Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Things like this never happen to England. Or rather, they never happen for England. But we have just won the Cricket World Cup. Oh my!
Normally, we would fail miserably. Either crash out in the early stages, get knocked out before the knock out stages, or at best, possibly worse, go out on a technicality. Due to some outrageous piece of misfortune. Or a series of umpiring howlers. Yes they still happen even with DRS. A wonder strike by the opposition that would never happen against anyone else. Or, and we can never underestimate this, rain ruins proceedings just when it looks like we have a chance after all.
And yet, just this once, we’ve had outrageous good fortune along with a tournament structure that suited our campaign style, favourable weather conditions, collective team spirit, overwhelming confidence, resolve, ingenuity, patience, technique (thank you Geoffrey), determination not to give up and even, dare I say it, exceptional levels of skill. From a team that has realised its potential. All this culminating in that final afternoon. Competent bowling, if not penetrating this time. Sharp fielding. The long batting partnership between Buttler and Stokes. Heroic, physical, mental and emotional resolve. Sheer bloody-mindedness. And almost unbelievably we have been rewarded for all of this. We won! Except we didn’t. Well…at least…we didn’t lose.
The flip side on this occasion was the desperate bad luck experienced by the opposition, who did just as well in the final. New Zealand also maintained their admirable sportsmanship and good nature. Generous and decent to a man. Devastated, but magnificent too. New Zealand, I pray you come back even stronger after this. And be lucky next time. Win in India in 2023.
This time, amazing as it seems, England are champions. Despite not actually winning the match. Not actually losing it either. We lost more wickets than New Zealand. All out versus eight down. That's the traditional way to settle a tied one-day match. But the final was decided here on number of boundaries. A fairly random and not necessarily worthy measure of success. A bit like deciding the Premier League on the basis of number of goals scored from outside the box. And so, the ICC found a way eventually to let England walk off with the trophy. And we’re not giving it back for the next four years.
Get over it, Eddie. Somebody had to win. There had to be one winner, I am told. Actually, I think we could have had joint winners. But nobody else seemed to care for that option. We have to settle for there having been no loser. Cricket was the…..
No, I can’t say it. What we can say is that the tournament has been a fantastic success. I’m completely biased, of course, but this was the best Cricket World Cup tournament ever. The fiercest. The funnest and most exciting. The most joyful and pleasantly conducted. The fairest…hold on...up until the final result, when it became the most bizarre. That made it the most heart-breaking and baffling too. But the Queen was right. She called the final “thrilling”, congratulated England and offered her commiserations to New Zealand.
It’s still sinking in. Finally, it’s England’s turn. The Kiwis lost the previous final four years ago against Australia, but England had lost three finals long ago, twice in close finishes. Were we desperately unlucky each time, or just never good enough? And boy, how Sourav Ganguly enjoyed reminding us from the commentary box that England are rubbish at chasing in finals. Heaping on the pressure. The weight of history. Well, in your face Sourav!
Now, after 44 years of lack of World Cup success and 27 years since we were last in the final, we’ve done it! The history is not so painful now. 1992, with all those dodgy umpiring decisions sending hapless England batsmen on their way, Sir Ian Beefy Botham among them. Pakistan fought like cornered tigers and won. Before that, 1987, when England were coasting until Mike Gatting threw the Cup away with a failed, early version of the reverse sweep. In those days this was not a bread and butter shot, let alone a cheese and pickle sandwich begging to be dispatched with gusto. England lost by 7 runs to Australia and Allan Border took a one-day trip to the moon. And before that, in 1979, England were trounced by the mighty West Indies. King Viv and Collis King smashed the ball to all corners of St John’s Wood and by half time the result was a foregone conclusion.
