If you thought it was going to be straightforward, you hadn't been paying attention: English sporting triumphs rarely are. As Jos Buttler demolished the stumps at the Pavilion End on a fantastical evening at Lord's, running out Martin Guptill and clinching the World Cup, the ghosts of cock-ups and sob stories past seemed less haunting. That opening stand between Brearley and Boycott, Gatting's reverse sweep, Pringle's lbw shouts against Javed Miandad, the Stokes over to Brathwaite... Not banished, just easier to brush off. England's men had always wondered how it felt to be one-day world champions. Now they knew.
The moment arrived amid the kind of knuckle-chewing drama for which precedent had prepared us, but with two differences. One, it was more fraught than ever. Two, the breaks - for once - went in England's favour, as if a higher force had ruled on humanitarian grounds against another tale of woe.
Not everyone saw it that way. With the trophy decided on boundary countback - as random as tossing a coin, minus the tension - cricket took note of the zeitgeist, and split into irreconcilable camps. This was either the greatest injustice known to man, a view held mainly in India and Australia, though not New Zealand, where they've never resented the British with such fervour. Or it was a glorious inversion of the way sport is meant to be, a view held in England. The more paranoid still wonder if the ICC will demand the trophy back, and fly it to Auckland. Even those upset on the New Zealanders' behalf - more or less everyone - could agree they had just witnessed the most tumultuous few seconds in the history of English cricket. Yet, magically, the final had been more than that.
As millions caught their breath, the game felt like all the things we always want it to be, and too often isn't. Bodies littered the outfield, like the morning after a raucous house party. England's joy rubbed shoulders with New Zealand's despair, and each was considerate of the other. Briefly, St John's Wood was the centre of the universe, exerting its own gravitational pull.
Then there were the tales for the grandchildren. Jofra Archer had veered off alone to backward point, before team-mates mobbed him - a metaphor for the start of his international career two months earlier, and perhaps for his relationship with much of the country. Eoin Morgan, the Dubliner-turned Londoner who had masterminded England's one-day volte-face, cavorted with colleagues of various races, religions and backgrounds (there was a lesson there somewhere).
Ben Stokes, less than a year after he might have gone to prison, burst into tears. Jason Roy fell to his knees, having just avoided a lifetime of self-recrimination after two errors in the super over. Buttler, hurling the ball skywards, later said he might not have been able to play again had he botched the run-out. Jonny Bairstow picked up Joe Root, who pummelled him in the chest, a show of affection in Yorkshire. It was a scene full of humanity. In Bayeux, they'd have made a tapestry.
All the while, Guptill lay flat on the turf, for ever a few feet from glory (Chris Woakes wanted to help him up; Jimmy Neesham thanked Woakes for the thought). And there was Kane Williamson, a picture of pain and poise, one of the tournament's defining images. There was a risk of fetishising the New Zealanders: for all the fine words about their good grace, they were distraught. Yet there was no ill feeling, as there might have been - just a mutual acknowledgment of the absurdity of it all. Separated only by an arcane regulation, England took the spoils, their opponents the sympathy.
Fourteen years earlier, Michael Vaughan's Ashes winners had soaked up the sunshine and adulation in Trafalgar Square, a moment of nationwide celebration that was immediately undermined when English cricket vanished behind a paywall. Now, thanks to Sky's decision to share the final with Channel 4, the England team belonged to the whole country once more. Social media clips, likes and memes come and go. But it is live sporting drama, freely available, that makes an impact, instant and lasting.
Some England players had been underwhelmed as the World Cup progressed: stadiums were generally full, yet could not mask a broader indifference. Advertising was aimed at Indian TV, not ticket-holders. Visiting teams and journalists were appalled to learn they could follow neutral games only if their hotel owned a satellite dish.
In response to a question about whether the final should be broadcast free- to-air if it involved England, their fast bowler Liam Plunkett suggested it was "always nice to be on a bigger platform". That seemed hard to argue with, but he quickly fell back into line, thanking Sky on Twitter for their investment in cricket, using language that smacked of corporate intervention. It was no coincidence that several of England's new world champions spoke of 2005 as their source of childhood inspiration. Now, they dared imagine playing a similar role.
