Pushing boundaries

Great stories are not the preserve of writers alone, sometimes they happen in plain sight.

On Sunday evening, at a little past 7.30 p.m., the England and Wales cricket team won the ICC World Cup after close to nine hours of play, triumphing not by scoring more runs than the opposition New Zealand, as is the tradition, but by hitting more boundaries, after both the 100-over game and the two subsequent "super overs" were tied. The team follows those from football (1966), rugby (2003) and women’s cricket (2017) in winning a World Cup and thereby entering our collective consciousness.

This was not quite a tale of the unexpected, but nevertheless it had its twists. That a team led by an Irishman, Eoin Morgan, and featuring first- and second-generation immigrants, pulled off such a victory through the grit and determination of two standout players, the New Zealand-born all-rounder Ben Stokes and the Barbados-born fast-bowler Jofra Archer, is as good as we are likely to get to a sporting riposte to Brexit, or to the racism displayed this past week by the US president.

The game also demonstrated how to lose—best shown by Martin Guptill, who, with England desperate for runs in the 48th over, signalled a six after his teammate Trent Boult caught a slog-shot on the boundary rope. Guptill could have waited for the umpires to rule, but his instincts took over. Cricketers are known for this; even so, given the moment, it was quite something to see. Guptill is, perhaps, to coming second what US soccer star Megan Rapinoe is to winning.

For those who wonder what this has to do with the book business, let me get back to the wicket. For a people stretched out on the Brexit rack, the game was a reminder of what can happen when we act in concert, not just in the pursuit of victory, but in order to build a meaningful—and lasting—innings. It showcased the value of being open, of indefatigability, of knowing when to sneak a quick single, or knock it out of the park. It highlighted how quickly stories can be written, and then re-drafted—a moment of victory turned sour, or a win improbably snatched from the jaws of loss. It confirmed that the best tales have no boundaries, and that the best publishers, authors, booksellers and readers are trangressors.

It also displayed how isolationism is not our future, or at least not a good one. Eoin Morgan might just be the most popular English Irishman this week, but the links between these two islands have long been indelible—as this week’s Country Focus on Ireland shows—not least through a common language, a shared love of new writing and a joined-up approach to publishing and bookselling. That must not be jeopardised by a no-deal Brexit.

That these two book markets remain in such health shows that reading is one of the great fundamentals, both in terms of entertainment and distraction, but also informing us. The book business may sometimes look like the kind of sector in need of a six off the last ball as the sun slowly sets on us, but in reality it has scarcely been better prepared for the googlies ahead.