, they'd hid in the middle of the pack. With every passing hour, the victory seems less heist, and more perfectly executed plan.

The result opens up two tasty new plot lines. Could Bangladesh be a wrecking ball in the round-robin stage, wreaking havoc among the semi-final hopefuls? And are South Africa, who have have lost two first matches and have India to play next, now straining against the psychological pressure they were not expected to encounter for at least a few weeks?

There is yet to be a transcendent passage of play at this tournament. There have been no electric finishes, for now. But where the first four matches told us little that was unknown, there was now something about this World Cup that seemed unwritten.

Now that's how you start a World Cup

Now that's how you start a World Cup © AFP

A tale of two deliveries

By Osman Samiuddin

June 2: Everything on Thursday morning and the preceding build-up had led us - conditioned us even - to believe that Kagiso Rabada would mark out his run-up, hand over his sweater to the umpire, conduct one trial run-in and kick off the 2019 World Cup.

The pitch held, we were told, a tinge of green and a bit of bounce. Pitch readings, though, should inspire the same amount of scepticism as tarot-card readings. So when Imran Tahir started marking out that Abdul Qadir-angled run-up first thing - hello? The world united in a double-take: what had Faf du Plessis figured out that nobody else had? To plan is human, to execute divine. When Tahir landed his legbreak just right and dismissed the world's baddest-ass ODI opener, Jonny Bairstow, first ball, we had our first divine moment of this tournament ludicrously early.

Even before the wicket, ESPNcricinfo's analysts and stats team were in some frenzy on Slack.

"[Jason] Roy vs legspin is a huge match-up." The tone was all caps.

"ODI cricket is becoming T20."

"Bairstow struggled against spin in IPL."

Du Plessis revealed later he had been planning it for weeks. Tahir had been bowling with a new ball in the nets. It was a bracingly modern moment: a notably intuitive captain, unafraid to take risks, unearthing a tactical masterstroke, perhaps on the back of some data, and neutering England's barnstorming opening pair.

The fact that it was Tahir mattered. He is at his last big hurrah, genuinely one of the game's most interesting stories, a cricketer who started off Pakistani but ended up South African - and no team, historically, is as unlike Pakistan as South Africa.

Except: Jofra Archer. Later in the game Archer, with a backstory every bit as engaging as Tahir's, with skills and swag to burn, created his own little moment. It was early in the chase but his bouncer to Hashim Amla, which hit him flush on the grille, felt immediately like it was an Important Moment.

The thrill of it was something else. Much more visceral, yes. A young man, with a lean, slight frame, exercising the powers of his youth over an ageing great, low on form, slow in body. A young man emceeing his own entry onto the world stage, and in the process consigning du Plessis and Tahir's opening duet to an afterthought, a curio from the remnants of battle.

And so, to throw it back at Rudyard Kipling, it is a really, really big if, to be expected to treat triumph and disaster - or at least their dialled-down sporting equivalents, victory and defeat - the same. We don't - and probably can't - treat them the same.

Heroic failure we remember. It has a hallowed place in sport, especially with the English. What chances we'll remember Tahir's moment, which was but a minor success in a broader failure? Archer's moment, forged in victory, will live long because in retrospect it stands out as the moment the chase started getting gone. Du Plessis himself later alluded to the disruption it caused. So often what we celebrate and what we are left with are the moments of triumph that built the bigger triumph: Archer's bouncer or Stokes' catch. What fades away is Tahir's wicket, or du Plessis' Moeen Ali catch, technically was better than Stokes' because it wasn't, as the latter's was doing, making up for a misjudgment. That's for another day, though.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds rejoice, not knowing what horrors await them on the flight back

Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds rejoice, not knowing what horrors await them on the flight back © Getty Images

Chasing the World Cup

By Jarrod Kimber

June 1: The journey to my first World Cup game started at a creepy internet cafe just off the Sunset Strip, with posters for cheap calling rates, and almost everyone using Hotmail. It was an email from my parents from which I found out that Shane Warne wouldn't be playing in the World Cup of 2003 due to a drugs ban.

My mates and I had planned on one month of backpacking across the US and then one month at the World Cup in South Africa. But we hadn't factored on the one logistical flaw - that we'd be in the US for the first month of a World Cup. And in places like Beaver, Colorado, in 2003, it wasn't always easy to find the internet to log on to Cricinfo. So we ended up finding our cricket in random places.