The sense of togetherness was fleeting. When England next took the field, for the Lord's Test against Ireland ten days later, they were back behind the paywall. The genie, though, was out of the bottle. The ECB calculated that almost a third of the 15.4m who at some point tuned in to Channel 4's coverage were watching cricket for the first time - and it would have been higher still if the Wimbledon men's singles final that afternoon hadn't been another epic. (Intriguingly, the super over finished 15-all.)
The argument that no one watches TV any more sounded odder than ever; and the rule of thumb by which 10% of viewers are under 18 meant more than 1.5m potential young converts. When the UK next hosts the World Cup, the government must insist that England's games can be watched by the man and woman on the street, not just those who can afford the subscription. It's a forlorn hope.
There will, it's true, be more free-to-air cricket this summer, thanks to The Hundred. But the new competition will clash with the Royal London One-Day Cup, relegating a format in which England's men and women are reigning world champions to the status of what a senior ECB official called a "developmental competition". (To hasten its demise, this summer's county final will be the first not to take place at Lord's.) Watching the England players pinch themselves on the podium, one wondered why cricket needed anything new at all.
Boundary countback is one of those regulations that angers no one until it comes into play, at which point it is plain daft. (See: beating your carpet in the street after 8am, illegal in parts of England since 1839.) When the ICC scrapped the rule three months later, sensibly replacing it with a further super over, it was regarded in darker corners of the web as proof - proof! - that New Zealand had been robbed. This was silly and simplistic, classic post-rationalisation. Yet there was no denying cricket had been left with a bit of a philosophical poser, in which England appeared to have won and tied simultaneously, and New Zealand to have tied and lost - Schrodinger's bat, perhaps.
It was ludicrous that the game's showpiece should be decided by the small print. Yet both sides knew the deal: New Zealand needed to score 16 off Archer's over, England to deny them. And it was damning that the umpires didn't know the Law about overthrows: during the final over of the chase, Stokes should have been awarded five runs, not six, after the ball deflected off his bat to the boundary, leaving Adil Rashid on strike, and four runs, not three, needed off two.
But it was wrong to suggest England's victory was tarnished, or that they owed anyone an apology - as if sport isn't littered with famous injustices. (For an example of the chaos that can ensue when a game strives for absolute fairness, witness football's VAR.) Morgan could hardly refuse the trophy on moral grounds.
Still, let's indulge the what-if brigade. Had Rashid faced the penultimate ball of England's 50th over - as he should - he might reasonably have been expected to take a single. Stokes might then have walloped Trent Boult's leg stump full toss towards Regent's Park. Instead, he played the percentages, pushing to long-on, and guaranteeing, at worst, a tie. Similarly, had England been defending 15, not 16, Archer would have tried to run out Neesham from the fifth ball of the super over; he might have succeeded. And Guptill would have needed three, not two, off the last; he might have succeeded, too. That's the thing about chaos theory: change the flap of a butterfly's wing, and the tsunami never happens. It's understandable some think justice wasn't done. But we'll go mad trying to second-guess a parallel universe.
To lose one super over may be regarded as a misfortune. But four? Such was New Zealand's fate, as if stuck in a recurring nightmare, somewhere between Sisyphus's boulder and Tantalus's fruit. At Auckland in November, when they lost their second super over to England, this time in a Twenty20 game, stand-in captain Tim Southee half-joked: "Hopefully it's a case of third time lucky, if there's another." Southee had bowled that one, which - with Boult in the team - seemed odd. Then, against India in the new year, New Zealand messed up two T20 chases in three days: two more super overs, both bowled by Southee, both lost. When they win one, we'll all breathe more freely.
Best of breed?
Every so often, an England cricketer joins the national conversation. First among equals is W. G. Grace, because he put the sport on the map. But others have kept it there: Hobbs, Hutton, Compton, Botham, Flintoff, Pietersen and now Ben Stokes. Of the three modern all-rounders, Stokes can be the greatest.
Last year, these pages urged him to rediscover his mongrel as a matter of national urgency. He did, and more: in the World Cup final and the Headingley Test, he was playing fantasy cricket. In between came an Ashes hundred at Lord's - normally a career highlight, scarcely a tremor on the Stokesograph.
