England’s white-ball team proves they play a distinct sport.

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By Creative Media News

Sunday, just before 8 p.m. local time in Melbourne, Adil Rashid bowled the 12th over of Pakistan’s innings. Liam Livingstone’s 11th has just been smashed for 16 runs. Pakistan was 84 for two and the tide of the game was beginning to swing after a slow start. Rashid bowled a wicketless over at this juncture, amidst the intense pressure of the World Cup final.

We should probably discuss this a bit more. However, it is not that simple. The phrase “The Wicked Maiden Heard Around the World” is difficult to say. There is no score or number associated with it. The brilliance of it cannot be captured in a statue or image. It concluded without loud celebrations or even a mob salute, but with a pat on the back and a moderate round of applause.

England's white-ball team proves they play a distinct sport.
England's white-ball team proves they play a distinct sport.

You can attempt to deconstruct the over into its component components, such as the cleverly disguised googly that tricked Babar Azam into taking a return catch and the nasty variations in flight that stopped Iftikhar Ahmed from getting off the strike. You may highlight the statistical significance of the over in the context of Pakistan’s innings, and perhaps apply a data-driven rating such as Total Match HyperImpact. However, none of this adequately captures the magnitude of what Rashid accomplished.

This is mostly because our thoughts, words, and emotions toward cricket are still largely influenced by its history. At the commencement of T20, nobody commemorated or memorialized wicket maidens because they were ordinary and unremarkable in red-ball cricket. We continue to discuss half-centuries as if they were inconsequential and sanctify “partnership-building” even though ineffective partnerships frequently lose matches. Still, crowds acclaim singles more than dot balls, which is likely the incorrect order.

Play a distinct sport
England's white-ball team proves they play a distinct sport.

The fact is that this is a very different sport now, and maybe the greatest accomplishment of this England white-ball team is that they have recognized this difference faster and more thoroughly than anyone else. Not every action they have taken is novel or provocative. However, as a blueprint for the future of cricket, it is the best international team effort to date.

This has also been a mental shift, necessitating the shedding of decades of ingrained cultural baggage that has defined the values and norms of English cricket for generations. Specifically, the notion that for a male cricketer, there is only one true currency of greatness, one path to glory, which begins with a couple of promising seasons serving your apprenticeship at Chelmsford or Northampton, followed by the acquisition of a smart navy jacket.

The remarkable thing about this England squad is that it contains only one regular member of the red-ball team (Ben Stokes). Ten or eleven of the remaining players will likely never play another Test match.

In Pakistan, Harry Brook will be given another chance. Mark Wood and Chris Woakes could make a comeback, but there are no guarantees, and white-ball cricket has already cemented their legacies. Who will be England’s next real all-format star once Stokes retires? Will there be a sequel?

The natural response of a portion of the audience will be a certain lamentation. This appears to be an inherent sort of cultural exceptionalism. Who will convince Rashid (two World Cup victories) that he did not reach the summit of his sport? Who will inform Sam Curran that he has been refining his talents in an inferior version of the game? Does it matter if Phil Salt participates in a Test match?

For the current generation, the dispersion of game formats is an unalterable reality. While England was rejoicing in Melbourne, the excellent Somerset batsman Will Smeed, age 21, announced his retirement from first-class cricket without having played a match. Then why not? His average in the second XI last season was 16. In the Hundred, he scored a hundred. He is exceptional at one type of game but not the other. This is simple.

This trend began under Eoin Morgan, possibly the first England great to refuse to pay lip respect to Test cricket or let it define him. Nevertheless, despite the jubilation and finality of the 2019 World Cup victory, there was a tendency to view it as something of a solo enterprise, a pleasant detour from the serious business (“and now for the Ashes!

This is your moment to shine, Jason Roy!”) This appears to be a greater tectonic change. The formats will continue to overlap. Players may go through red-ball and white-ball stages (such as Sam Billings, who has declined to play in the Indian Premier League next year to secure an England Test spot).

However, with split coaches and split captains, overlapping dates, and increased specialization, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the appearance that the content is identical. There is already a raging debate in India and Pakistan regarding the necessity for more separation between their red-ball and white-ball sides. Similarly, Australia has mostly rejected specialization in favor of a core group of hard-hitting cricket players.

In the meantime, in the irony of ironies, it is the English who are taking off their shoes and resolutely marching toward an unknown future.

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