Luck, Cruelty & The Greatest World Cup Final

Jonny Bairstow looks back.

Bairstow swishes his bat at a delivery from Mohammad Shami, and the resulting inside edge eludes the stumps.

This will happen again and again in the match, until Bairstow finds his range and starts hitting all comers to all parts of the Edgbaston Cricket ground.

In showpiece match, Bairstow and Jason Roy are coming off four consecutive hundred-run opening partnerships, a record in the history of the tournament.

First ball of their innings in the final, chasing 241 to win the World Cup for the first time ever in England’s history, Jason Roy is pinned back by a Trent Boult inswinger in front of the stumps. Four days ago, Virat Kohli was pinned back in the same fashion, by the same bowler. On that occasion, the umpire’s decision went in favour of the bowler. This time, it goes in favour of the batsman.

The reviews taken on both occasions, this time by Williamson, and back then by Kohli, return umpire’s call on hitting the stumps. Umpire’s call is when 50% of the ball is hitting the stumps. The diameter of a cricket ball is between 2.8 and 2.86 inches. Half of that is 1.40 to 1.43 inches.

Back then, Kohli perished.

Here, Roy survives.

Talk about margins. Talk about luck.

Heeeeere’s Johnny. Image credit.

On air, in every England match, Nasser Hussain doesn’t fail to mention that Jonny Bairstow’s bottom hand takes over early on in his innings when he’s nervous and cagey.

Bairstow swishes his bat at a delivery from Matt Henry, and the resulting inside edge eludes the stumps.

Jason Roy is playing straight, but every now and then, his desire to dominate the bowlers leaves him throwing his bat at one, and getting away with it. Matt Henry, fresh from a man-of-the-match performance in the semifinal against India, is making the ball hoop around, swinging it even more than the swingiest of swing bowlers, his partner-in-crime, Boult. On the other day, he ended up with three wickets in the first powerplay. Here, despite repeated plays and misses from both openers, he only has the one wicket of Roy, eventually nicking off to the keeper, to show for his superlative efforts.

Talk about luck.

Ross Taylor is the second-best batsman in the world in the four years since the 2015 World Cup, after Virat Kohli. He’s had a quiet tournament until the semifinal, where he top-scored with 74. New Zealand’s batting plan is basically putting swords in the hands of farmers who are standing besides the two Knights-in-Black, Taylor and Williamson. Williamson, the highest-scoring captain in a single world cup ever, has failed to carry on, nicking one off to the keeper off Liam Plunkett, whose own story is nothing short of remarkable. Taylor is trying to hold the innings together when he’s given out LBW.

Replays show the ball is missing the stumps. Missing.

He wants to review, of course he does, but Martin Guptill has burned their review on a plumb decision, much like Bairstow did in England’s semifinal against Australia, leaving Roy seething and frothing at the mouth then. On that occasion though, England were so far ahead of the game that Roy’s wrongful dismissal didn’t make much of a difference, other than maybe robbing him of a hundred in a world cup semifinal. This time, though, Guptill’s folly means New Zealand’s Knight has to go, leaving Latham and Neesham to restart the rebuilding job.

Talk about luck.

There’s tonnes of skill involved too in this game.

The collective understanding of New Zealand to assess a par score on any pitch is one. The ability of their players to play out of their skins, even lesser-fancied ones like Tom Latham and Jimmy Neesham, and get their team to that par score. The ability of Jofra Archer, 24 years of age and all of 14 ODIs of experience, to conceded only 22 off his last five overs, bowling at the death, is another. Alongside Jasprit Bumrah, time and again, Archer’s spell in the final is an instruction manual in how to use a sticky pitch, and how to bamboozle the best hitters in the game. He had Colin de Grandhomme on a string in the match.

There’s many, many narratives and stories in the match.

Ben Stokes’ parents are New Zealanders. While their son has grown up to play cricket for Durham in the county championship and for England in the international arena, they still live in Christchurch. He and Kiwi tearaway Lockie Ferguson were born in that city in the same month, in the same year – June 1991.

Kolkata 2016. Image courtesy.

Stokes has scars from a previous World Cup, the T20 final in Kolkata 2016, when Carlos Brathwaite smoked him for four consecutive sixes off the first four balls of the final over to ace a stiff chase. He must have known on that pitch in Lord’s that this was his chance for redemption.

Stokes had to face a court case and miss the Ashes Down Under in 2017-18 because of a charge of affray on a night out in Bristol in September 2017. That was an off-field incident for which he had to face suspension and time out of the game until the court deemed him “not guilty.” He must have known on the pitch at Lord’s that this was his chance for redemption.

Ben Stokes is England’s man of the tournament, playing intrepid innings through the middle and death overs time and time again. He had an 89 to start the tournament against South Africa. He then had an 82* and an 89 against Sri Lanka and Australia respectively, both in losing causes, apart from a 79 against India. After the final, he’ll end up with 7 wickets at an economy rate of 4.83 and 465 runs at 66.42. In the final, coming in at 71/3 in the 20th over, he took charge of England’s meandering chase.

22 needed off 9 balls.

