Burns Eye View

Cricket is the Winner

As the Festive Season gets into full swing, and England’s cricketers prepare to perform in South Africa from Boxing Day onwards, it feels the perfect time to celebrate the wonderful fillip the sport has received as a consequence of the England Cricket Team’s World Cup win. The summer of 2019 was brilliant for cricket – and England’s brilliant all-rounder Ben Stokes was the centrepiece for virtually every big moment.

Whilst Cricket is a team game, the public identifies with individuals. Sport needs heroes – and in Ben Stokes, English Cricket has a new hero.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year was dominated by the wonderful achievements of Stokes and his fellow cricketing heroes. England were voted ‘Team of the Year’ and also won ‘Greatest Sporting Moment of the Year’ for Jason Roy’s accurate throw to Jos Buttler that meant England were World Cup winners for the first time.

However, the real winner for me this year was the sport itself. The losing World cup finalists, New Zealand, fell agonisingly short of becoming World Cup winners, and behaved with such dignity at the most disappointing of professional moments, that their grace will always stay with me.

In sports other than Rugby, they have lacked the depth of excellence (and population to feed the next generation of elite talent) to challenge other countries to global supremacy in some sports such as Football, but in cricket, New Zealand have achieved much. Famous for ‘punching above their weight’ in ICC Cricket World Cups, Kane Williamson’s excellent team delivered again. To lose two consecutive World cup finals must be painful for all the people involved in the process, but their legacy goes beyond silverware.

And, in a glorious summer for cricket, it would be remiss of me to not pay tribute to Steve Smith for a remarkable return to the international stage following his ban. His Bradmanesque form with the bat lit up the Ashes series until Jofra Archer’s rapid pace intervened and caused Smith to miss the Headingley test match, which England managed to win thanks to the miracle batting performance of all-rounder Ben Stokes.

Australia, under the mentorship of Steve Waugh and coached by the experienced Justin Langer, seem to have turned a corner after a tumultuous period in their history that culminated in the resignations of leading officials and cricket people from senior roles. The culture had turned ugly, and their cricket was losing its’ lustre too.

The summer of 2019 saw Marnus Labuschagne as ‘the biggest winner’ of the new concussion substitute rule. His excellent ‘fill-in’ performance at Lord’s earned him another opportunity at Headingley and as the saying goes: ‘the rest is history’. Marnus has gone from strength to strength since Lord’s and the shy Christian from South Africa has become one of the hottest properties in world cricket right now. Clearly his spell with Glamorgan at the start of the English summer of 2019 was impactful in his development.

With so much to celebrate about our wonderful sport, and so many of its’ participants, it offers the administrators in England a chance to build further upon both recent glories and past glories too. A strong future is underpinned by a nod to the past. How a sport recognises the people who have played their part in the fabric of the game in previous years ensures the soul of the game is fed.

With this in mind, I was delighted to learn of the many heartfelt and respectful tributes paid to the great English fast bowler Bob Willis MBE who passed away recently, at the relatively young age of 70. Bob was an inspirational bowler, a passionate supporter of the England cricket team, and an all-round ‘great bloke’.

Bob was one of my cricket heroes growing up, and Headingley 1981 enriched that experience.

I was privileged to come to know him when he was selected as the Manager of the England Young Cricketers Tour I went on to West Indies in 1985. Bob had just retired as England Captain. We were so fortunate to enjoy his wise counsel and sense of fun at such formative stages of our respective careers. For me, along with many others, it provided some fantastic memories. It was a trip that forged lifelong friendships.

Zorol Barthley Jimmy Adams Carl Hooper and many other 'locals' helped make the tour so memorable, and the presence of such a respected cricket person as Bob, enriched the whole experience. He was passionate about excellence and cared deeply for English cricket. He cared about people - there were so many contrasting sides to him - a real person. Top man. May he rest in peace.

As Christmas nears, and the prospect of another year passes, at least we have Boxing Day test match cricket from Australia and South Africa to warm us. I shall raise a glass to Bob Willis, and also to the England team for the joy they have given the cricket-supporting fraternity this year.

May Cricket continue to be ‘the winner’ in future years...

Merry Christmas and a Happy new year.

Neil Burns


Click here for other blogs