I love it when England reach finals in any sport. I always get butterflies 24 hours ahead of the game, even though I’m now in my fourth decade and a signed up member of the grumpy old man association.
Although Sunday’s World T20 final certainly isn’t the biggest game of all time – it certainly feels less important than the 1992 World Cup final, slightly less important than the 2010 WT20 final, and a lot less important than the seminal 2003 rugby World Cup final (ahem) – it’s still an exciting prospect.
England’s success has come completely out of the blue – especially after we collapsed to 85-7 against Afghanistan – and the team has a real opportunity to stick two fingers up at the pundits who claimed their lack of experience in Indian conditions meant absolutely everything. Where would the team be now without Moeen Ali’s 41? I’ll tell you where: back in Blighty on Andrew Strauss’s naughty step.
Although part of me still thinks that England are a somewhat flawed side, and that another batting collapse or calamitous hour in the field is just around the corner, this is probably just my natural English pessimism. Yes, we all know that the Windies are probably a better side on paper, and they’ve already thrashed us once before in this tournament, but T20 cricket is a great leveller. I’d argue that Joe Root and Jos Buttler are just as likely to go berserk and win the game on their own as Chris Gayle or Marlon Samuels.
What’s more, England have a younger and possibly hungrier side. World Cups have a tendency to usher in change. Perhaps Sunday’s game will represent a changing of the guard as icons like Gayle make way for new global superstars like Stokes and, erm, Chris Jordan. Ok, the latter is probably a bit of a stretch but you get my meaning.
So where will the game be won or lost? I could give you my personal theories – which generally revolve around England winning the toss and chasing – but I bet you’ve heard them all before. That’s what all the mainstream media are duty bound to provide: analysis.
However, I’m not really sure that serious analysis is particularly relevant when it comes to T20 cricket. Anything can happen (it’s a bit of a crapshoot in some ways) and games are over in the blink of an eye. Therefore, I’m going to pursue a more emotional and subjective angle. Is England’s name on the cup?
Part of me thinks this is England’s year. Why? Because it’s a great story: the team that was written off after the first game, who conceded 229 in their next one (with players most of India hasn’t heard of), defies the odds and secures a historic triumph. What’s more, England is the only country that hasn’t really embraced the IPL, and we’re led by a perennial IPL reserve. To triumph in circumstances like this, in India’s backyard, would be rather satisfying to say the least. Trevor Bayliss couldn’t have written a better script.
The problem, of course, is that the West Indies have a pretty powerful narrative themselves: a disparate bunch of cricketing rebels, often at war with their own board, overcome crippling political disputes at home to secure their second WT20 trophy.
I can see it now … Chris Gayle lifts the trophy, waves goodbye to an adoring crowd, and then rides into the sunset with Mel McLaughlin sitting on his knee (and looking into his eyes lovingly). Perhaps Sulieman Benn will be presented with a bottle of WD40 for his creaking joints and go on to win the high-jump at the Rio Olympics?
The other thing to remember here is the Afghanistan factor. Those plucky Afghans – who must be odds on to win this year’s Nobel prize for pluckiness – managed to beat the Windies in their final group match; consequently a West Indies victory on Sunday will have champions of associate cricket purring with delight. It would be quite the story.
I sense, therefore, that tomorrow’s final actually has nothing to do with cricket at all. It’s not about how quickly Jason Roy scores his runs, how economically Benn and Badree bowl, or even whether Eoin Morgan gets yet another golden duck. It’s all about one thing: fate.
Are England destined to lift the trophy, with David Willey becoming perhaps the most unlikely international sports star since Dennis Taylor, or will England fall flat on their faces once again in a world cricket final? The truth is, I have absolutely no idea. And the beautiful thing is that nobody else does either.