Immediately before yesterday’s final, Channel 4 showed highlights of the 2005 Ashes – a tussle frequently dubbed as The Greatest Series. Afterwards they went on to broadcast probably the greatest white ball game of all time.
The 2019 World Cup final will live long in the memory as the game that finished in a tie twice: the main 50 overs per side, and then the subsequent super over. It was a stunning match in every way. And ultimately an outrageous fluke and a random technicality determined the outcome.
The eventual winner, of course, was England. The “mighty mighty” England as the Barmy Army like to sing. It feels so good to finally lift our first World Cup trophy.
However, as one gets older, becomes more philosophical, and learns to feel empathy for the opposition (especially when it’s a team as likeable as New Zealand), I found it hard to process my emotions at the end. England had triumphed – the culmination of four years of hard work – but in my opinion the better team on the day lost. And they only lost because of some egregious bad luck.
Just as it’s important to be a good loser, it’s also important to be a good winner – to be magnanimous and honest in victory. Consequently, as an England supporter, I feel it necessary to say – although many will disagree – that it probably should’ve been Kane Williamson, and his team of underdogs who possess a fraction of the resources enjoyed by the other semi-finalists, who deserved to lift the World Cup on yesterday’s evidence alone.
Why do I think this? Because New Zealand had a plan, they stuck to it, and it worked really well. They took the bold decision to bat first – a move I initially thought was the wrong one at the time considering the early morning conditions – and then squeeze England as the pitch slowed down in the afternoon.
Williamson read the conditions perfectly, and his plan to exploit England’s only weakness – our hitters’ inability to chase totals on tricky batting wickets – was a beautiful one that neutrals and those who care more about the cricket than who wins were drooling over.
Over the last couple of years I’ve said time and again that England are a bloody fine side but they cannot claim to be the finished article until they’ve proved they can score runs and chase totals under pressure in conditions that don’t suit them. Yesterday was all set up for them to do so. And when Buttler and Stokes, who both played immaculate innings, were at the crease it looked like they would finally get that monkey off their back. It was going to be perfect. Absolutely perfect.
But then the game finished in what I thought was an unsatisfactory way that left me feeling a tad hollow. After Ben Stokes had hit a brilliant six to make the game interesting again (with four balls left England looked dead and buried) a freakish incident shifted momentum in the cruellest way. A throw from the boundary, which may well have run Stokes out had it not hit his bat as he dived for the line, deflected away for four.
Stokes did nothing wrong – he decided not to seek advantage by running again as cricketers believe it’s wrong to profit from such deflections – but nobody could stop the ball rolling agonisingly to the boundary. Technically, even thought it’s hugely unfair, the result was another 4 runs (so six in total from that delivery)*. And it was the defining moment of the match. Instead of needing 7 off the last 2 balls, suddenly England only needed 3. And it was all because of this strange law that does not sit comfortably alongside convention.
In my humble opinion, the umpire should call dead ball after throws like this hit the batsmen. They should be awarded the initial runs (in this case two) but no more after the deflection. After all, if batsmen don’t run in such circumstances because they know it’s unfair, then why should the rulebook be punitive?
This terrible law also sets a terrible precedent. What’s to stop batsmen from deflecting the ball ‘accidentally on purpose’ to profit from such incidents in the future? Personally I think there’s a good chance they’ll change the law after this. But it will be too late for the poor Kiwis.
Unfortunately, New Zealand’s suffering at the hands of technicalities didn’t end there. When the game finished in a tie the visitors should have won by virtue of losing fewer wickets. There’s really no need for a super over in these circumstances – it’s just an attempt to cram in more drama and entertainment for television purposes.
What’s more, New Zealand were at a disadvantage in this super over because England got to bat first, with two players who already had their eye in and were acclimatised to the slowing pitch.
Why did England have the opportunity to bat first? Again it’s just an unfair technicality. It’s written in the rules that the team batting second in the main event gets to bat first in the super over. Why this should be the case nobody knows. It just is. And there’s no rhyme or reason for it.
Perhaps the cruellest twist of all was that New Zealand lost after securing another tie in the super over (despite being at a significant disadvantage) due to yet another technicality. When the scores are the level, super over regulations dictate that the team which has scored the most boundaries in the main match wins.