It is tempting to see him as the heir to Botham and Flintoff. He is, as far as the story goes. But we're barely halfway through: Stokes turns 29 this summer, and his summit may still be to come. By that age, the others were already on the downward slope. After Botham's 29th birthday, his Test batting average was 25 (with one hundred, a nostalgic romp at Brisbane), his bowling average 37. Flintoff - 28 with the bat, 40 with the ball - was fading too. Both had lived the high life, and paid the price. Stokes, given a glimpse of other possibilities by his appearance in court, has turned into England's rock. At Cape Town, he began 2020 like a man enjoying the taste of responsibility.
He may never match Botham's early years with the ball, but he is already more rounded with the bat, craftsman as much as hitter. And by the end of the South Africa series, he had more hundreds and five-wicket hauls (from 16 fewer Tests) than Flintoff. Stokes refuses to believe his own publicity, insisting at Newlands that the match award he had won belonged to Dominic Sibley. When he says what matters is the team, we hear sincerity, not a soundbite.
In 2019, Stokes's value was measured not just by the stirring victories that excite the public, but by the defiance appreciated by team-mates. When England stumbled during the World Cup, losing to Sri Lanka and Australia, he stood tall. Without him, this Almanack might have been another English hard- luck story. Instead, it's a celebration. Stokes is their all-weather cricketer, a giant come rain or shine. The next few years should be fun.
The very model of a modern great at Headingley
In any sane year, events on the fourth and final day of the Third Ashes Test at Headingley would have had pride of place. But Stokes's unbeaten 135, Jack Leach's unbeaten one, and England's one-wicket win, were - by the barest of margins - only the second-most astonishing twist of 2019. It was like awarding a silver medal to Steve Redgrave.
Cricket loves to classify, and debate raged: where in the pantheon did Stokes's innings belong? It was arbitrary to proclaim it the greatest of all time: months earlier at Durban, Sri Lanka's Kusal Perera had scored 153 not out after a last-wicket stand of 78 (Stokes and Leach added 76). That said, if casual observers had overlooked Perera, they could hardly be blamed: the series was watched by one man and his Rhodesian ridgeback.
But England's greatest Test innings? Stokes certainly had all the ingredients. Unlike Graham Gooch's 154 not out against West Indies at Headingley in 1991, the series was at stake. Unlike Mike Atherton's Johannesburg vigil in 1995-96, it led to a win. Unlike Ian Botham's own Headingley heist, it was sudden death. Unlike Kevin Pietersen's 186 at Mumbai in 2012-13, it was talked about next day up and down the land. Unlike Gilbert Jessop's 104 at The Oval in 1902, it survives beyond a few written words.
Stokes's innings was a modern hybrid: Test tempo as he saw out the third day; something approaching one-day mode, in partnership with Bairstow; finally, pure Twenty20. Two days earlier, after England had folded for 67, their relationship with white-ball cricket was branded toxic. Now, it was agreed their win might never have happened without the limited-overs game.
Of England Test innings that have been reported on widely enough to merit inclusion here, arguably only two can challenge Stokes: Pietersen's 158 at The Oval on the last afternoon of the 2005 Ashes, and - a few weeks after Headingley - Botham's 118 off 102 balls at Old Trafford, where he hooked Dennis Lillee without a helmet. The argument may one day be settled by another innings, and Stokes will doubtless play it.
Tight versus might
Headingley was the latest example of a strange phenomenon. In Tests between the sides decided by one or two wickets, or by fewer than 20 runs, England lead Australia 13-5. Australia last clinched an Ashes nailbiter nearly a century ago, recovering from 119 for six to 489 at Adelaide in January 1925, and winning by 11 runs. Maybe they have grown used to having things their own way, and regard close finishes as a threat. Maybe England have learned to believe nothing is impossible. Attitudes can become self-fulfilling.
But is there something else at play? In Australia, cricket is the national sport, a means of self-affirmation. Remorselessness is prized - Steve Smith last summer, Marnus Labuschagne over the winter. It's about being the best, again and again (overall, Australia lead England 146-110). In England, cricket has to shout for attention: the Test team's hard-fought rise up the rankings in 2011 was never going to make as many headlines as the rousing one-off. Perhaps both countries are simply giving their people what they want.
