A tie. A Super Over. Another tie. Decided by number of boundaries. Won by England for the first time ever. The closest World Cup final ever. It was a match that saw me staying up until 4.40am, glued to my seat, unable to go to sleep, bleary-eyed so badly that I could barely see, and yet I couldn’t move. It is the most exciting match in cricket since that day in 2006 when Australia scored a world record 434, 36 runs better than the best ever, only to lose. It was a match you had to see live. If you haven’t seen it, you should find a replay and watch that. It was just incredible.
There were controversies too. Trent Boult took an incredible catch to dismiss Ben Stokes, just inside the boundary rope then fell over but threw it up to be caught by his teammate, only for replays to show he stepped on the boundary rope still with ball in hand, only just, and it was 6. The ball before that, in a similar action, they had held onto a catch that would have gone for 6 off Liam Plunkett. And then there was the 6 overthrows off Ben Stokes’s bat. He was running for a 2 to keep the strike and the ball hit his bat and went to the boundary, as two New Zealand fielders rushed to stop it but it split the gap perfectly. And then there was the final ball, trying to get the second run that would win England the match but it was run out, as we had two diamond ducks off the last two balls as New Zealand held onto their nerves, only just.
To say that England had it all their own way, as far as luck was concerned, would be unfair. The two runouts off the final two balls could have easily gone the other way and then England would have won. Plunkett’s 6, had it not been caught, would have won England the match. And then there was that marginal call off the first ball of the Super Over, which looked for all the world like being a good delivery but was controversially given as a wide. 16 off 5 is very different to 15 off 6, and it put Jofra Archer off. Give that as the correct decision of a dot ball and England win easily.
And then we had the most ridiculous decision of then all, as Kane Williamson, not Shakib al Hasan, was awarded the player of the series award. Kane didn’t top the run scoring list or the wicket taking tally, he didn’t win the most man of the match awards and he was nowhere near Shakib’s level. Perhaps it was because he took New Zealand to an unlikely final and nearly performed a 1983-level World Cup final upset. It was a sympathy player of the series award perhaps. On merit, it should have gone to Shakib. Perhaps at least that decision went New Zealand’s way.
In the end, the right team won, the better team in the World Cup, and the better team over the past 4 years. But it was very nearly the best team on the day who got home.
To think that only one other final has been won by less than 10 runs, and this is the first time in World Cup history we had a Super Over in the final – and then that was tied too – it’s incredible. New Zealand nearly pulled off an incredible upset, but England – or should I say Ben Stokes – held his nerve – only just. Stokes had done that in many of England’s last few matches and was the deserved man of the match recipient. But it was very nearly the other way.
I need a break after that. So let’s do our Five Things We Learned and then maybe I can take a break after this until the Ashes.
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Five Things We Learned:
(1) Ben Stokes is the man for the death
He was just incredible in the final overs, when he was so exhausted he could barely stand, yet still found ways to get England home. He refused to run when Adil Rashid, quite a good batsman, was at the other end, and ran out both of his partners deliberately, first to try to keep the strike, and secondly to try for an unlikely win. That he got 4 bonus runs when trying for a run was perhaps poetic justice, as it was when he was caught going for a 6 only for Trent Boult to fall onto the boundary line just a moment before he threw it into the air. It was as if the Gods themselves were smiling upon him. I nearly thought he should have bowled the Super Over too.
(2) New Zealand made something out of nothing
They didn’t get the quick wickets like they did against India, nor did they get rid of all of England’s stars, but they still bowled tremendously well and, even though it always looked like England would win, the Blackcaps just refused to ever give up, and came closer and closer to an unlikely victory. Make no mistake that New Zealand were never winning this game, but boy did they get close to pulling off the upset to beat all upsets.
(3) We need a better tie breaker
The Super Over was fair enough, and the method I thought they were using – who finished higher on the points table after round robin – would have been fair, but the arbitrary nature of the most boundaries scored method was a bit strange. Some New Zealand fans claimed it should have been who lost the least wickets – perhaps because that would have led to them winning. Who finishes higher sounds better. On that note, I think that head to head, not net run rate, should decide ladder positions too. New Zealand lost to Pakistan.
(4) Even the Player of the Tournament award is political
Everyone felt bad for New Zealand, and so the tournament officials decided to give their captain Kane Williamson the Player of the Tournament award, almost to say sorry. He had a good tournament, make no mistake of that, but he wasn’t the best player. That player was Shakib al Hasan. Second best was probably Mitchell Starc. Third was Rohit Sharma. Fourth was David Warner. Fifth was Kane Williamson. Fifth. He had a decent tournament but he wasn’t the best player. It was almost like he was rewarded for New Zealand winning so many close matches and sneaking into the semi-finals, then their upset win over India, and then nearly pulling off an upset in the final. Kane Williamson didn’t appreciate the gesture. Shakib al Hasan, who single-handedly won all 3 of Bangladesh’s matches, and was incredible even in their losses, would have been much more appreciative of it. Silly tournament organisers. Next time give it to the actual best player, not the one you feel sorriest for.
(5) We might be stuck with 10 teams after all
The 10 team World Cup has been nearly universally criticised as being a terrible format, but, damn it, we had to have the best World Cup final of all-time to go and ruin our hopes of tournament organisers using some common sense and at least giving us 14 teams again, if not 16 or more. Was this final a result of the tournament structure? Did it make the World Cup as a whole a good World Cup, in spite of all of the rain issues, the one-sided matches, the unfairness relating to India (happily) and South Africa (unhappily) and the fact that Pakistan, in spite of a dream run, still didn’t get to play in the semi-finals because of run rate. When New Zealand put up such a great fight they condemned us to have this terrible format at least one more time. But, right now, as I am still coming down from the high that was the World Cup final, I kind of don’t mind if we have to put up with a few more terrible formats. That final made it all worthwhile.