It’s Friday morning, and I get a text message from a friend of mine.
“Gentle reminder. We are World Fucking Champions. Still can’t quite believe it”.
My heart races again. A tear forms in my ear. There’s a clenched fist somewhere and my heart races.
And the thought is repeated over and over again: We were there. We were there. We were there.
We were at the Home of Cricket, cheering every ball to the boundary like we would a horse at the Grand National. We tried to act rationally, but failed to do so. Apart from at the ending, when we didn’t bother as we simply found any God to pray to – atheists or not.
The four of us had paid over £1,000 to be there. We’d paid an ‘Official Travel Company’ for the four tickets, bought after we hammered South Africa at The Oval. We’d lamped a possible semi-finalist, and we were confident we could smash the rest of them until the final games. And then Pakistan happened. Then Sri Lanka happened. And then Australia happened.
Panic Stations were hit, with the maths talked about ad nauseum on Whatsapp. Basically: if we went out before the semi-finals, we could put the tickets onto the secondary market, where they would be snapped up by confident India fans, who would sell their own mother to see their team lift the trophy. After all, so many of them had come to London that they’d hit their incoming visa limit in days.
John, one of my friends, was decidedly calm. “Four knock-outs. That’s all we need. Four knock-outs.” He was the positive one. For me, I had been disappointed too many times with England cricket teams. As it goes, we went into the semi-finals relatively easy, thanks to wins over India and New Zealand.
And then India lost. “I haven’t seen prices collapse since the 1929 crash”, laughed, Dan, another member of the group noted. 1987 and 2008 were pretty bad too, I replied pedantically, before getting my coat.
John and I went to Edgbaston. The seller of our tickets was someone from India (like a lot of secondary ticket sellers that day). The Fortress was a cacophony of noise. Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi fans joined the white-as-chalk Barmy Army in cheering us on against the Australians. It was a true reflection of how Britain is. Sod what the racists want you to believe. This is why Britain’s awesome.
Anyway, back to Lord’s. We’d got there, India hadn’t. Virat Kholi was grumpy, saying how unfair it was that the winner of the league stage didn’t get double jeopardy like the IPL. Indian fans were grumpy, saying that Ravi Shastri should never manage a game again and The King should resign from his ODI captaincy. The Indians around us shrugged their shoulders. “Dhoni can’t turn ones into twos”, a bloke told me. I didn’t remind him about Martin Guptill’s arm for fear of tempting Father Fate, let alone Father Time.
There was a bit of joy about bowling first in overcast conditions. After all we had Archer and Woakes. The joy lessened when New Zealand passed 100 for the loss of only one wicket, and things were looking pretty easy for the Kiwis. The fans in black were louder, and I was a littler bit grumpier.
And then the pitch got the better of New Zealand as England started to limit them, and they lost 7 wickets for about 140 runs.
Right. 241 to win.
“This is very gettable,” we said to ourselves. We thought about the destruction of the Australians, walked away with an 8-wicket victory that was highlighted by a six from Jason Roy that I’m sure will be discovered by one of Richard Branson’s Virgin Satellites. An outburst from J-Roy and Bairstow, and we’d gallop home. After all, the two of them had destroyed the other lot, so why not?
And then Jason Roy went.
Root never got comfortable, and went too.
Eoin Morgan, the hero of Afghanistan, couldn’t time the ball properly, and was off to the pavilion.
Bairstow, who had played well but not got enough love for his shots, played on.
Suddenly, our hopes were in tatters. Together, Lord’s seemed to send a two fingers to the heavens. My friend Suzy was so pissed off that she accelerated on the Gin and Tonics (she’d played a Test innings so far), and walked off in a grump to smoke her weight in cigarettes. But bearing in mind that my drinking stopped almost 20 years ago because of overconsumption of alcoholic and herbal cigarettes, I had nothing to do but sit there.
Give me a herbal cigarette. Give me a drink. Give me a valium. Anything to cool the nerves.