Look after the pennies
Six months after consummating their new love affair with 50-over cricket, England rekindled an old flame. The Test match had been lavished with less attention during Trevor Bayliss's four years in charge: you win one, you lose one, and - as he liked to put it - the sun rises next day. It was fitting that he signed off both with a World Cup, magnificently fulfilling his brief, and an exhilarating, messy 2-2 Ashes draw. With Chris Silverwood has come a change of emphasis. The talk is of platforms laid and totals built: where Bayliss tore down orthodoxy, Silverwood seeks reconstruction.
After defeat in New Zealand, England won in South Africa, a pick-me-up for the new coach, and a tonic for the captaincy of Root. Thanks to global economics and sporting politics, their opponents are not what they were. But after England lost the Boxing Day Test at Centurion, the new South African management team of Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis were hailed as saviours. By contrast, the assurances that Root would lead the side to Australia in 2021-22 were beginning to smack of entitlement.
With a quiet, considered demeanour at odds with his former (brief) incarnation as England's fastest bowler, Silverwood did not waver. His catchphrase was more down-to-earth than Bayliss's, and more practical: he wanted round pegs for round holes, which meant Sibley as an opener, not Roy.
He wanted a top order that respected the rhythms of Test cricket, which meant first-day totals of 241 for four at Mount Maunganui, and 224 for four at Port Elizabeth. Above all, he wanted method, not madness - fewer nights out, more evenings in with cocoa and Netflix.
Silverwood was right to resort to basics: for the first time since 1999, England had gone through a calendar year without winning a Test series. And when they did win the odd game, there was always a caveat. St Lucia was a consolation, since West Indies were 2-0 up. Victory over Ireland came after England had been humbled for 85. At Headingley, they needed a miracle; at The Oval, Australia had already retained the urn. They were living off scraps, which was fair enough: the banquet had come in the one-day game.
In New Zealand, England sowed seeds, scoring 353 and 476. Then, after Centurion's stony ground, they put down roots: 391 for eight at Cape Town, 499 for nine at Port Elizabeth, 400 at Johannesburg. For the first time in two years, they made 400 - Silverwood's sine qua non - in successive first innings.
Faith was placed in youngsters, and repaid. Sibley made 133 not out at Cape Town, and Ollie Pope an undefeated 135 at Port Elizabeth so accomplished that several good judges anointed him England's best since Root. Dominic Bess returned from nowhere to spin his way to five wickets. Sibley and Zak Crawley began batting though entire sessions, riches after almost a decade of rags. With Rory Burns set to return from injury, England faced an unusual dilemma: too many openers. Throw in the pace of Archer and the born-again Mark Wood, and Root looked spoiled for choice.
There are no guarantees of anything, and the next two winters bring five-Test series in India and Australia. But, after a year in which those trips loomed terrifyingly, there was lightness in the air.
Pleading the fifth
In early January, the South African board expressed their support for four-day Tests. Their timing had presumably been learned at the School for Cricket Administrators: a few hours later, Newlands was rejoicing in one of the most memorable of fifth days. In fairness to Cricket South Africa, they were only toeing the line: their English and Australian counterparts had already backed the idea, "cautiously" in the case of the ECB, which sounded like a sop. It was an age-old malaise: even while the suits bang on about how much they treasure the Test match, they steadily enfeeble it.
Cricket is already full of limited-overs formats and, thanks to The Hundred, is about to gain another. Uniquely, the five-day Test incorporates timelessness: more than any other sporting contest, it reveals character. A game can be unfinished and majestic, like La Sagrada Familia, or hurry to its demise, like a row of dominoes. Test cricket is merciless, fragile and fascinating. To lose a day would be to lose its essence. Cricket has had enough of dumbing down.
Four-day Tests do make sense in certain circumstances: England v Ireland last summer worked fine. But there are practical issues which the game shows no sign of resolving. Administrators believe, for instance, that players can get through 98 overs a day, when 90 is an endangered species. Then there's the rain. Shorten the Test match, and cricket's greatest gift to civilisation will disappear for good. And for what? A little more space in the calendar, quickly filled by the next frippery.
"[insert team name] 'til we die!"
The Hundred begins in July. Wisden laid out its position a year ago, since when nothing has diluted the fear that - to borrow from Kierkegaard - our summer sport risks being tranquillised by the trivial.
