What next for English cricket? The first and most immediate answer is also an age-old one: thump the Australians in the forthcoming Ashes series. The second answer, which is more difficult to achieve, is: don’t waste this moment.
English cricket staked a lot on winning the world cup. The tournament will not be held in England for another 20 years if, indeed, it is ever held here again. For four years, this has been the target. For the first-time, and not without some controversy, the interests of one-day cricket were placed ahead of the traditional test format. To risk so much and still fail would have been a calamity.
Thanks to Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer and a hefty dollop of extravagant good fortune, Eoin Morgan duly became the first England captain to lift the world cup. A public thirsting for the chance to fall in love with a new generation of heroes has been given permission to do so. Job done. Or, at least, this part of the job has been accomplished. The joy felt in cricketing circles is tempered by something approaching relief too.
Cricket is no stranger to anxiety. The summer game is not what it once was. The forecast is always dire and cricket is forever worrying that its future is cloudy at best and, more frequently, liable to be washed away by modernity.
In 1957, MCC commissioned a report on the future of first-class cricket in England. It began:
“The MCC have for some time been increasingly concerned with the decline in the gates of county matches and at the tempo at which the game is played”.
The post-war boom years – in which all sports enjoyed record attendances – saw attendance at county championship matches reach two million.