It happens almost without you realising.
We have all been through it in one way or another. At some stage in life, we all feel it but for those of us who watch sport it is a feeling we encounter more than those lucky enough not to ‘get’ it.
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The tightness in the stomach, the tension, the combination of nerves and excitement when a big game comes around. They are spared all that. The players no doubt feel it more than most but they, at least, have the chance to make a tangible impact on proceedings.
The rest of us though, we just have to grin and bear it.
For cricket fans, it doesn’t get much bigger than a World Cup semi-final between England and Australia. The tightness in the stomach, the tension, the combination of nerves and excitement for those from each of the respective nations are cranked up a few notches.
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So for England supporters it was an odd sensation, certainly less than 20 overs into the chase – in a World Cup dominated by the side batting first – they were relaxed.
“It’s an exhibition of batting, it has been for a while,” Kumar Sangakkara remarked on commentary as the ball raced to the boundary again. England were not just heading for victory, they were racing towards it so quickly that those watching on had little time to contemplate the implications.
Perhaps that would explain umpire Dharmasena’s decision to give Jason Roy out caught down the legside, to allow those in the Hollies Stand at Edgbaston a few more overs to get their heads around the prospect of seeing England in a World Cup final.
Not a chance. There will be plenty of time over the next couple of days to muse about a Lord’s final, not just England’s first World Cup final in 27 years but a final that they will go into as favourites as they bid to be crowned world champions for the first time.
No, for those in the stands, watching at home, even – dare I say it – in the media centre, this was a rare chance to bask in the glow of near-certain victory over the old enemy for more than an hour. It would have been longer but for the fact England’s victory was confirmed with 107 balls to spare!
In the end, it was a procession but when David Warner drilled the first ball of the match through the covers for four, it looked like being anything but.
When Jofra Archer trapped Aaron Finch lbw with his first ball, the roar at Edgbaston – no doubt echoed in living rooms across the country – was one fuelled by tension.
There was something a little bit extra in the celebrations as Chris Woakes removed the ever-popular Warner but even as he wheeled away again having bowled Peter Handscomb, the nerves remained, masked though they were by a mixture of joy and disbelief.
England fans have seen more than enough over the years to know that having the opposition 14-3 after six overs is absolutely no guarantee of success. Eoin Morgan’s team may have gone from no-hopers in 2015 to world No 1 leading into the tournament but this is still England at a World Cup. If there is a way of squandering a position of such strength, history tells us that they will find it.
Only this side is different, the fans’ concern remains and as Steve Smith and Alex Carey built their century partnership for the fourth wicket it felt ever more justified, but at the same time when Adil Rashid struck twice in an over to put England back in control, it was not the shock that it might have been in years gone by.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened but at some point over the last four years, fans watching this one-day team went from merely hoping that the inevitable defeat would not be too humiliating to expecting their side to win, not just the odd consolation at the end of a series, but every game.
Admittedly, they did their best to lower expectations again with defeats to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia but even then the levels of surprise and frustration showed the regard in which the England team are now held.
Until they have done it on the biggest stage though, the old habits will die hard for the supporters and so it is hard to imagine any stage in the Australia innings where they felt entirely at ease.
With 224 needed to reach the final, the mood could best be described as cautiously optimistic.
England have a batting line-up that is the envy of just about every side in world cricket but then there was swing for Woakes and Archer early on so what might Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins do? Plus England’s openers have struggled against left-arm seamers. Add to that the issue of spin, Rashid found a bit of turn and Nathan Lyon loves playing against England.
Oh yes, for those of a gloomy disposition there was plenty to fret about. Even for the more positive supporters those nerves were back with a vengeance. An early wicket or two and Australia were right back in the hunt.
Those wickets never materialised though and 15 overs in, it had happened. In spite of themselves and almost without even realising it, the tension had dissipated, and the England fans were comfortable. Not fully relaxed, not yet, but comfortable.
The early fear that every ball might bring a wicket and the horror of an Australia fightback had long gone. When, exactly, is hard to determine but it was probably somewhere between Roy crunching Starc through extra cover for the fourth time and the same batsman launching Lyon back over his head for six.
By the time he thumped a third consecutive six – this one sailing into the fourth tier – off Smith, the disbelief was back and the only twinges of tension after Roy and Jonny Bairstow fell, subsided as quickly as they’d arrived.
With the Hollies Stand in full voice and going through all the hits, Morgan and Joe Root were clinical as they finished the job.
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