English cricket has bet the house on its new creation, so it would help if we didn't keep wincing. Attempting to manufacture something from nothing, the ECB ascribed ready-made characteristics to non-existent tribes. Welsh Fire, who are supposed to represent Somerset and Gloucestershire, as well as Glamorgan, were determined to get their retaliation in first: "Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong." London Spirit, flying the flag for Middlesex, Essex and, er, Northamptonshire, have a "unique ability to conjure something special". That may be news to Southern Brave (Hampshire and Sussex, seldom bosom buddies), who "go boldly where others shy away".
Then there was the absence of a single home-grown head coach from the eight men's teams, demolishing a crucial pillar of the argument that The Hundred would benefit the English game. One of the new coaches, Gary Kirsten, posted a tweet that included a generic "[insert team name]". Another was Shane Warne, who used to tell us coaches were a means of transport.
We haven't even mentioned the junk-food sponsorship, or a draft which stripped some counties of their assets (Sussex contributed 11 players), and left others feeling ignored (Leicestershire contributed none). It all smacked of contrivance, carelessness and expediency. And yet, for the sake of English cricket's finances, it has to work.
Turn for the worse
The decision to punish Somerset because of their pitch for the Championship decider against Essex was in keeping with English cricket's proud mistrust of the turning ball. Officially, it was "excessive unevenness of bounce", though everyone knew Taunton was on the blacklist because of the help for spinners.
While almost every other team in the country have, for years, got away with greentops that inflate the medium-pacer, spook the batsman, and defang the slow bowler, Somerset have dared to be different.
Occasionally, they have gone too far, but the game is big enough to cope: domestic cricket needs variety if it is to breed Test players. The point has been made before: Northamptonshire once produced Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, before the ECB clamped down on their turning pitches. Since then, nada. Somerset, meanwhile, have helped make Test bowlers of Leach and Bess. Let's not scare Taunton as we did Wantage Road.
The news that Test players would have names and numbers on their shirts was greeted by some as an affront, as if the format should remain a secret to all but the connoisseur. But, as coaches like to say of the miscue to long-off, it was a good idea, just poorly executed. If conditions demanded a sweater, as they often do in England, the details were obscured. And when they were visible, they were obscure - the names too small to read from a distance, the numbers legible but random. Thus, on the first day at Lord's, Australia's cordon went: 7 PAINE, [woolly sweater], 49 SMITH, 43 BANCROFT, [woolly sweater].
What did it all mean? A marketing guru in Australia argued that a player's choice of number needed to be "articulated" to the fans, who required help to "tangibilise the sport experience".
No doubt tangibilisation levels went through the roof when Smith explained that 49 "doesn't have any significance - I just like it as a number". Bancroft's loyalty to 43 was unexplained. Only Paine's 7 made sense: it's his place in the batting order - an idea so simple it will never catch on.
It all adds up
In the idyllic surroundings of Prior Park College near Bath last summer, former England all-rounder Chris Lewis was in reflective mood. The school were staging a play about his time in prison for smuggling cocaine. Behind bars, he had done some thinking, and the conversation turned to loaded language.
He recalled scoring a double-century for Nottinghamshire. Walking off, he heard a spectator remark: "Well struck." A harmless compliment? To Lewis, it was "subtly different". He added: "It was as if you've bulldozed your way to it."
The suggestion that he, a black man, had "struck" his way to 200 - rather than stroked, caressed or even batted - was not, in Lewis's view, racist. But it stemmed, he agreed, from an "unconscious bias", which is as explicit as some minorities feel they can be without angering the white mainstream.
Last year, English cricket couldn't shake off the suspicion that unconscious bias is part of the furniture. First there was Jofra Archer, regarded in some quarters as an interloper, until he helped win a World Cup, when he became a national hero. Then, as soon as his pace dropped, or he struggled on heartless pitches in New Zealand with the Kookaburra, his motivation was questioned.
Out came the stereotypes: he was too cold; he was too laid-back; he was a natural athlete, so why couldn't he bowl at 95mph on demand? It was the sort of inquisition the injury-prone Mark Wood has never had to face.
Then there was Moeen Ali, whose religion helps him see cricket for what it is. When he flourishes, the English game applauds. When he doesn't, it whispers about Anglo-Saxon work ethics. Ali confessed to feeling a scapegoat. He looked, as some may see him, like an outsider. We could go on. Adil Rashid has been suspected by Yorkshire fans of not caring. Before him, Usman Afzaal was flashy, and Alex Tudor frustrating.
