Cricket World Cup 2019: Liverpool v Tottenham final distracts from England-South Africa opener

Cricket fever limited to around confines of The Oval as Londoners focused on two football European cup finals

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Apparently, there is a World Cup about to start. Not that all of London seems totally sold on the idea at present.

Around the confines of The Oval, where hosts and favourites England start the tournament against South Africa on Thursday, there are at least a few clues.

Purple and pink bunting hangs from the gasholder that neighbours the ground, acclaiming “the world’s greatest cricket celebration”.

In the tube station that services the ground, there are advertisements pasted to the walls that do reference the sport.

Away from this small square of south London, though, there is little to indicate England are set to embark on a journey that could – if the form-guide is anything to go by – end with a first World Cup win.

This feels more like a slow burn than the sort of unrelenting frenzy of recent World Cups elsewhere. At the 2011 subcontinent competition, for example, residents near the stadium in Colombo were ordered not to air their laundry outside, as it would spoil the view on the journey to the ground.

If Londoners were told to do something similar for the sake of some cricket, the authorities would almost certainly be told to do one.

These are, of course, early days. A ball has not yet been bowled, and cricket is still competing for space with the country’s real sporting obsession.

There are, after all, three London teams competing in the finals of the two major European football competitions this week. Which explains why football totally dominates the coverage in the local newspapers.

And sometimes England’s cricketers look like they would prefer to be footballers, anyway. England began their eve-of-tournament practice session with a vigorous game of football - as is their wont, no matter the potential pitfalls. As if to embellish his new golden boy status, Jofra Archer scored the winning goal.

They even borrowed some expertise from football in the build up to this competition, when they had an audience with Gareth Southgate, the national football manager, recently.

“We did a session with Gareth, and it was brilliant,” England captain Eoin Morgan said. “He got up and talked about his journey with the team in the World Cup, but also in the build up as well, and how they built expectations and came more together as a group.


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“Anyone within the room listening, who has been involved with our team over the past four years, would recognise they are where we were two years ago.

“We started exactly where they did, recognised what had happened in the past, drew a line under it, and tried to do things differently to move things forward, and enjoyed the challenge of that.

“It is amazing. They did brilliantly, got to the semi-finals, and everyone says it was great. We got to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy [on home soil in 2017], and everyone says we were [terrible].”

England’s footballers won the hearts of their public in their World Cup in Russia last year, having started with low expectations.

Their colleagues in cricket are in an entirely different position. Their status as the team to beat in the 10-team event has been hard-earned, and they are happy to embrace it.

“In World Cups that I’ve played in, and a couple of guys in the changing room have played in, we have gone in without much expectation and not done that well,” Morgan said. “I would pick this position over that.

“There is a lot of belief within the room. We are very confident in our own game.”

Much has been made of the fact England can win back some lost following for their sport with a successful summer in the World Cup and the Ashes that follow. The captain is well aware of what needs to be done to make that happen.

“This World Cup would have not as big an impact unless we go a long way,” Morgan said. “We got knocked out of the 1999 World Cup [the last time it was staged in England] early, and I can remember it just like it was yesterday.”

Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain, says their opponents in the opening game deserve their status as favourites.

“Whether you're favourites or not, you still have to make sure that you play some good cricket,” Du Plessis said.

“They deservedly have got the favourites tag because they are the home nation, and they have been playing really, really consistently good cricket.

“But you’re going to face so much different opposition right up to this tournament. If you get too focused on the opposition, you can get distracted.

“It's just about really trying to stay present and in what we can control, and that's how we practise, how we get ourselves ready for games.”