Stokes hit Neesham to the deep midwicket boundary, where Boult, the superstar fast bowler, the breathtaking fielder, combined with Martin Guptill, that man again, to take a relay catch that would have tilted the scales irreversibly towards the Kiwis.

Except, his foot touched the advertising board.

Talk about margins. Talk about luck.

9 runs were needed off 3 balls when another stroke of luck, yeah, that word again, went England’s way.

Fourth ball. Stokes played it to deep midwicket, where Martin Guptill fielded and threw it to the keeper’s end, attempting to run out Stokes, who was haring back for a second run. The ball deflected off the bat to the third man boundary, and England got four bonus runs. What might have been a single and a match-clinching dismissal of the last recognized batsman instead is six runs.

Stokes gets up on his knees, his shirt muddied from dives he’s made, and holds his arms in apology, almost like a prisoner of war surrendering to armed adversaries. This though, is a match that’s yet to be won. But you can’t help feeling that what was New Zealand’s game has now turned England’s way.

“This wasn’t meant to be.” Image courtesy.

What was 9 off 3 is now 3 off 2.

Talk about luck.

Stokes will make sure that despite two runouts off the next two balls, England end level with the Kiwis, 241 runs apiece.

Lord’s 2019. Image courtesy.

Jimmy Neesham, Twitter God of self-deprecatory humour, had left cricket after failing to make the Blackcaps squad for the 2015 World Cup. In the 2019 tournament, he’s occupying the position that Grant Elliot, hero of Auckland 2015 against South Africa, did. Not only has he picked up a fifer in a match here, he also has a high score of 97* in an innings. He’s been a livewire in the field too, with his catch of Dinesh Karthik in the semifinal, inches off the turf with his left hand, a huge contender for catch of the tournament.

He’s done all he could in the field and with the bat, taking 3 for 43 off his 7 overs and scoring 19 off 25. Then he’s asked to bat in the Super Over, and nearly pulls it off, taking 14 off Archer’s first five balls. It’s clichéd, but you’re tempted to ask, who writes these guys’ scripts?

All said and done, how cruel can sport be? New Zealand had wowed and roused a nation enroute to their run to the 2915 world cup final. They seemed poised to go one better here, with a titanic effort in the field, in particular, the highlight of their day. The catches taken by Lockie Ferguson and Tim Southee were among the best in this tournament.

Lockie locks it. Image courtesy.

But, every rub of the green seemed to go against them. That deflection off Stokes’bat just capped what was a hapless day for the Kiwis. I can’t remember a match where luck played as cruel a hand in deciding the fate of a tournament.


As mentioned in the previous blog post, I was happy with either of these two teams winning the World Cup. All I wanted was a match worthy of the final, a game supposedly at the pinnacle of the white-ball game. You could safely say that the 1987 final was the last genuine contest in the tournament. Little did I know that we’d get far, far more than any of us could ever have wished for.

Never before had a world cup final ended in a tie.

This was only the second time ever that a knockout match in a World Cup was tied, after Edgbaston 1999, Australia vs South Africa, the game widely considered the greatest ODI ever.

This match was ODI no. 4192, and only the 38th match ever, ever, to end in a tie. That’s 0.906 tied matches per hundred completed ODIs.

That’s how rare this was.

And never ever had a Super Over ended in a tie in an ODI. Never. Let that sink in.

This was inarguably rarer than finding a unicorn and a Mermaid together, both sitting around a Sphinx, telling them tales of Dragons and Werewolves.

After seven weeks of fun, drama, action and heartbreak, this is what it came down to.

This is where Luck, Labour and Chance, those three intangibles, conspired to meet for a cup of tea.

You never play a match thinking of hitting more boundaries and sixes, not unless you’re playing in the Hong Kong Sixes tournament. No coaching manual in the world teaches budding cricketers to throw caution to the wind, not worry about how many wickets their team loses or how many wickets it has at the end of its innings, and focus instead on scoring as many boundaries as possible. Yet this is just what the ICC’s rule for the Super Over asked players and match officials to take into consideration while deciding who became the world champion. Granted that sport loves the clarity of having a unique winner at the end of all the slugfest and theatre, but in an ideal world, Kane Williamson and his band of Nice Guys™ would not have had to put up a brave face as England celebrated their coronation.

That trophy should have been shared when the Super Over ended in a tie, and no one would have batted an eyelid. We wouldn’t have needed clichés like “England won the World Cup but New Zealand won hearts” and “New Zealand were the real champions.”

Instead, another cliché, “cricket is the real winner,” would have felt 24-carat gold, and not the cheap imitation it did in the aftermath of the match. England deserved the world cup, but New Zealand didn’t deserve to lose either. Perhaps this will prompt a rule change in the future. A final for ages, probably the greatest ODI ever played, deserved a better ending than what it did.

Before I end, I’d like to leave you with the image that defines what sport is all about.

Chris Woakes consoles Jimmy Neesham and Martin Guptill. Image courtesy.

I’d love to have a conversation with you, dear reader, on the final. Share your thoughts and feelings on the match in the comments.

Thanks for reading.


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