Before them, Devon Malcolm had a wonky radar, and Phil DeFreitas kept being dropped. In isolation, these labels might be unremarkable; together, they grow ugly. Lewis knows it's unhelpful to call it racism. But there are times when English cricket seems unwilling to call it anything at all.
Last summer disguised the fact, but in 2019 the international game rarely covered itself in glory. South Africa and Zimbabwe remained a mess; Bangladesh and Sri Lanka laboured under corruption scandals; the Indian board reverted to cronyism; Afghanistan had to change their base in India because Dehradun lacked a five-star hotel; Ireland's Test honeymoon was cut short by financial reality, since they couldn't afford to host many others, and not many others could afford to host them.
So thank goodness for the Rawalpindi Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in December - the first Pakistan had hosted since the Lahore terrorist attack in March 2009. Their UAE exile has always felt synthetic, games in the desert watched by administrators, journalists and men in fluorescent bibs. Mercifully, the passion back in Pakistan never died.
The ICC's decision to award international status to all Twenty20 matches between member countries corroborates the bit in their mission statement about spreading the game. And it would be self-absorbed of a cricket annual to grumble about the knock-on effects for statisticians. After all, the stories this has thrown up - "Turkey roasted again", "Maldives make double figures" - are right up our street. But the move highlights an ongoing nonsense. Fifty years ago, the British government's cancellation of a tour by the cricketers of apartheid South Africa led to a five-match series between England and the Rest of the World (whose team included, needless to say, several South Africans). These games were sold to the public as Test matches, despite misgivings at the ICC. Wisden treated them as Tests until 1980, when the relevant stats were reluctantly removed from our records.
It would be perverse to reinstate them without common agreement. Yet it reflects poorly on cricket's ability to organise itself that the deeds of the World XI - one of the greatest teams to play in this country - have no validity beyond the first-class records, while the well-meaning Associate nations get the bells and whistles. Deep down, the ICC must know the five games should be reclassified: in October 2005, they handed Test status to their own World XI's one-off match against Australia. It's time they reconsidered 1970.
Fiddling while Australia burns
It was unedifying and yet oddly reassuring to see Australian prime minister Scott Morrison seek solace in cricket while bushfires ravaged the landscape.
The people, he argued before the Sydney Test against New Zealand, would be "inspired by the great feats of our cricketers, and encouraged by the spirit shown by Australians, and the way that people have gone about remembering the terrible things that other Australians are dealing with at the moment".
Gibberish, of course. But it was also a reminder of cricket's place in Australian society: it was hard to conceive of his British counterpart citing Root and Co during an apocalyptic flood. If politicians truly believe cricket can cheer everyone up, perhaps not all is lost. Morrison's views on climate change are another matter.
The height of her powers
In February, Ellyse Perry was reminded of her place in the world by the front page of an Australian newspaper. She and David Warner, the men's opener, had just won gongs at Australian cricket's awards night, yet the cut-out images used by the paper to plug the story suggested Warner was easily the taller, when the opposite is true.
Unlike Warner, Perry had enjoyed an English summer to cherish. And unlike Steve Smith, her team won the Ashes (there's no need to write in: Australia's men retained the urn, but still haven't won a Test series in England since 2001). Smith's appetite for runs was astonishing, but Perry was even more dominant, and is entering a class of her own. By the start of the T20 World Cup earlier this year, her Test batting and bowling averages were 78 and 18; in one-day internationals, it was 52 and 24; in T20s, 29 and 18. Sixty-four of her 171 innings for Australia were unbeaten. We are watching history at work.
A sight for four eyes?
When a bespectacled South African fan rushed across the grassy banks at the Wanderers in January to address Stokes after he was dismissed in the Fourth Test, Stokes did not take kindly to being likened to pop star Ed Sheeran. But what to make of the fact that his retort included the epithet "four-eyed"? Truly, it was as if he had forgotten that Leach, his faithful sidekick during the Headingley climax, was a four-eyed so-and-so himself.
Right, you've seen off the shine...
At Port Elizabeth, England became the first team to play 500 Tests away from home. At Johannesburg a few days later, they became the first to score half a million runs (an unknown number during batting collapses). The Test team have always been there, battling away in the background, often in the dead of night, infuriating us, bringing us joy. As we brace ourselves for The Hundred, here's to the day England notch up a million.