Viv Richards (left) and Collis King at Lord's in the 1979 World Cup Final
Forget all this. We are Champions, 2019. And we are England. We’ve had a lot of help along the way. As both Alistair Campbell (former New Labour spin doctor) and Connor Byrne (Mike Milligan from the Story of Tracey Beaker) both pointed out, we happily had an Irish captain (Eoin Morgan) handing the ball over to Barbados born Jofra Archer for that tense final over. To these I would add a few more: Andrew Strauss, England’s former Director of Cricket, South Africa born but with an Austrian sounding name; Ashley Giles, current Director, aka King of Spain; Trevor Bayliss, England's Australian coach; Adil Rashid and Moheen Ali, keeping us in favour with a divine power. All commentated on by Nasser Hussain, born in Madras. Quite an international collection, then. Multicultural England. Integrated England. Take your pick. A wonderfully composite England. We are England. Thank heavens for Connected Cultures.
England Captain Eoin Morgan at the Oval, the day after the final
Thanks heavens, too, for such a fantastic tournament. Long and exhausting perhaps; ask that man Stokes, but ultimately exhilarating. And, for once, I think, the right outcome was delivered. Finally in this tournament. Finally in cricket history to date. Finally for England. A home win to reward England’s extensive progress and success in recent years in the one day format. A game-changing game. Making up for 44 years of hurt. Just about.
For New Zealand, alas, the wait continues. Their quest for the trophy was stalled this time by freak circumstances. Trent Boult treading on the boundary rope to turn a wicket into a six. Those deflected four overthrows from the outstretched bat of Stokes. Impossibly cruel. A sporting anomaly. But the Kiwis were triumphant in rising above the despair and were gracious in the most trying of circumstances. Fortunes change, and New Zealand will give their all again in the future. Always.
For England, what a time to be alive. For a short while, perhaps, we were united. We could all watch on free-to-view TV. Not free-to-air (that term always sounds silly). We shouted together at the box; at home, in Trafalgar Square, wherever. Agonised together. A shared experience where only the few knew what a super over was and nobody could quite believe what was happening. How we screamed and squirmed and, last of all, punched the air in delight. Nothing to worry about on replay. For once, technology proved the action had been legal. God was smiling on England. He can be a bit biased and misguided, at times. And finally, we could breathe a collective sigh of relief. Elation. And then, for me and who knows how many more, a sudden feeling of discomfort, realising how harsh it was on the other side. I sympathised, which made it worst. Nobody likes pity. Not that the New Zealand players could have known my feelings or found any worth in them.
Drawing the short straw
Moving on, I can rejoin the collective English celebration. But not for long. Sadly, the younger generation will only be inspired momentarily by this result. Radio 5 Live spent the following morning at Hallam Primary School in Sheffield, and all day talking about the match. But despite this miraculous result, there will be no top class 50 over cricket to follow in this country next year. The opportunity to inspire is already being taken down from the shelf. Blame the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for this. They are planning just a hundred ball knock-about next year, with artificially constructed teams, a nonsense format and an alienating team composition policy. No chance for patience, suspense, agony and ecstasy. No reason for team loyalty. Shame. Shame on the ECB. You’ve already figured out how to squander the legacy.
But for now, England are Champions. Eoin Morgan is a true leader. How this country needs one. There was no long-stop on the field on Sunday, let alone a back-stop, whatever that means. Ben Stokes displayed some magnificent tattoos. The lions were roaring underneath his shirt. The writing on his arms looked a bit scruffy though. Jofra Archer’s cornrows were a joy to behold.
Ben Stokes and lions
The match seemed lost by England at so many points, and yet somehow they refused to accept defeat and they took the final deeper than it has ever gone before. Beyond the deep. And there, after the very last hit, was Jason Roy. Smooth pick-up, bullet like throw, perfectly taken by Jos Buttler and the wicket was shattered. The lights flashed, and Ian Smith, former Kiwi wicket keeper, stood up bravely to make the call:
“They’ve got it! England have won the World Cup!”
A fine moment of magnanimity.
Jos Buttler: the gloves have it
Finally, over to Vic Marks, of Somerset and England. This was a “preposterous climax”, he said. And “no sane cricket fan in the ground could conclude that New Zealand deserved to lose”. Wise words, Vic. Measured and succinct.
The deciding factor was this: England beat New Zealand by hitting more boundaries.
Hardly the performance of champions. Far from satisfying. I think I will come to live with what has happened, but right now my world feels like it's turning upside down. And that’s all I have to say about it.
© Eddie Hewitt 2019