The pitched battles of Black Friday will have nothing on it.
Come this Saturday, the nation’s supermarkets will be bracing themselves as panama-hatted hordes strip their shelves of super-sugary energy drinks and extra-caffeinated coffee. Why? The ICC Cricket World Cup is about to pitch its stumps in Australia and New Zealand, thus demanding through-the-night dedication from UK-based fans of the sport – and potential converts.
Those anti-social hours would usually be a cause for logistical concern, but instead they should be firmly embraced by anyone unable to fork out the cash or save up the annual leave to take a six-week Antipodean sabbatical.
Watching or listening through the night is actually the perfect time to sink yourself into each match. Were the tournament being played in our own time zone, the stuck-at-work brigade would keep trying to catch a sneaky earful of Test Match Special, causing productivity to drop and the economy to plunge into reverse gear.
Instead, they can indulge themselves in the guilt-free peace of their own homes, free from interruption by email, phone or their boss’s withering glances. Sleep’s overrated, anyway.
Such dedication may be blindly optimistic on this, the tournament’s 40th anniversary. England’s recent one-day form has been as misfiring as that of their eternally under-scrutiny skipper Alastair Cook. But if the selectors believe in omens, portents and other non-scientific indicators, they might find solace in the fact that the last time the tournament took place Down Under – way back in 1992 – England reached the final.
Although they ultimately came up short against Pakistan, Graham Gooch’s boys did dispatch their Australian chums en route to the runners-up spot, thanks largely to a half-century and four-wicket haul from a near-retirement Ian Botham.
Sadly, in this post-Pietersen era, such mercurial talents are in short supply in the England dressing-room. That plucky Yorkshireman Joe Root has the capability and growing experience to flash the bat, as does the splendidly bearded Moeen Ali whose recent one-day century against Sri Lanka offered some much-needed bravery from the opening partnership. And Jimmy Anderson, crocked for the current Sri Lanka tour, will – fingers and toes crossed – return blazing in what will undoubtedly be his last tilt at World Cup glory.
On these tinder-dry, late-summer wickets, Anderson’s fast-bowling brethren could well decide the trophy’s destination. South Africa’s super-consistent Dale Steyn heads the parade, with Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson, scourge of England during the last Ashes, also destined to shine. And it will be tricky to miss the towering figure of Pakistan’s Mohammad Irfan, at 7ft 1in, the tallest-ever international cricketer.
Australia go into the tournament as clear favourites, but there’s an early chance for England to upset that particular apple cart – the Aussies host Cook’s men in their opening pool game. Optimists need only apply, however. The combination of the date (14 February) and the England team’s far-from-commanding pre-tournament form means the headline will surely write itself: St Valentine’s Day Massacre.
It’s probably judicious, therefore, to pick a second side to follow through the tournament. South Africa and India are pretty evenly matched second favourites, while Sri Lanka – runners-up at the past two World Cups – can never be completely ignored. Those who love an underdog may well reserve a place in their hearts for Afghanistan, the minnows who will make their first appearance in a Cricket World Cup.
Whether you can find it within yourself to will Australia to glory is a tough ask for any England fan, but no-one will genuinely be aggrieved if, following the shocking death of Phillip Hughes, it’s Michael Clarke who lifts the trophy on 29 March, a victory inevitably dedicated to the tragic young batsman.
Whether it’s despair or glory, tears or smiles, it promises to be six weeks of stamina-sapping all-nighters. Better start panic-buying that Red Bull right now.
The ICC Cricket World Cup runs from 14 February until 29 March 2015