Cricket wins in all-time greatest thriller

Azad Majumder . London | Published: 00:00, Jul 16,2019


The 2019 ICC World Cup winning England cricket team players celebrate with the trophy at The Oval on Monday. — AFP photo

World Cup final often does not promise a great match. Take Melbourne 2015 as one example or the last final held at Lord’s in 1999 when Pakistan were just blown away by Australia. 

A similar thing was on the line until Tom Latham made 47. It ensured a decent total for New Zealand, just a little more than what they got against India in the semi-final.

The Kiwis had defended their total against India, despite a late fight back by Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni. Normally that would be reckoned as a classic game.

But this World Cup has seen a better classic in the New Zealand-West Indies game. So the final had to be an extraordinary one just to be regarded as the best match of this World Cup.

Who could have thought it was going to be more than that?

Anyone who watched the astonishing game at Wanderers between South Africa and Australia in 2006, when one team made the then world record 434 runs and other successfully knocked it off, had an idea that how a cricket classic can be.

The tied World Cup semi-final, again between Australia and South Africa at Edgbaston in 1999 was another one-day classic. 

At Wanderers, Australia believed they scored enough runs only to be surprised by the reply of South Africa. 

At Edgbaston, the Proteas had the opposite feeling. They thought they were going to win the game until a mad run by Lance Klusener robbed them off the chance.

There was not much drama until that crazy moment as the game ended in tie and Australia progressed to the World Cup final for finishing above South Africa in group phase.

It was a story of fortune and misfortune, not the one of changing luck or high drama that was on offer at Lord’s on Sunday when both teams believed they could win until the last ball was bowled. 

The weather on the day was typical – a bit of rain in the morning and then some gloom. There was a bright sunshine in the end but who was there to care about the sky when something bigger was unfolding at the ground.

The game progressed exactly the way weather played. England started with a wide and New Zealand then stuttered to reach 241-8. England did no better at the start, struggling at every step to reach 86-4.

Pressure was building up with every delivery and they were just one wicket away from crumbling. New Zealand seemed in control despite Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler offering all the resistance.   

England started to believe once their partnership came close to hundred but New Zealand soon changed the momentum with few quick strikes.

When it came down to 15 runs, both teams fancied their chance to be fair. And again New Zealand took the control once the first two balls were dot.

A clean six by Stokes over midwicket restored the balance before England went ahead by the stroke of luck. Four runs came off a deflection while the batsmen also ran two.

New Zealand could question the sportsmanship of Stokes for the deflection but it was actually not his fault. He dived desperately to save his wicket when Martin Guptill’s throw took the deflection of his bat.

If New Zealand believed it was intentional they would have appealed for an obstructing the field out. But they did not do that. Stokes was apologetic and New Zealand accepted that to concentrate on the next ball.

Two good balls still could win them the World Cup and Trent Boult bowled them really good. But they were not good enough to prevent Stokes from ensuring at least a tie.

It meant that now everyone was about to witness something never before seen in one-day cricket – a super over.

Stokes, unbeaten on 84 in regulation time, took the bat again to partner with Buttler as the duo made 15 runs, the same they had required in the final over of game-proper.

The pressure was now on New Zealand as they had to get one more. It was announced before the super-over that England would win on superior boundary count if there was another tie in the game. 

Jimmy Neesham soaked the pressure beautifully to take 14 runs from the first five balls. It was left to Guptill to decide New Zealand’s fate. But it was never going to be his day.

With the bat he wasted a vital review that, if existed, could have given Ross Taylor a life and earned New Zealand a few more runs. And then his throw cruelly hit Stokes to give England four extra runs. He could have redeemed everything with that two runs in the final ball.

He ran hard for the second run after clipping Jofra Archer to mid-wicket. But the run was never there. Jason Roy made the throw of his life and Buttler dislodged the bails to put off his gloves in celebration without waiting for the third umpire to confirm the run out.

Guptill looked distraught and who would not be as the World Cup had just slipped away from his grasp. While the rest of the England players were busy in celebration, Chris Woakes walked up to Guptill to console him.

But no word of consolation can heal his wound. It was not entirely his fault that New Zealand lost the final, but Guptill would live the rest of his life with a sense of guilt.

England would take the result that they got. It was the evening they had been dreaming of for 40 years. New Zealand did not deserve to lose the game, nor did England. They won because one team had to win. But the real winner in the World Cup final was the game itself.

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