An evening when it’s bad to be alive…

As a Middlesex cricket club member, I had priority entry to the men’s Cricket World Cup ballot, and I got four tickets to the final.

I’ve never been at a cricket game like it.

At one point during the NZ innings, Himself turned to me and went “this is quite a boring game, isn’t it?” and then England came out to bat.

And the required rate started climbing and the run rate started dropping, but the runs required off balls remaining was still being steadily chipped away, and we thought “maybe?” because hope springs eternal and it’s not the despair, I can take the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand, but then we needed 12 runs an over but then Trent Boult stepped on the rope with the ball in his hand which is a six and then that deflection (or maybe it was the other way round) and at one point I can’t decide what to do with my hands so I’m alternately waving my hands about and hugging myself and biting my knuckles and sinking my nails into my knees and we’re on our feet and screaming, one great, incoherent howl from 29,000 throats because win or lose, we’re so close and we might just and there’s a great, despairing dive for the crease but the wicket flashes red and it’s a tie.

And we hold our breath. “What now?”

Everyone in the ground reaches for their phones to google “super over”.

I’m sure I heard dad say a Bad Word and I think mum was praying.

As Norman Nicholson put it in “Old Man at a Cricket Match”:

“An evening when it’s bad to be alive,
And the swifts squealing.”

And Ben Stokes, ten minutes after it should have been all over, comes staggering down the steps from the Pavilion, grass stains all down the front of his shirt and bat in hand, to do it all again, and 29,000 people hold their breath.

And then someone gives the ball to Jofra Archer and he bowls a wide, and his shoulders drop, and 29,000 people hold their breath.

And it’s somehow, impossibly, ridiculously, a tie again, but we’ve won and Jofra Archer is flat on his back on the pitch as the rest of the team wheel away, yelling, into the lengthening shadows, and someone in a black shirt is on his knees and we’re screaming and there’s fireworks against a bright blue sky.

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