This was the most amazing, accidental, outrageous climax to any cricket match I’ve witnessed, let alone a World Cup final. Only the Kiwis could have managed so graciously with the way of their defeat in the most fascinating final this tournament has ever witnessed. At the end of its England arose as World Cup champions for the first time. It is hard to trust how they achieved it. We had better start at the end.
The game had been fascinating all over. But in the final over it had more turns and turns than a Hitchcock page-turner. England needed 15 runs to victory from the last over, which was bowled by Trent Boult. Ben Stokes was on attack with two wickets remaining.
The first two deliveries formed nothing. Stokes hit the fielders and failed to run; the crowd, at least the mainstream of them, screeched. Stokes hit the next ball over mid-wicket aimed at six. Nine runs were now wanted from three balls.
Now comes the twist that the few writers would have perceived. Stokes threw again and the ball sped to mid-wicket. Martin Guptill pounced and sent the ball back to the keeper’s end to which Stokes was running to complete a second run. He dived badly for safety; the ball struck his bat and was subsequently redirected towards the pavilion. There was a frantic pursuit, but no Kiwi might stop it.
In these conditions the etiquette is that the batsmen should not run, which was experimental by the two England players. But once the ball had traversed the boundary the umpires had no other but to signal that six runs had been scored. Two had been run plus the four revolutions. Three runs were now wanted off two balls. Stokes hit to long on and Adil Rashid was run-out at the bowler’s end seeking a second. No matter. Two desirable from one ball. This time Stokes deliberately patted to long-on scheming that they could scramble two runs. A faultless throw came from Jimmy Neesham and Mark Wood was nowhere to be seen.
And so, the match was tied and we encouraged to the Super Over, cricket’s equivalent to the penalty shootout. Out came Stokes again lengthwise with Jos Buttler. Once over Boult had the ball. England gathered 15 runs. So now New Zealand, on the brink of victory 20 minutes earlier, wanted 16 to win the World Cup. Out came Neesham and Guptill. Jofra Archer was given the doubtful honour of bowling, quite a praise for the novice. A wide was trailed by a huge six from Neesham over mid-wicket; then a misfield and we were back in acquainted territory. Three runs wanted off two balls, then two from the previous one. By now it was recognized that if the match was tied England would win on the comparatively random basis that they had hit more limits in the match. Guptill hit to mid-wicket. Jason Roy’s fling was far from perfect but Buttler collected it and dived for the stumps with Guptill a yard adrift. Somehow England could rejoice victory, yet no sane cricket fan in the ground could conclude that New Zealand rated to lose. After this surreal hour they arose with as much credit as England, maybe more, since the cricketing divinities had been so cruel.
Throughout the day the New Zealand side had been at their most hardy in what seemed destined to be a slow red-hot classic that must have fascinated an enlarged audience, whatever their age or gender. They have become the specialists at defending small totals, which are hypothetical to be chicken feed in the modern era. Here they had to secure 241. Ben Stokes accidentally clips the ball while headfirst during the failing stages to claim six vital runs.
They achieved to reduce England to 86 for four in the 22nd. Then it became fiddlier for the Kiwis. Ben Stokes dug in Dhoni style alongside Buttler. They fixed the damage with Buttler fast-moving along at a run a ball, which was faster than anyone else on the day. Stokes, by disparity, gritted his teeth and battled. For a while it looked as if this pair might guide England to a straight victory as they added 110 runs together, but the New Zealanders seized every chance that came their way and refused to budge an inch. By the start of the final over of the game they were preferences to win the match. Naturally they would have preferred a better total to defend but earlier in the day England had been coldly experimental in the field with Chris Wakes and Archer on target from the start, exploiting a astonishingly green surface.
Guptill has been in a drought but he brought a couple of eye infectious boundaries. An upper cut over third man off Archer empty the boundary, the solitary six of the innings. This was trailed by a champing straight drive over the bowler’s head, but this would not be Guptill’s day. He would soon be lbw to Woakes. Meanwhile Kane Williamson was batting as if a crisis, while not current, was just around the corner. After 22 deliveries he had just two runs. However, the storm was worn by Nicholls and Williamson. The pressure relieved; the slips dispersed; Adil Rashid was then bade up as the Kiwis dutifully went about their business passing three figures in the 22nd over.
Eventually Plunkett create the edge of Williamson’s bat and Nicholls was bowled via an confidential edge for a plucky 55. Now the boundaries were few and far between, though none predicted that this would be a conclusive factor. Ross Taylor was given lbw to Mark Wood and at the end of their innings New Zealand could not break free notwithstanding a few crisp strokes from Tom Latham.
England’s Jos Buttler runs out New Zealand’s Martin Guptill to triumph the super over.Yet 242 soon appeared a long way off. Boult’s first distribution to Roy was just about perfect and it encouraged a huge appeal for lbw, which was declined by Umpire Erasmus. A review was sought. The ball inclined in line but was deemed to be hitting the outside of the leg-stump, so Roy endured by virtue of an umpire’s call. At the other end Matt Henry kept thrashing the bat and then Roy would unfold a majestic drive. But on 17 Roy was compressed again but this time the ball had brushed his bat.
Out came Joe Root, usually the most comforting of sights, but not today. For Root, of all people, lost control. He threw against Colin de Grandhomme and wasted. The next ball was broader, and Root tried to hit it hard, always a bad sign. A energy became a swish and he was wedged behind. This stunned the audience; it was like a great actor fluffing his lines on the grandest stage.
Soon Bairstow was bowled off the inside edge by Leckie Ferguson, who soon produced something more extraordinary. Morgan beaten outside the offs ump; the ball flew near deep point, where Ferguson hurried in before diving forward to hold a vivid catch. It felt like a match-winning moment. Yet this was just the start of a bewildering, chaotic ending. What a day. What a rebound.