“One partnership of over 100 between Buttler and Stokes, and we’ve got this,” Dan said, ever the optimist. His love of cricket takes a more analytical approach. While he can agree that England played terribly, he can also look at a game and say: “We should do this, if we do this.”
My line of thinking? A little more emotional. Any English calamity or loss in this World Cup made me want to call Beretta to ask if they might saw off one of their £3,000 shotguns for me (for personal use, obviously!). There was also a great deal of reverse psychology in this. Every time I’d made a prediction in this World Cup – including announcing that India would ‘waltz’ their run chase against New Zealand (sorry Indian fans) – quite the opposite happened.
This was too painful. The Four Horsemen of heart attacks, anguish, rage and despair were on me. I was sitting there at Lord’s watching this crap happen again. Maybe I should do what I normally do, and avoid the England innings and sit on the phone watching Cricinfo by St John’s Wood Tube. Then they might pull this out. I can’t take this anymore. I just can’t.
The more Buttler and Stokes played properly, the more we believed there was a chance. Ones and twos were vigorously applauded, and any ball that hit the boundary was met with an explosion. As The Barmy Army started to relentlessly cheer, so did the Mound Stand. It was Edgbaston at Lord’s – the most hallowed cricketing venue on God’s Green Earth.
Then Buttler gets out with 45 to go, trying something to get the team over the finish line. Silence
Woakes swiftly follows, trying to be hero. Plunkett’s 10 from 13 balls was a lot of fun, but we were still 21 out.
Come on Ben Stokes. You can do this. It’s Ben Stokes time. I hated you for what happened in Bristol. I blamed your absence for us getting hammered in Australia. You’ve been good but not exceptional since your return. The whole country needs you. Give it your, err, best shot!
Stokes hits a bomb out to the deep. Has Boult caught it? No. He stepped on the boundary. It’s a six. The Pavilion with all the MCC windbags in there must have sucked the ball in. We’ve still got life.
Fifteen off the last over. Trent Boult’s going to come like a bullet, Ben. Don’t screw this up.
First two balls. Nothing. Then Stokes hammers one into the Mound Stand. The place erupts. There’s belief again. Then there’s another. It’s two. The throw comes in. Stokes is diving for the crease. The ball whacks his bat. We cheer. And it goes for four. Six. Six runs. Thank you, God. We might just make this. Stokes apologises, but we don’t care. The end of the game finishes with two runs out. We’re tight.
We’re tied. A Super Over. We can’t hear what the announcer’s going on about with tiebreakers. Hey Mr Kiwi at the back! Good luck! Thanks. You too. And yeah, I’m tense too.
The Mound Stand is back on its feet, crossing fingers, toes and bladders. There were no atheists in this cricketing foxhole. You could have put all the booze in the world into the 30,000 people looking on, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Everyone was standing straight, living off the adrenaline.
That’s 15 off the Super Over. Do you think that’ll be enough? I’m not happy with bringing on Joffra. See? I told you that was a bad decision. The wide. The two. The six. We’re going to choke again. I told you. We’re going to choke again. Two. Two. We might make this. One. One. They are going for two. FUCK ME! EVERYONE’S GOING MENTAL! WE’VE WON! WE’VE WON THE WORLD CUP!
The roaring Mound Stand? Huggy puddle. Us four hug each other. We’ve done it. We’ve won. For once, we can ignore QPR – the way we met each other. We’d won.
I only find out later that it was less about the runs – New Zealand finish on the same Super Over score – but it was on the second tiebreaker of boundaries (we hit more than they did).
But I’ll take it. Because after seeing this team crush my emotions between 1989 to 2004 in Test Matches and every World Cup I can remember, I’ll take it. Crappy things happen to good people – like the Kiwis – and for once, we got the rub of the green.We’re World Champions.
At the end, it was a perfect day. And I was glad to spend it with those guys.