Today new writer William Buckingham discusses one of the most extraordinary events to occur on a cricket field in living memory. And we’re not talking about Ben Stokes’s heroics at Headingley or Kusal Perera’s miracle at Durban …
During this period of lockdown I have, inevitably, watched the 2019 Cricket World Cup Final a fair few times. It will always be remembered as an extraordinary game. But there’s one moment that never ceases to amaze me. No, not the deflection off Ben Stokes’ bat (although that was rather unbelievable), but the last ball of New Zealand’s innings.
New Zealand, placed on 241/8, had Mitchell Santner facing up to Jofra Archer for the final ball of the innings. What was Santner’s plan? One would assume it would be to swing and hope for a boundary, or at least get ‘bat on ball’. After all, the last ball of an innings is like a free hit.
Instead, quite unbelievably, Santner ducked beneath Archer’s slower ball bouncer.
I REPEAT, MITCHELL SANTNER LEFT THE LAST BALL OF NEW ZEALAND’S INNINGS.
At the time it didn’t seem like a significant moment. But knowing the events that followed, and how vital every single run would turn out to be, only heightens the madness of this boneheaded decision. Imagine how the course of history might’ve changed if Santner had bothered to throw bat at ball in anger.
Yes, there were a few moments like that in the final. But this one, for me, is different to those like Trent Boult’s ‘moment’ when he stood on the rope having caught Ben Stokes, or indeed the numerous times when the ball was thrown to the wrong end.
Mitchell Santner had control over that moment. There was nothing stopping him from trying to hit the ball. Yes, he might have missed if he’d tried BUT missing the ball would’ve been an understandable error. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – to justify leaving the thing. It’s like Trent Boult not even attempting to take ‘that’ catch.
The big question, one I suspect Santner still asks himself, is why? Why would Santner leave the last ball?
Santner doesn’t lack ability with the bat – he’s scored a test match hundred after all. You’d like to think he wasn’t batting for his average in a World Cup Final. Nor do I believe Santner lacks cricketing intelligence.
I suspect it was just a brain fade, a moment of madness. Perhaps understandable given the pressure of the occasion and the threat of Archer’s pace. Nonetheless, if Santner had the opportunity to play that moment again, I’m sure he would, quite easily, have approached things very differently.
Compounding Santner’s brain fart was the fact that neither batsman attempted to run a single. After all, it’s common practice to attempt a sneaky bye when it goes through to the wicketkeeper at the death. There’s every chance that, had Trent Boult been backing up excessively (as might have been expected), he would’ve completed a single pretty easily and added a vital run.
In short, the last ball should have been anything but a dot ball. New Zealand should have scored at least 242 rather than 241.
England therefore would have lost by one run. Cricket would not have come home. Ben Stokes would not have won Sports Personality Of The Year. And the decision to prioritise white ball cricket for four years would’ve been for absolutely nothing.
These fine margins boggle the mind. It’s a funny old game.