Never in my life. Will I again witness such moments of utterly magical sporting drama. If a scriptwriter had penned the conclusion to the 2019 Cricket World Cup, they would have been laughed out of court. And told to pull themselves together. And come up with something rational and plausible. You could not have writ what those of us who are now lucky to say, “we were there’, saw. By Christmas time, the tale will have been told a
Play delayed after early morning rain. And grey “Old Trafford skies” hanging over a muggy north London. A heavy atmosphere. Real tangible tension in the air. Nervous chat. England’s cricketers on the cusp of immortality. The prospect of this island nation becoming the first to ever win World Cups at football, rugby and cricket. But whenever the prize is so vast, and the prospect so alluring, you kinda know it ain’t going to be a walk in a North London park. And so it proved.
England’s bowlers doing a good job for sure. But what is it good enough? At “half time”, a quick drink with some good friends. I was positive. If at the start of this great tournament (as of now, the Greatest Tournament with a big capital G) we had been offered chasing 241 to win the World Cup, we would have leapt at the opportunity. But the nervous chatter was filled with doubt and concern. This New Zealand side are beyond canny, and “canny” works on slow pitches, and when the ball is wobbling around in the leaden air. And so it proved. The English batsmen could not find their fluency. The vast majority of the crowd and the players seemed mired in cloying treacle. We all knew what we wanted to happen, but the ultimate goal kept slipping further over the horizon. It was agony. Utter agony of a type that only sport can deliver.
Even when those bold cavaliers Messrs Stokes and Buttler were crafting a century stand from the “cloying”, it never felt quite enough. Sure, there was hope. And where there is hope there is life. But these two masters of their craft lacked their usual fluency and panache, the canny and wise Kiwis sticking to their plans. Bringing England to the very brink of defeat. And the long journey home with the “what might have beens” rumbling around the head. With 5 overs to go, England were long odds against. Still standing. Belligerent to the last. But belligerence was winning no World Cups.
In a passage of play that can never be repeated because it was beyond fanciful, we witnessed moments of brilliance, lunacy, madness and drama that surely will never be seen again on this hallowed turf. Stokes caught on the boundary, game over for sure, until Trent Boult’s heel clipped the sponge. Six !!! 15 needed off the last over. Two dot balls. Stokes in turmoil. Game over for sure. Then somehow Ben carved a 6 over mid-wicket. 9 off 3. A mistimed drive to extra cover, a desperate dive to secure the 2nd run. A throw from the deep cannoning off the bat, and heading down to the Pavilion. Minds trying to compute what was happening. A crowd in ecstatic turmoil, mouths agape. We stared at each other in total shock. Grown men with tears rolling down their cheeks. What on earth was going on before our eyes?
Suddenly, we are on the cusp of the greatest day we had dreamt of witnessing. 3 needed off 2. How did we get to that ? From dead and buried to this. How ? But who cares. A run out. 2 off the last ball, a low full toss, Stokes opting to bunt it down the ground, and to send Mark Wood on a harem scarum charge for the winning line. He fell short by a stride or three. No photo finish required. The World Cup final has ended in a tie.