London: Four years of hard work and it came down to one ball. Four years of hard work and it came down to one over. Four years of hard work and it -- finally -- came down to the boundaries quotient.
But eventually, it came home! England turned out to be the winners of 2019 World Cup, but who deserved to win on July 14, 2019? England or New Zealand?
This is not about the obvious, that there must be one winner and one loser. This is about fortunes that swung like a pendulum right till the end of 102 overs, after 512 runs and 43 boundaries.
To win a World Cup, a team must play a brand of cricket right throughout the high-pressure tournament.
First of all, let's separate the 'controllables' vs 'uncontrollables', which Kane Williamson, the graceful losing captain, kept talking about through the post-match press conference.
England were one of the title contenders and eventually crowned champions. For a nation that was always reminded of Mike Gatting's disastrous reverse-sweep in the 1987 World Cup final once every four years, this World Cup was about being brave.
Eoin Morgan missed a reverse-sweep off Nathan Lyon in the semifinal, but soon after he repeated the same and did it with success. Joe Root followed in the footsteps of his skipper. Jos Buttler came up with some audacious scoops in the thrilling phase of the final against New Zealand.
This England side was all about being fearless. And when they weren't willing to take the risk, they failed against Sri Lanka. Morgan and his boys realised their mistake.
"The biggest risk for us throughout the tournament is not playing a positive brand of cricket, that is the biggest risk for us. We did it in one game in particular against Sri Lanka and it cost us the game. So that would be our biggest risk, not sticking, staying true to what we believe works," Morgan said after the final.
Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow then targeted Indian wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal and resurrected their campaign.
There's also Ben 'Superhuman' Stokes! Two dot balls off the first two balls of the last over and yet he had the composure to do it all by himself against Trent Boult. That was right out of the MS Dhoni batting manual.
This England bowling unit, led by the 'prophetic' Jofra Archer, was nothing but brilliant right throughout. That's a complete package. If you beat Australia, the way England did, in the semifinal, you deserve to be the world champions.
Well, fortune favours the brave. But what about New Zealand?
Probably the eternal 'underdogs', and in a way they relish the tag. The top order misfired. The middle-order wasn't firing in unison either. But there was one man, one man dragging his batting unit throughout. Captain cool Williamson. If England bullied some of their opposition, New Zealand were all about fighting till the end. The New Zealand cricket team is an ideal example of why cricket is a team sport, and it's not about individuals.
The bowling unit, led by Boult, Williamson's astute leadership and a bunch of underestimated all-rounders (not read as 'bits and pieces' cricketers) saw NZ home on many occasions. When the Kiwis overcame the Bangladesh fight, when Carlos Brathwaite found Boult inches in front of the boundary, when a terribly out-of-form Guptill ran Dhoni out inches short of the crease... one felt luck was with New Zealand. If there was one team in the World Cup that summed up situations better than most teams, then it has to New Zealand -- be it setting tricky totals or coming up with innovative fields.
Before the World Cup, cricket pundits from across the globe felt whichever team beats India will turn out to be the champions. England and New Zealand both defeated India before they reached final. In fact, the Black Caps defeated India twice (including the warm-up match).
What about the 'controllables on match day, the final (in hindsight and from NZ point of view being the losing side)? New Zealand could have opted to field on a tricky pitch and under overcast conditions but maybe Williamson felt 'chasing' the World Cup would put more pressure. Maybe Colin de Grandhomme could have scored a few boundaries instead of nudging and prodding.
Maybe the top order could have scored more boundaries. The target was such that New Zealand had to attack the England batsmen and had to resort to three slips on few occasions, had to have six or seven fielders inside the ring even during the middle phase, providing enough opportunities for the attacking England batsmen to score boundaries.
Of course, the New Zealand middle-order who focussed on working the ball around, should have thought about the possibility of a tie in a Super Over and that it would come down to boundaries count.
The Super Over rule: 102 overs, 512 runs and 43 boundaries (26 by England, 17 by New Zealand). A tie in the Super Over was something even the 'prophetic' Archer wouldn't have predicted in 2013 or 2014. There was no way gentleman cricketer Williamson was going to question the rule and England, the winners, weren't complaining.
Three balls nine to win and Stokes ran two. The throw hit Stokes, who was diving full stretch to make his crease, and screamed away to the boundary. Stokes didn't even attempt to run after the deflection but the ball ran away to the vacant third-man boundary. The common man must have thought, six runs for England. Stokes ran two plus an overthrow four.
Former ICC umpire Simon Taufel spotted the umpiring error. It should have been five runs and Stokes should have been at the non-striker's end!
"So given that scenario (Rashid and Stokes didn't cross for the second run when the throw was sent in), five runs should have been the correct allocation of runs, and Ben Stokes should have been at the non-striker’s end for the next delivery," Taufel had told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Well, that's three uncontrollables already. Then there are other uncontrollables. The almighty! "We had Allah with us as well. I spoke to Adil (Rashid), he said Allah was definitely with us. I said we had the rub of the green (referring to Irish luck)," Morgan said.
What about Liam Plunkett's stars? "I don't believe in the stars and all that stuff, but it was the first time that I felt," chuckled Plunkett.
For the entire duration of the match, to my left, were former New Zealand cricket stars Geoff Allott and Roger Twose at the Lord's rooting for their boys with a mini-contingent. One row below them was Monty Panesar cheering the England team and his prediction was a Buttler special.
I was witness to Williamson's dejection at the press conference and was one of those standing up and applauding the Kiwi skipper for his graciousness in defeat.
Twose's head went down in disbelief after Guptill's runout. When I shook hands with Allott conveying my commiserations, Allott, who was the highest wicket-taker in the 1999 World Cup, hugged me and said, "It happens mate. Thanks. We will do it next time."
On the other hand, Morgan's speech was all about being fearless, four years of hard work and celebrating different cultures within the England dressing room.
Almost an hour post running Guptill out, Buttler still "couldn't" figure out what was going through his mind in those tense moments.
AB de Villiers would have definitely felt what was going through Guptill's mind. Jimmy Neesham, who brought NZ to the brink of a World Cup win, was devastated and took to Twitter.
NZ were up against so many uncontrollables. But Williamson stated, "They (England) deserved to be winners." And still he knew the "uncontrollables" were a "tough pill to swallow."
Back to the question again, who deserved to win? England or New Zealand?
I guess it would be apt to say that England were destined to be champions. "This is meant to be (England's night)," that was how Plunkett summed it up. He was right, England were destined to win.
Four years from now, England will be the defending champions and New Zealand will once again carry the 'underdogs' tag with them in yet another World Cup.
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