2019 World Cup final was an all-time classic
The experience in the media center was something I will never forget. Normally the media center is the quietest place in the ground.
Mike Gatting was with us on commentary for ICC radio and by the end of the Super Over may not have had a single nail left. Gatting was remembering the reverse sweep he played at the Eden Gardens in 1987 and must have been saying ‘oh no not again’ under his breath each time an English wicket fell in the last few overs. Each of the legends in the commentary box — there were many, including Steve Waugh, Clive Lloyd, Colin Croft — kept asking if the finals curse would come to haunt England again in front of a raucous home crowd at the home of cricket. For me personally, this was one of the best cricket matches I have watched. The ebbs and flows, the drama, the layers and most importantly the edge of seat excitement that the final managed to throw up might never again be replicated in the biggest cricket stage of all.
This was sport at its magical best. Something that no one could predict and no one could ever anticipate. Did New Zealand lose to fate and did England win because of luck? The debate will forever continue. Should they have been declared joint winners and should the ICC take a look at the rules is another debate that will remain inconclusive. At a time when we put a premium on running between the wickets, are we saying New Zealand deserved to lose because they ran more runs than England and hit 9 less boundaries?
The point is none of these questions have a yes or no answer. What we do know, however, is that there can’t be a better world cup final. 242 to get and everyone fancied England when it was their turn to bat. They had tormented Australia just two days earlier in Birmingham and no one could have expected New Zealand to do it two in a row. They played their game of the world cup against India and managed to do it again at Lord’s.
The experience in the media center was something I will never forget. Normally the media center is the quietest place in the ground. Each journalist present silently goes about his or her business and there isn’t any screaming or shouting right through the 100 overs bowled. This is all the more so at Lord’s where everything is rather prim and proper and even a yawn can draw a glare from the person seated next to you. Not so in this final. On this occasion, which had 102 overs bowled instead of 100, the last two overs witnessed the media center getting transformed into an extension of the Grand or Mound stand. Each person was excited and while television commentators were outshouting each other, the radio booths resembled an Indian news channel broadcast at 9pm prime time with each commentator trying to get his word in and outspeak the other.
When Ben Stokes dived in to see the ball land on his bat and go for a four to third man bringing the equation down to 3 off 2 balls, I couldn’t but help think back to Kolkata and that fateful night in April 2016. Stokes had been hit for four consecutive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite and by the end of it all lay hunched on the pitch with hands on his head.
This time round he had hit 6 and then fate had given him 6 more of the next ball. Was it redemption time and did the cricket gods want Stokes and England to win? But then Kane Williamson, one of the best ambassadors of the modern game, had also done good karma. How could he not be rewarded for that? With 3 off 2 and Stokes on strike, it was England’s game. It wasn’t. Two run outs in two balls and all Stokes managed was two singles. The match was alive and so was New Zealand. Only the faint hearted were starting to feel rather queasy at the end of it all.
The super over was no different. By the time the last ball of the English over was hit for four, I was convinced it was England. With Jofra Archer bowling, there was no way New Zealand would get 16. Yet again I was underestimating what cricket was capable of. A wide and a six to follow and all of a sudden the equation was 5 off 3. It was all New Zealand with 30,000 English fans shouting out a collective curse. But then Stokes had to redeem himself and the gods had to show the world that the game has this uncanny knack of giving it back to a player who is true to it.
Stokes has finally managed to redeem himself and Kolkata 2016 will no longer come to haunt him. He now has Lord’s 2019 to showcase and in so doing has made a huge statement- no one should ever say that a world cup is boring and no one should ever dare take the game on. England has won and celebrations will continue for a week in London and beyond with the victory being compared to the 1966 football world cup win.
New Zealand on the other hand, as Shane Warne, repeatedly argued, did not lose. Cricket, however, won and won hands down. The best match of the world cup happened to be the world cup final. Yes it is still sinking in and to be honest it was not only Mike Gatting. I too did not have a nail left by the end of it all.