The game of cricket is all about margins. On a sunny day at Lord’s, there was nothing separating England and New Zealand from lifting the World Cup. Kane Williamson won the toss and decided to take a gamble and bat first, trusting his new ball bowlers to deliver the goods in the second innings. Martin Guptill looked flashy during his short stay, which was ended by an in-swinger by Chris Woakes. Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls dug deep, seeing off the English pacers. However, England had enough fire-power to keep taking wickets. Kane Williamson edged a fired-up Plunkett to Buttler and Nicholls, having completed his fifty, was cleaned up by Plunkett. Ross Taylor was unlucky to be given LBW, as replays showed the ball missing the wickets. With no reviews remaining, Taylor had to walk back helplessly. The English bowlers were pin-point at the death, conceding only 62 runs from the last 10 overs. New Zealand finished at 241/8, but with a slowing pitch which still offered significant movement, knew that they were firmly in the game.
England’s chase had drama from start to finish. The very first ball, Jason Roy was beaten by an in-swinger and New Zealand went up in appeal. Williamson opted for the review, which concluded that it was umpire’s call. The opening pair of Roy and Bairstow, who had four century partnerships in four games, were finally separated when Matt Henry got one to move away, making Roy poke at it and edge it to a diving Latham. Joe Root never got going, using up 30 balls for his 7 before edging a straight ball outside the off-stump to the keeper. Jonny Bairstow was undone by a slower ball from Ferguson, which he played on to the stumps. Ferguson was in the act again, diving forwards spectacularly and hanging on to the ball after Eoin Morgan had mistimed a hoick.
At 86-4 and the run-rate climbing steadily, England needed some calmness. Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes hung in, rotating the strike and finding the odd boundary when needed. The pair passed their fifties and just when the tide was turning England’s way, Jos Buttler sliced a slower ball to deep point and substitute Tim Southee completed a difficult catch. The rest of the tail could not hang on, as wickets kept falling and England were in search of a hero or a stroke of luck. Yet again, when the chips were down, England turned to Ben Stokes, a man born in New Zealand. Twice, he fought till the end and watched England lose in the group stages, but destiny decided to side with England. 24 was required in two overs as Jimmy Neesham, a man who contemplated retirement two years ago, steamed in to bowl. After conceding two singles, Neesham’s leg-cutter was too wily for Plunkett as he mistimed it to Boult’s hands. The next ball, Stokes connected another slower ball, which Trent Boult had grasped but stepped on the ropes, handing England a much needed six. Neesham finished the over with a single and the wicket of Jofra Archer. England needed 15 off the last over.
Trent Boult began the final over with two fiery yorkers, which ended as dots. The third ball, he decided to take the pace off but the mighty Stokes got down on one knee and smashed it for six. Every player has a story to tell in the run-up to the World Cup, every moment holds its value. But when you look back at these memories, only the impossible or the unexplainable strike us first. With 8 needed in three, England desperately needed a boundary, but got it from the most unlikeliest of sources, an over-throw. Just as Stokes put in a dive after running two, Martin Guptill’s throw from deep mid-wicket hit Stokes’s bat and deflected to the boundary. After consultation, the umpires gave that as a six, two runs and four overthrows. England now needed a very gettable 3 from 2 balls. Unflustered by all that is happening, Trent Boult bowled two yorkers and conceded two singles, courtesy of two run-outs. The World Cup champions was to be decided by a super-over.
A cool Buttler and a weary Stokes were sent in to bat, as Trent Boult was handed the ball. The super over began with Stokes gasping for air as he ran three. Buttler could only manage a single from the next ball. Stokes found the gap with a sweep and got four, as the English crowd found its voice. The fourth ball was a full-toss, which Stokes sliced for one. Buttler ran two off the fifth ball and managed to squeeze the last ball for a boundary. England finished with 15 in the super over.
New Zealand’s hopes rested on Martin Guptill and Jimmy Neesham as England handed the ball to Jofra Archer, who made his ODI and England debut just three months ago. Archer began with a wide outside the off-stump. The second ball went for two as Neesham could not find the required elevation. The third ball was full and smashed for six by Neesham. New Zealand now needed 7 in 4 balls. Archer continued with the full length and conceded two doubles. The fifth ball was short and Neesham scampered for a single. After 7 weeks of gruelling cricket and 51.5 overs of inseparability, it all came down to one ball yet again.
New Zealand had to get two to win, England had to restrict New Zealand to a single. Martin Guptill, who was in poor touch throughout the World Cup and whose misfortunate throw got England back into the game, was at the centre of action. Archer went full again but Guptill could not get it past deep mid-wicket. Guptill sprinted back for the second, every step he took getting New Zealand closer to glory. Just as he dived desperately, only halfway through, Jos Buttler broke the stumps as the English players ran in celebration. There was a 0.91% chance of a super-over in the final, but according to the ICC rules, if the super-over also ends in a tie, the team with the most boundaries wins. England won the World Cup thanks to their superior boundary count of 26 to New Zealand’s 17.
There is always a winner and a loser in sports, but after this game, New Zealand have won the hearts of every enthusiast with their spirit and graciousness in defeat. This was a World Cup of irony, of fights, of fine margins, of comebacks and most of all, of never giving up. New Zealand will have no explanations for what happened. They gave it their all, but destiny denied them. Some things are best left unexplained and as Kane Williamson graciously said during the post-match celebration, “So, yeah, one of those things, hey.”
Also published on Medium.