In a sports bar in St Louis or Memphis - somewhere flyover - we saw a news report on how the "South African Cricket Club" (bless them for trying) was on the verge of being knocked out of their tournament. In Chicago, in the back of an electronics shop we had entered to get my mate a replacement pair of clippers, a radio had BBC World Service tell us that John Davison - whom we had all seen as 12th man a lot for Victoria - had scored the quickest hundred in a World Cup, for Canada.

In Washington our hotel was full of Japanese basketball fans over to see Michael Jordan play for the Wizards, but there was also an Indian guy who told us how good Andrew Symonds had been against Pakistan. In New York we tried to talk to a Punjabi cabbie about cricket since he was a huge fan, but instead he told us all the disgusting details of his truly horrid sex life.

We had a week in the UK so we were able to see South Africa's Duckworth-Lewis failure - after fighting my cousin's boyfriend for the remote because he wanted to watch snowboarding videos. In an Aussie-themed pub in London - Belushi's - we watched Andy Bichel destroy England.

Then we made our way to South Africa. I saw my first ever World Cup match in Centurion, where Ian Harvey backed away to slog one at the death and ended up leaving the ball. All our stuff got nicked in a backpackers in Durban. When hanging around St George's Park in Port Elizabeth we saw the ticket desk open and went over to see if we could get tickets to the semi-final, and they had tickets to the final as well. In the final Virender Sehwag hit Brad Hogg pretty much over our heads.

We flew back the next day and were on the same flight as the Australian players. We took photos with the trophy, and Andrew Symonds was a bit unhappy with my mate's grip on it. On the plane, Adam Gilchrist exchanged seats with Darren Lehmann's wife to come into economy and help nurse his young child. He was on the same row as us. It took him hours to settle the child down, and when he finally did, they both went to sleep. Then I got up for the toilet, tripped on my mate's thighs and plowed elbow first into Gilly.

This was on my mind as I made my trip to Bristol for this World Cup, with my boys in the back of the car. Today they're going to their first World Cup game, Afghanistan v Australia. My youngest son's been saying he will support Pakistan. It took some time to convince him they wouldn't be playing. But I suppose it's all a journey.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo

© IDI via Getty Images

The great giddiness

By Sharda Ugra

May 29: I promise this will not be that old sports-hack boast of counting the numbers of World Cups you've attended or regurgitating the telling-the-grandchildren-I-was-there trope. (Know what, grandad/mom? The kids don't care.) There's a possibility this could be the last World Cup I travel to as a reporter, so I find it important to say this about World Cups that can't be said enough.

That when it comes around every four years - regardless of format or venue or how many teams play - the World Cup makes cricket still feel young, fresh and bursting with abandon. Not dying in one format, not getting cannibalised by T20 leagues in two, not contaminated by fixing (match, spot, whatever) across every kind, not bickering about lines or spirits. Cricket like it was when you first ran into the sport or were led towards it as a child.

From the time you hook into a World Cup, either on television in the office as un-entitled rookie or as the lucky so-and-so picking up your accreditation at the venue of your first game, its possibilities appear boundless. Anything can happen because it has, anyone can win because they do, and who knows who could become a hero, because there have been so many. There are many World Cup heroes who aren't typical "legend" material - in the thousands of minutes the World Cup occupies, heroes snatch and own an instant, freeze-framing it as theirs forever. Every fan has their own hero-entry snapshot, so out of respect I won't say what mine is. Regardless of who fills it, wherever you are, whatever you do, thinking about it will always make you stop and switch on the sunbeam in your soul.

The reason I love empty stadiums before a big game is the same reason World Cups make me giddy. The great, green stage lying in wait for a frenzied audience and its cast, characters, colours and drama. Yes, I know the game today is totally professionalised, from hair gel to boot studs, exhaustively prepared for, microscopically monitored, ridiculously controlled, and unconscionably hyped, never more so than during a World Cup. The allure, though, remains in the anticipation itself, in the sweeping statement that every World Cup makes - hey you, yes you, cricket is throwing its biggest party, the world is invited (yes, yes, ten teams is a travesty but the moment before the first ball is bowled is best savoured with a suspension of reality), so dust off your dancing shoes and hit the floor.

Gwylia mas Caerdydd, dwi ar fy ffordd. Watch out, Cardiff, I'm on my way!

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