It is Monday morning the 15th of July 2019. I am on an aircraft, most of the way to Southern Italy. When I return to England, it will be to Lord's for the first ever Test match between England and Ireland. Alongside me in 14C is a spare seat with newspapers strewn across it. Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix, but he is nowhere obvious to be seen. Novak Djokovic is there, kissing the golden cup for the fifth time. Roger Federer too, with a silver salver. I know of no sportsman who less suits the slot of runner-up. It is a strange game that sees a player win comfortably more games and points than the opponent who beats him. But even these two extraordinary champions are bystanders to the story that runs from front to middle to back of the main paper and then holds down a supplement of its own.
Okay, so England won the World Cup. They were always going to do that: best team, y'know. Yeah, right. But it's no longer what, it is how.
Beaten consecutively by Sri Lanka and Australia, the England players gathered in Birmingham two and a half weeks ago to reboot. This involved soul-searching, honest reflections, and a good look at a video made a while back in which the players talk openly about each other's strengths. The conclusion was they had better start enjoying the game again - after all, what's not to like? Well, the pressure of expectation for a start; the pitches, which had gone rogue and stifled their freewheeling; and the criticism. Get over it was the conclusion, and get on with it.
And how! Three matches were won on the bounce and the fourth tied. As was a 12-ball fifth match. Tied. But ties were enough, twice. Each of these matches was make or break, and make Eoin Morgan's team they will surely do, to the point at which their lives will be different. Think Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst; Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson; and now think Jos and Ben, Jonny, Jason, Jofra and, well, you know the rest - heroes all, and written into English sporting folklore for evermore.
It is the character that most impresses, the sheer bloody will of these performances. It is one thing to entertain with the open floodgate of fours and sixes; stops, saves and catches; slower balls and searing bouncers, but it is quite another to get down and dirty, to dig deep into the reserves of the mind and find a way. Liam Plunkett did this with the ball, Stokes and Buttler did it with the bat at Lord's on Sunday, and Lord's went more nuts than at any time in its previous 205 years.
Yes, of course England had the outrageously generous Lady Luck smile upon them. Pretty much every close call went against the impressively calm and efficient New Zealanders, not least the daft idea that the team with the most boundaries on the day wins in the event of a Super Over tie. Like there is only one way to score runs. Runs are runs! A better way to decide such an unlikely outcome would be to give it to the team that won the round-robin match between the sides. So that would have been England too. It is destiny, you see.
The couple in front of me are reading the newspapers. One of them remarks that it would have been nice if the Queen, rather than the Duke of York, had been there to present the trophy. The Duke, bless him, had arrived in the MCC Committee Room at 3.30pm and been attended to by every member of the committee present, as well as their wives, or whomever. He is okay with cricket but not much more. At least, that was the case at 3.30. Come the cocktail hour, and sensing the mood, he was rather more engaged. His guest, the Sultan of Oman, gets his kicks at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal fan that he is. But even the Sultan had begun pacing the room.
This was now officially nerve-wracking. Outside, the members were all a fluster. Me too, so I went for a walk. The concourses were silent, the bars emptied by the tension. I climbed some steps to the lower level of the Grandstand, where every seat was taken and every run cheered as if it were Federer passing Djokovic a few miles away in SW19. When Stokes hit the six... honestly, Lord's threw its two-centuried and many-storied inhibitions to the wind. Next ball, he was awarded six more for the dive and deflection. Now people lost the plot. So did I. Wasn't it five? Nope, apparently not. Confusion, chaos and cataclysmic consequences ensued.
I began to see Lady Luck as the bad girl, sadistically minded and certainly no lover of New Zealand. Has she not been to Otago?! Could this really be happening?
Stokes was playing his own redemption song, and close to 30,000 folk at an old cricket ground in London were singing the chorus. I thought of Carlos Brathwaite and that Bristol nightclub, and decided that Lady Luck had taken a shine to Stokesy. But very few of us had seen the Super Over coming. I think we imagined a shared trophy. I don't know, really - it was mayhem everywhere, gut-wrenching mayhem. With three needed from two balls, I suppose we thought he would just whack one into the crowd and take a bow.
But Stokes is smarter than that. England were eight down and he knew that the risk of getting it wrong and losing his wicket would cost them the World Cup. So he drove straight, along the ground and ran for his life. He made it back, but at the non-striker's end Rashid wasn't in the race. Out and one run only; two needed, nine down. Again, he simply could not take the risk. Imagine: Stokes caught on the midwicket boundary and England lose by one. No way. So again he drove straight along the ground but directly towards the fielder, and again the non-striker, Mark Wood, was sacrificed. A tie! Fifty overs each and not a single run between the sides.
It was astonishing, unprecedented, lucky, smart, brilliant, unlucky, flattering, faltering, preposterous, and that was before what will now forever be known as the Champagne Super Over. Guess who sent that in a text to my musician mate sitting next to me? The manager of Oasis. He did. I promise.
You know the rest. Amidst unbearable tension, England won.
There was glory wherever you turned. Men and women, young and old, delirious. Another text, from a friend in the Grandstand: "OMG no words can possibly explain hugging, kissing and crying with my son as we won it." And another, from an Aussie in a box in the Mound Stand: "London in summer, tennis and cricket, frantically switching the channels, matches for the ages existing in a parallel universe and never to be forgotten. Happy daze." Then finally: "Any fingernails left?" No.