A final for the ages!
New Zealand and England scored the same number of runs in the regulation match, and then in the Super Over too. Yet, one side lost.
Three events happened at the same time on Sunday. Lewis Hamilton raced to a record sixth British GP win, Novak Djokovic ran Roger Federer ragged and won the Wimbledon crown again, and then, England won their maiden world title at Lord’s.
Formula One is about the quickest laps. Very rarely do two cars register the same time, and if they do, the first to set that lap-time is given precedence over the other. It makes sense. Tennis meanwhile has no ruling that shares podiums amongst two competitors – you play, and play, and play, until one wins, however long that might take.
Cricket is weirder than those two sports. Its rules and intricacies often defy logic. Sample this: New Zealand and England scored the same number of runs in the regulation match, and then in the Super Over too. Yet, one side lost.
Seldom does it happen, that twice in the same game two teams cannot be separated. It seems an unimaginative consequence, unbearable even especially for the side without the trophy. New Zealand will fly home empty handed, while England will gush for the next four years as world champions, all of it decided by the closest of margins – an overthrow that ricocheted off Ben Stokes, a dropped catch that went for six runs and a last-ball run-out by under a yard.
Of course, England are deserving champions, undoubtedly. This is a side that changed the way ODI cricket is played across the world. For the past four years, theirs has been a tale of resurrection, and they have come a long way indeed after group-stage elimination in the 2015 World Cup. Eoin Morgan was at the helm then, and his stoic leadership is one of the key reasons why the English attitude towards limited-overs’ cricket changed completely.
Thing is their journey through this World Cup wasn’t really reflective of their slam-bang mood. They had an on-off start on slow pitches, and then were completely stupefied on two-paced pitches against Sri Lanka and Australia, almost sinking to the verge of elimination again. England thereafter came back from the brink; particularly in the manner they beat India, and rediscovered themselves as true contenders again.
Morgan, after the victory, stressed on this fact that they had to play out of their comfort zone and learn the art of attrition cricket. It was the most useful on Sunday then as Lord’s served up another tough wicket, where shot making wasn’t easy in either innings. Add to it scoreboard pressure, and no wonder England collapsed in a 242-run chase. But for Ben Stokes, the World Cup was gone.
From that crazy catch in the first game against South Africa, to this last-ditch winning effort, Stokes has been the pivotal man for England. It is a personal resurrection for him too – after the disappointment in the 2016 World T20 final, and the Bristol brawl affair. In a way, it is also representative of how England have fought, ebbing and flowing, never in a consistent manner, almost in deep contrast to their opponents.
New Zealand have been perfect in their consistency. They are the only side to not score 300 in this tournament, apart from Afghanistan. At the same time, they are also the side with maximum efforts of restricting the opposition batting to sub-300 scores. It is a fine balance with bat and ball – they knew their limitations, their over-dependency on Kane Williamson and their bowling prowess, thus playing within the envelope of this definition.
As batsman, he has single-handedly shouldered his team’s burden in this World Cup. As captain, he has been peerless, reading conditions to the point, backing his bowlers, setting fields to strangulate the opposition, and marshalling his side to a title triumph. Overall, there was no match for him in this tournament, and he was rightly adjudged player of the tournament. It wasn’t enough to take home the crown though.
And it brings us to the final juncture of this tournament – were those overthrows justified? Yes, the rules are pretty clear about them. What about the boundary rule? Well, that is pretty nonsensical. Perhaps, Super Overs can be decided based on boundary count in league matches of an ICC tournament, or bilateral series, or wherever else.
In a final, where everything is on the line, where two teams fight like gladiators as if a matter of life and death, where two equals cannot be separated, an overly complicated ruling of counting boundaries takes away from the spirit of the game. Make no mistake – there was no better or worse team amongst the two on Sunday.
Both England and New Zealand played, and indeed finished, as champions. Albeit, only one took home the trophy.