Leading Edge: Cricket can’t change the real world

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

“SEE you in the final,” a shopkeeper at Birmingham’s Moor Street station said with a smile as he handed the change to a customer who had bought a copy of The Guardian for company on the 12:55 to London on Thursday.

The shopkeeper was Indian — a couple of generations removed — and his customer South African. Much needed to happen if South Africa and India were to meet in the Champions League final at The Oval next Sunday, some of it unprecedented.

But that wasn’t what was uppermost for the South African as he made his way to platform four: cricket could wait.

He passed a pair of policemen as he walked. They were, as they invariably seem to be in a country where Marikana might be mistaken for some kind of exotic tea, friendly.

There are more friendly police about these days, visibly and consistently. Since last Saturday their numbers have been increased in the wake of three losers — even Donald Trump gets some things right — driving a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then trying to stab as many people as they could.

Neither was that what the South African was most interested in as he stepped aboard the train.

Instead, he flipped open his paper and read as much as he could about the general election that was happening all around him.

By Friday morning, in the wake of the most decisive swing since Clement Attlee hit Winston Churchill for six in 1945, it was confirmed that the UK had chosen for itself a hung parliament.

The South African took a run along the south bank of the Thames and had to dodge a slew of television crews all pointing their cameras across the river at Big Ben and Parliament, trying to make it sense of it all for this nation and others far away.

Presently, they were chased under umbrellas by a shower of rain. Running and umbrellas don’t get along, so the South African got soaked as he chugged. An umbrellaless woman taking shelter under the Vauxhall Bridge applauded, presumably, his determination.

She looked like a Labour voter. And a cricket person.

The Champions Trophy is a lesser spotted event. It’s not a World Cup or an Olympics in scale or importance, and happily so because that means it doesn’t snarl up traffic and take an age to spool to its climax.

But even the Champions Trophy hopes if not to stop the world then to give it something else to think about for a while.

This time, in the country that gave the world cricket, it has failed to do so because reality has not been a friend of ours.

The events of last Saturday, which only added to the shadow cast by two previous terrorist attacks in the space of three months, have robbed cricket of the privilege it might otherwise have enjoyed of allowing the public to suspend their disbelief in reality.

Cricket tries, and tries hard, sometimes too hard. But it can’t change the world.

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