Gray-Nicolls' CWC19 Blog
You only get one chance to make a first impression. So for one, mad-cap-edge-of-your-seat hour on a warm, July evening, cricket took its chance.
Amid the noise of a thrilling Wimbledon final and a home-won British Grand Prix, England’s and New Zealand’s cricketers delivered one of the most compelling, stomach churning and frankly unbelievable finishes to any sporting occasion.
In a game that truly had everything, there weren’t so much shifts of momentum as tectonic plates moving. England in the mire at 86-4. Back in control with Buttler and Stokes at the wicket. Dead and buried with 38 needed off 20. And then came the drama. Oh what drama.
Ben Stokes, his last legs on their last legs, hit a full ball to Trent Boult on the boundary. New Zealand’s catching in the innings so far had been imperious, and this time was no different – with the exception of a single mis-step, an errant right boot that cost his side six runs, and more crucially kept Stokes at the wicket.
More, scarcely believable scene as followed. 15 runs required from the last over. Six deliveries for immortality for one team. Six deliveries to heartbreak for the other. Stokes needing to face every one of them, as his two refused singles told. Adil Rashid is the man for many moments, but this wasn’t one of them.
On the third ball, the newer, slightly more reserved version of Ben Stokes became Ben Stokes 1.0, he of Cape Town 2016. Down to one knee to a 90mph length ball, he flailed the ball over deep mid-wicket like a heavyweight boxer seeking a fight winning knock-out blow deep into the 12th round.
Nine needed from three. Some divine inspiration required. Cricket is a game of delicious foibles, and here came a giant one. Sprawling back for a second, Stokes inadvertently diverted the returning Martin Guptill throw off the back of his blade towards the fine leg boundary. The ball, taking an age to reach the foam hoarding that would signify six of the luckiest runs in history, found a willing enabler in New Zealand’s least fleet of foot fielder Colin de Grandhomme, who magically turned the Lord’s turf to a thick treacle and take England to the brink of victory.
That the next two balls brought two runs, two run outs and a tie and don’t get a paragraph of their own tells its own story. We were going to a Super Over, the only way to separate these two sides after 8 hours of spellbinding action.
At the end of England’s six balls, the returning dynamic duo of Stokes and Buttler had amassed 14 runs, a feeling within the ground and around the country that they had done enough. But, of course, there were still twists to come.
Jofra Archer, the new star of English cricket, who had over-delivered in his debut tournament for England, found Jimmy Neesham in no mood to accept defeat. Wide ball followed by two. Effectively three scored from one ball. Second delivery: SIX! Possibly the two coolest men at Cricket World Cup going head-to-head, and it’s the Kiwi that is about to take his nation to the promised land.
Seven needed from four balls, and Neesham gets four of them over the next two deliveries, although it seems that Archer has re-asserted his earlier authority. A single from the penultimate ball brings Guptill on strike; the Guptill who reigned supreme in the 2015 tournament but hasn’t scored a meaningful run in the last seven weeks. If destiny is a thing, then Martin Guptill is about to be its willing recipient.
The last ball is full and angled into the pads. Guptill hits to deep mid-wicket where Jason Roy, fresh from a mis-field, secretly hopes the ball comes nowhere near him. This time the Surrey man picks up cleanly, and throws to the keeper’s end. Guptill is no slouch, but only a mistake from Buttler or a severe defiance of the laws of physics will stop the opener from being run-out. Ball gathered cleanly, the only thing left for Buttler to do is leave the stumps in tatters, along with New Zealand’s World Cup hopes.
With that, cricket exited stage left. A nation in a state of delirium, seven weeks of sport done and dusted, just joyous memories for the millions able to watch on their television screens. A wonderous first-impression made, appetite for a second well and truly whetted.