The sun was out when England won the World Cup. It had emerged, at last, from behind the freckles of white cloud and was shining low through the bright blue sky over the Grand Stand. The shadows stretched all the way to the wicket, the flags licked in the evening breeze, the pavilion glowed soft terracotta. The old place looked pretty as a picture, exactly how we see it in winter when thinking back on the games we saw, and the games we played, in the long, warm days of summer. For the 11 men in this England team, for the thousands in the ground, for the millions watching on TV, that is how they will always see it in their minds, years from now, when they think back on this match: the greatest World Cup final, heck maybe even the greatest game of one-day cricket, ever played.
The dizzying, sickening, drama of those final minutes were as compelling a stretch of sport as anything else that will happen this year, as gripping as anything, in fact, that has happened in the 14 years since the England cricket team last played live on free-to-air TV in 2005. Accurate viewing figures are notoriously hard to come by but, if Channel 4 could ever get hold of theirs for this broadcast, they will be disappointed with them because, even though all those sets were on around the country, surely most of the people in front of them were too scared to watch what was going on, were hiding behind their sofas, had their faces buried in a cushions, or sneaking glimpses from between their fingers.
At Lord’s there were old England players, heroes some of them – men who failed to do exactly what this England team were trying to – who were hiding in the toilets, too riven with old superstitions to move. “I thought you weren’t supposed to care when you stopped playing,” one of the 2011 team confided as he stared into the mirror over the sink. He was following it all by the gasps and roars coming through the walls. Outside they were living every last second, as though they were the ones who had to make the runs, score the boundaries, take the wickets and catches. And even in the pavilion, the stately, sedate members seemed to be screaming and shouting the yesses and noes of those final few runs.
The tension had been growing all day, winding tighter and tighter from way back in the morning, from the moment, in fact, that Kane Williamson won the toss and said he would bat first. After that the prospect of the run chase loomed over the morning and early afternoon like those high towerblocks behind the Mound and Tavern Stands, where the roof terraces and balconies were packed with people taking the long view from over the road. Williamson’s decision set it all up to be a stress test. England were shouldering all the pressure that has built up over four years of preparing for this match, and, before that, from 40 more of failure, laced with all that disappointment, humiliation and horror. He was banking on the fact that they would crack.
That approach seemed to inform his batting strategy, too. New Zealand got just enough. And when England were 86 for four, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan all gone, and their luck seemingly used up on a bunch of inside edges that flew past the stumps and an lbw call that was an umpire’s whim away from being given out, it looked as if just enough was going to be more than they needed.
England’s fans were suffering now. They had hope, if not faith, their stores of that diminished by the transgenerational trauma of following the team’s futile efforts to win this tournament before, the memories of Mike Gatting trying to hit that reverse sweep off Allan Border, of Wasim Akram’s inswingers, of Sanath Jayasuriya flogging Phil De Freitas and Richard Illingworth all around Faisalabad, of being battered by South African allrounders, bashed up by Lance Klusener and bowled out by Andrew Hall, of Freddie Flintoff’s 4am jaunt in a pedalo, of being belaboured by Kevin O’Brien, steamrollered by Tillakaratne Dilshan, bundled out by Tim Southee.
So optimism was rationed like wartime jam. For most of the day Lord’s was alive with anxious chatter, a jittery, skittery babbling, “what do you think, can they, could they, will they, maybe?” It rose to a new pitch in the penultimate over, the first of those manic final few minutes, when England needed 22 runs to win with nine balls to go. There was that catch at long-on by Trent Boult, who stepped on to the boundary rope and slipped over backwards even as he tried to toss the ball up to his teammate Martin Guptill to complete a relay catch that would have won the match. Then there was the six Stokes hit in the next over, clean, this time, over mid-wicket, to make it nine needed from the last three. And that ricochet away when Guptill’s throw from deep mid-wicket hit Stokes’ bat as he dived in for his second run.
New Zealand hardly seemed to believe it but it meant there were three needed off two balls. England got two of them. But everyone knows that, of course. Everyone in earshot of a TV or a computer, in hearing distance of a radio or within sight off a newspaper surely knows already how the game went to a super over and how, when it was all over and the two sides had made 15 runs each without losing a wicket, the only way they could be separated was by counting back the boundaries they had scored.
Well, it will stand the retelling, here and countless times ever after, in pubs and clubs and bars, magazine articles, TV documentaries and books. Maybe, when they tell it then, some will say they always knew how it was going to play out. Do not believe them – because until Jos Buttler swept off the bails that last time to make the final run-out, everyone was still thinking of the team England were, not the team they are. Now, after that and everything else that happened this Sunday in the high summer of 2019, no one will make the mistake again.
Source: The Guardian