You could write a 1000-page book on the last 30 minutes of the World Cup. Someone probably will. It would fail to cover everything to happened, that could have happened, that should and should not have happened.
England have still never won a World Cup final, but are champions. New Zealand, probably the fifth best team in the group stage, probably should have lifted the trophy. None of it makes sense.
It was, from a sporting point of view, thrilling, unique, brilliant, unfair, ridiculous – and utterly, reverberatingly, soul-clenchingly magnificent.
You could make a strong argument that the Kiwis did not deserve to win the tournament – having proceeded into the knockout phase thanks in considerable part to the kind of strange technicalities that cost them the trophy, and aided by the vagaries of the weather – but did deserve to win the final.
You could argue also that England did not deserve to win the final, just about deserved to win a tournament in which all the strongest teams revealed their vulnerabilities in crucial games, but are thoroughly worthy world champions, having beaten everyone, almost everywhere, over the past three years of often majestic cricket.
It is immaterial. There are no stats for deserving. Cricket, the game of infinite possibilities – as kaleidoscopically illustrated at Lord’s on Sunday – reduced in the end to the binary state of being, or not being, World Cup winners.
England’s tournament was deeply flawed, but ultimately successful. Four years of careful, brilliant preparation, a team selected and honed to have unmatched depth in both batting and bowling, to bat with controlled aggression from the start, and explosive destruction whenever possible, ended up saved by what was possibly the most influential single moment of pure luck in sporting history.
Ben Stokes’ ‘six’, the 585th England six since the 2015 World Cup, was the kind of random good fortune and/or injustice that makes you think the Ancient Greek gods are still working away behind the scenes, grumbling about their lack exposure in top-level politics and warfare these days, and snarkily intervening in sport to keep themselves occupied.
Zeus is certainly known to be a big fan of the previously invisible Law 19.8 regarding overthrown boundaries. It is a law of which no-one on the field, in the commentary boxes or in the dressing rooms was aware, which no-one could remember ever being applied, and which makes absolutely no logical sense.
If anything, the non-application of Law 19.8 was the only objectively fair part of the catalogue of unfairness that befell New Zealand at the climax of a tournament which, for the most part, had doled out to them considerable good fortune, to ally to their exceptional bowling and fielding, and the time-suspending skills and granite resolution of Kane Williamson with the bat.
- Meeting the Queen and breakfast with the kids – inside England’s World Cup
- High fives and autograph hunters – ‘England’s intimate celebration perfect for its time’
England bowlers break mould in big-bat era
For England, it ended with a nervous, tension-clogged chase, their pyrotechnic batting line-up spluttering again, and a dazzlingly triumphant winless win.
The batsmen have defined the Morgan-Bayliss era of England’s ODI cricket; the bowlers won them a tournament that defied so many expectations and trends in this big-bat, big-score era – New Zealand were the least frequent boundary-hitters of any team (one every 13 balls), yet were one freakish moment away from having two thumbs and seven fingers on the trophy.
England’s World Cup batting, for the most part, maintained the stellar levels set over the past few years – 41.6 runs per wicket, 6.29 runs per over between the 2015 and 2019 tournaments; 40.8 and 6.28 in this World Cup.
The four games England failed to win were two of the three that Jason Roy missed through injury, and the only two matches in which he failed to reach 50.
The bowlers outperformed their prevailing statistics by a huge margin. Coming into the tournament, England’s collective bowling numbers were moderate. In matches between the 10 World Cup sides since 2015, England had the seventh best team bowling average (34.5 runs per wicket), and second worst economy rate (5.82). In the World Cup, they were second best (behind New Zealand) on both measures – 29.1 and 5.24.
If these statistics were influenced by the nature of the pitches before and during the World Cup, they nevertheless reveal a startling, tournament-winning improvement.
Jofra Archer was a constantly threatening, awkward addition. The rejuvenated Mark Wood offered no respite, and has taken two or more wickets in nine of his past 13 ODIs (including six of 10 in the World Cup), having done so just six times in his previous 37 innings.
Stokes had an economy rate of 4.83 in the World Cup, having conceded 6.34 per over from the start of 2017 until the World Cup. Liam Plunkett, reliably excellent for years, dismissed good batsmen when well set. His 10 wickets were all top-six players, eight of whom had scored at least 30.
And Chris Woakes recovered from a moderate start to find outstanding form when it mattered even more than it mattered then – he took 6-57 in the semi-final and final combined.
Since 2016, he has been the leading seam bowler in the opening 10-over powerplay of ODIs, and arguably England’s most important player. He began the tournament with just two powerplay wickets in England’s first seven games, and ended it with at least one wicket in the final four, must-win (or, in the case of the final, must-not-lose) games, and a total of 5-56 in 20 overs of game-shaping excellence.
- The champagne super over – a very English way to win a World Cup
- Make a film of the match and send it to schoolchildren – Boycott
Can they do it in the Ashes?
Quite why the Ashes is happening so soon after the World Cup, after such calendar-reshuffling, less-commercially-attractive-opposition-schedule-marginalising importance was made of not having to play World Cups so soon after Ashes series, is almost as much of a mystery as any of the curiosities thrown up by the final.
In 2011 and 2015, India and Australia toured England a few months after winning a home World Cup, and performed below expectations.
The shortness of the gap between the World Cup and the Tests may help England against Australia, allowing them to surf the wave of euphoria, before any physical and emotional fatigue sets in. Or it might make no difference. The Dukes ball in England, in the hands of James Anderson, is arguably the toughest current challenge in world cricket.
The seldom-fit-but-always-superb James Pattinson, a Josh Hazlewood eager and fit after missing the World Cup, and Nathan Lyon in his preferred format, lie in wait, even if Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are fatigued.
Whatever happens, England will end the summer as world champions. A fractional difference on the throw that snicked off the diving Stokes’ bat, or a little more precision in Trent Boult’s boundary footwork, and England would be beginning the Ashes haunted by a third stuttering, nervous collective batting failure, this time in their once-in-a-lifetime, career-defining match.
As it is, they are cast immovably into the sporting history of this country, rightly lauded for the brilliance and boldness of their cricket over four years, having given England one of its greatest sporting moments, when the nature of cricket, its constantly shifting narratives, its infinite possibilities, collided with its arcane laws and half-baked regulations and produced of the most dramatic denouements in the history of sport.
As Sherlock Holmes famously said: “When you have eliminated the logical, whatever remains, however inexplicable, must be the laws and regulations of cricket, and/or the last hour of the 2019 World Cup final.”