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DANIEL GALLAN: CWC2019 final - A game that defied belief

OPINION

How do you condense the greatest-ever cricket match to mere words? What we saw at Lord’s on Sunday between England and New Zealand deserves the full spectrum of senses available to the human condition.

It deserves to be tasted and felt and touched. The undulating sounds that emanated from its ceaseless flow deserve to be heard again and again. The visuals need to be, and, unquestionably, will be repeated on phones and televisions and laptops for as long as this strange sport is played.

This was a contest that has no equal. If a Hollywood director pitched the idea to a deep-pocketed producer, the script would barely make it out the printer before it was dismissed for being too ridiculous. Cricket matches, real cricket matches, aren’t supposed to be like this. They’re not supposed to be this grandiose, this sensational, this hyperbolic.

It started under grey skies and the ballsy decision from Kane Williamson to bat first on a fresh green strip. A battling 55 from Henry Nicholls and tiptoeing 47 from Tom Latham meant New Zealand posted 241/8, a score that never looked like enough against an England batting unit that had decimated Australia three days earlier.

Then Trent Boult delivered a sumptuous swinger from his gorgeous action that whacked into Jason Roy’s pad with the first ball of the chase. Umpire Marais Erasmus’s not-out decision was upheld by the faintest of margins, but the tone was set. New Zealand would make their more fancied opponents fight for every run.

England’s top order collapsed and the old insecurities crept in. Had the last four years meant nothing? Had all those pounds and hours spent planning for this single purpose become unstuck on a stodgy pitch at the Home of Cricket? This project began four years ago when England were knocked out of the 2015 World Cup at the group stage. What would it all mean if another top-order crumbling in the most important moment came to define this team?

New Zealand’s constrictor in chief was Colin de Grandhomme. Zimbabwean-born, burly in stature, he looks like your dad’s mate who used to ruffle your hair and drink a little too much at family braais. What he does not look like is an international cricketer and yet here he was, bowling immaculate lines and lengths on a sticky surface. He delivered ten overs without an interlude and yielded just 25 runs while securing the wicket of Joe Root.

Eoin Morgan, the irrepressible leader of England’s Project 2019, came and went, which brought Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes together with the score on 86/4 after 23 overs.

Buttler is the smiling assassin. The affable hitman who is the closest international cricket has to the next AB de Villiers in terms of stroke play and gumption at the crease. Stokes is the mad-dog bruiser. The man caught on camera throwing drunken punches in Bristol in 2017 and the all-rounder who was launched for four consecutive sixes by Carlos Braithwaite to lose the 2016 T20 World Cup. He is also a phenomenal cricketer.

The pair had never put on an ODI century stand together before this, but here they were, nurdling and scrapping and bunting their nation back in contention for a trophy that was supposed to be theirs seemingly by right after four years of dominance, but had started to slip away from them at the death.

With 45 needed off 31, Buttler holed out to the man sweeping at extra cover off Lockie Ferguson. Stokes hit the next ball he faced for four. Then Ferguson had Chris Woakes top edging for Latham with the gloves. Then Plunkett hit a boundary to deep midwicket. Then Stokes did the same. Then James Neesham had Plunkett’s wicket. Then Stokes hit a six. Then Jofra Archer was bowled for a duck.

It came down to one final over with 15 needed. Boult had the ball. Stokes was on strike. Four years of meticulous planning and hopeful dreaming. Fifteen runs need off six balls.

Boult eked out two dot balls. Fifteen off four. Stokes was reaching exhaustion after a gruelling stay of nearly 140 minutes, but went to the well one last time to bend low and launch another six over the leg side. This was a team that made the hitting of maximums an ordinary event and here was their second in the 49th over of their most important game. The next six runs scored defied logic.

Stokes muscled the ball towards the leg side and immediately set off for two. Martin Guptill’s arrowing direct hit had run out India’s MS Dhoni on Tuesday and he had his sights on another show-stopping piece of fielding.

Gaptill gathered and fired. Stokes dived and stretched out his bat to make his ground. The ball diverted off the blade and crawled towards the boundary. Stokes immediately held his hand aloft, apologising for the manner in which his desired runs were achieved. Morgan was caught on camera looking like a man torn between two conflicting emotions. Instead of seven off two, England now needed just three.

They wouldn’t get it. They’d only get two and so tie the World Cup final, sending it to a Super Over shootout.

Stokes and Buttler resumed their union and hit 15. Simultaneously defendable and gettable. This game kept delivering on the drama and no one watching it anywhere in the world could turn away.

Archer was entrusted to win the title. The 24-year-old born in Barbados hadn’t played international cricket three months ago. Now, in only his 14th ODI for his adopted nation, he was the man to usher them towards Nirvana.

It started with a wide. A wide that shouldn’t have been called but was. Then Neesham stabbed away a yorker and turned it into two. Then he pounced on one in the slot and deposited the ball into the stands over midwicket. Another two, another two and one single. Two needed off the final ball. Six weeks, 47 matches contested by 10 nations across 11 venues and it would come down to just one ball.

Guptill couldn’t find the gap. Jason Roy was clinical in his pick up and throw. Buttler collected with the gloves and broke the wickets. England were celebrating. New Zealand were disconsolate. The scores were once again level.

England won the 2019 men’s Cricket World Cup because of clause 13 of Appendix F of the International Cricket Council’s rules and regulations which states that tied teams in a Super Over will be separated by boundaries scored throughout their 50 overs. England won by 26 to 17.

There is a reason why so few sports movies are any good. There is no substitute for unscripted drama and most attempts to replicate that feeling are often heavy handed and forced. But this was the real thing. This was a game that defied belief. They’ll one day make a movie about it. Nothing will ever compare.

Daniel Gallan is a freelance cricket correspondent for Eyewitness News based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter @danielgallan

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