Boundaries? That’s right folks. Wickets lost – the traditional means of determining the winner in the event of a tie – are strangely irrelevant. And of course, hitting boundaries was never part of New Zealand’s brilliant game plan. They sought to run singles and accumulate, which was precisely the right strategy in the conditions. Yet they were punished for it.
However, there is another way of looking at all this. And it’s perfectly valid. Laws are laws; technicalities are technicalities; and luck is part and parcel of sport. I completely accept that. But as England celebrated part of me was crying for New Zealand.
In my opinion England were outrageously fortunate to win this World Cup. And their run of good fortune started long before yesterday. They won two crucial tosses to qualify, and then lost a brilliant toss to lose in their semi final. However, weren’t we due some luck after the appalling way the cricketing Gods have treated us in previous tournaments?
Maybe it was fate that our last two group games were against teams that didn’t actually need to beat us to qualify? Everything went our way from the plays and misses, to the balls chipped in the air just out of the reach of fielders, to the poor umpiring decisions we profited from (and there were another couple yesterday). Our name was clearly on the trophy but so what?! Shit happens. So shouldn’t we just enjoy it?!
Unfortunately I can’t escape how I feel though. And I think it’s because it was New Zealand, rather than one of our traditional cricketing foes, who were the victims of our outrageous fortune. Had we beaten Australia in similar circumstances, or even India, I’d probably feel very differently. I might have laughed instead.
What’s more – and I cannot emphasise this enough – England didn’t deserve to win yesterday’s game but they deserved to win the tournament overall. They were the best side in the competition (alongside India) and they’ve been No.1 in the rankings for a long time. That has to count for something. And a world cup victory on home soil is a fitting reward for the way Eoin Morgan and Trevor Bayliss have turned our ODI team around.
The downside, of course, is that the ECB will use this triumph to argue that all in the garden is rosy when it clearly isn’t. What’s more, they’ll claim that this is the perfect time to launch The Hundred when the very opposite is clearly true. The big lesson everyone should learn from yesterday is that traditional forms of cricket can still engage and grip the nation. And the fact C4 showed 90 mins of build up before play shows there’s a considerable appetite for ‘normal’ cricket amongst terrestrial broadcasters too. Let’s not forget that the BBC signed up for franchise cricket when they thought it would be a T20 competition.
Perhaps that’s the other reason for my conflicted emotions. English cricket is so badly run that we don’t deserve to be world champions – a point made brilliantly in this article by Barney Ronay in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t already read this piece then I strongly suggest you do so.
Put it this way: English cricket triumphed at Lord’s on free-to-air television yesterday but the game will soon disappear behind a pay-wall again. What’s more, the ECB are immediately turning their backs on 50-over cricket (they’ve cancelled all domestic 50-over first team cricket from next summer) to accommodate Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit. Only the ECB could win a global trophy but then immediately handicap the future development of the team they’ve done so much to champion.
However, it’s vitally important to separate the players from the board here. The board do not deserve an ounce of the credit that many in the mainstream media will inevitably give them. The players, on the other hand, deserve all the plaudits they get. Each and every one of them is a hero:
Jason Roy was one of the players of the tournament. He was brilliant. Ditto Jonny Bairstow. Joe Root batted poorly yesterday but he’s been an absolute rock. Eoin Morgan’s leadership has been awesome. Ben Stokes has been sensational with that bat. What’s more, I doubt we would’ve won without Jos Buttler’s brilliant half-century yesterday. He’s one of the best white ball batsmen in the world and possibly our best ODI player ever.
And then we come to the bowlers. What more can we say about Chris Woakes? He’s such a solid professional and a great all-round guy. Liam Plunkett with also immense. Adil Rashid did well to battle his shoulder injury. Mark Wood was electric to watch – possibly the fastest bowler in the tournament – whilst Jofra Archer was a revelation. What a find he’s been.
So did England deserve to win yesterday? In my opinion, no. But are they worthy world champions? Oh yes. Undoubtedly. This World Cup was a marathon not a sprint. And we outlasted every other team through pure talent and immense character.
Well done, lads. Well done. You’ve done the nation proud and we’re all immensely proud of you.
*It has just been confirmed by Simon Taufel (from MCC Laws subcommittee) that the umpires should have awarded England 5 runs not 6, and that Rashid should have been on strike for the penultimate delivery and not Stokes. Wow. More terrible bad luck for New Zealand. Click here for more.