If cricket were to end tomorrow, at least we'll have this game

Did Lord's 2019 go past Edgbaston 1999? Felt that way

Sambit Bal
Sambit Bal
To hell with big hits. Banish the nonsense about 400s. Junk the flatbeds. This was the match of our lives. Heart-stopping, heartbreaking, a blockbuster of a ripper. No one had seen one like this. And no one ever will.
It was insane. It was pulsating. It was chaotic. It was breathtaking. It was cruel. It was unbelievable. It was extraordinary. It was epochal. It will be unforgettable. And after we have dealt with it all, we will be forever grateful we saw it.
When they got to bed, New Zealand will have slept with no faith in justice or god, and they will bear the staggering misfortune of it for the rest of their lives. But England will take it as their destiny. History rewards the winners. It was just meant to be: after 44 years of desperate longing, and four years of relentless preparation, the trophy is theirs. It doesn't matter just now what this win may or may not engender: for Eoin Morgan and his delirious troop, the revolution has reaped its reward. The World Cup has come home.
There had only been 37 ties in the 4045 ODIs that had been played till then, and only four in 445 World Cup matches; none since 2011. England had been involved in eight ties before this, and New Zealand seven, and in matches involving both, there had been three. The law of probabilities would have given it a 0.91% chance. Two in two overs - who could have been wild enough to even contemplate it, let alone prepare for it?
Think of Jofra Archer. Born to play cricket, but only newly an English national, and drafted into the World Cup squad just in time for the tournament, after months of speculation, and now entrusted with the over that would decide the World Cup. And that after having assumed his job had been done in the first half of the day. Forget the skills. Think of the nerve it took. First ball a wide. Third ball smoked for a six. Another six and the trophy is gone; a four, almost gone.
Each ball decisive, a life event by itself. No margin for error. Bouncer and you risk a wide. Yorker, you risk a full toss. The margins are down to fractions now. Seven off four. Five off three. Three off two. Two off one.
Archer keeps his cool. Throughout the tournament, he has been England's X-factor. But now, at the moment of reckoning, he is their deliverer. The word "heroic" doesn't do justice.
Think of Ben Stokes. Less than a year ago, he spent a day in jail. He then went through a public trial for affray that could have kept him there longer. All through this time, he has waited for this day. He has battled a tough pitch, determined opponents, departing team-mates, mounting pressure, and almost won his team the World Cup. And then he has to come back and do it all over again. He makes eight off three balls.
Think of Trent Boult. He has led New Zealand's charge with the ball all through the tournament. He could have had a wicket first ball. On the last ball of the game against West Indies he caught Carlos Brathwaite's six-bound, and thus match-winning, hit at the edge of the boundary to win the game. That, in retrospect, kept New Zealand in the tournament. Now, in the 49th over, he has Stokes' lofted hit firmly in his range, and soon the ball in his cupped palms. But unlike the last time, the backward momentum takes him a step behind and onto the ropes. A potentially match-winning dismissal is now a six. Then he must defend 15 in the last over. Then he is asked to deliver the Super Over, which goes for another 15. Thirty runs in two unforgiving overs after going through the whole tournament with an economy rate of 4.74.
Think of Martin Guptill. Hardly a run has come off his bat in the last nine games. But New Zealand have kept faith in him, and possibly given him the licence to let loose in the final. He has upper-cut Archer for six and hit him back over his head for a four, but the innings has remained only a promise. And now his team is again banking on him in the Super Over because he can run hard and hopefully will be able to land a heavy blow or two. Four of the first five, he has run as hard as possibly could, but now, with two needed of final ball, he can only dig out the ball, full, angling in, to midwicket. He is defeated by not more than a few inches as he dives back for the second. The World Cup is gone.
Think of the sixes. England haven't managed one till the 49th over. The first one could have cost them the match. The second one has kept them alive. But the third, the one that tilts the match for them, isn't even a six. It is the freakiest of freak incidents in cricket: a ricochet off Stokes' bat as he flings himself into the crease to complete a second run. Stokes is nearly embarrassed. New Zealand gape, first in disbelief and then in despair.
It has been a day of slow burn. Nothing has come easy, not wickets or runs. The teams have been pushed and tested and taken to the edge. It has been riveting like no other World Cup match. Australia v South Africa in Edgbaston in 1999 comes close. That was a tie too. But this is beyond compare. At the end of all this, there is no loser. But England win because, wait, they have hit more boundaries. You can call it karmic. Four years of muscling the ball haven't been in vain.
Walking onto the field later in the evening, you can still feel your senses tingle. You can hear the players celebrating indoors. ICC staff have gathered around to take photographs. What a day it has been. If this has not reconnected a nation to a game that sprang from its own greens, nothing ever will.
Even if cricket were to die tomorrow, we would still have this game.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo @sambitbal