New Zealand has produced some quality T20 cricketers over time, but it hasn’t translated to success in the T20 World Cup.
Early this morning while most of the country slept the greatest cricket final of all time was played out.
It started sedately and the trans-Tasman fans who fought off sleep to watch the Kiwi innings wondered how long it was worth staying up for.
By the halfway point, most viewers felt cheated. This was a World Cup final but hardly a shot had been played in anger and it felt like New Zealand had done nothing but nudge singles on their way to a score of 241.
The scorecard reflected that with just 14 fours and two sixes being scored. No one knew it at the time, but the lack of boundaries was the only thing that would cost them glory.
But they still had 241 on the board. Every expert agreed it was a middling score. It didn’t feel like enough but who knows? Some cheap early wickets and the whole thing would quickly get interesting.
So when Trent Boult’s first delivery struck Jason Roy right in front the whole New Zealand side appealed. It looked plumb, it was the perfect start but only the umpire disagreed. There was a challenge. Early replays on DRS had the Kiwis hopeful. Surely it was going to take most of leg stump.
And take most of leg stump it did. Except not enough. Umpire’s call upheld the decision even though more than half the ball looked like it was crashing into leg. The computer-generated millimetres were on Roy’s side.
Roy had dodged a bullet and decided to attack. But for every ball that was sent flying to the rope, there was another that just missed his outside edge. It was one or the other until Matt Henry produced a gem. A peach that swung away late, squared up Roy and took the edge that wicketkeeper Latham dived forward and caught.
Then came the pressure. You could sense England didn’t know whether to attack or play themselves in. Root and Bairstow looked to do both and apart from a few boundaries from Bairstow the scoring stood still.
The run rate grew but that didn’t matter for the moment. They were way ahead but they were also going backwards at the same. Root tried to free his arms and was caught. Bairstow tried to cut loose and only managed to chop on.
Time for the captain to come out. His side is in trouble. It’s time for him to prove his worth and help steer his team to victory but his short ball troubles are well known. New Zealand test him and he’s gone as well. Caught in the deep trying to hit his way out of trouble.
Suddenly it looked like New Zealand’s game. Everyone said they needed early wickets but few expected them to get them.
Was the pressure and expectation going to cause England to crumble and choke? It definitely felt like it. But ball by ball and over by over Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler managed to stay out there.
It was nothing flamboyant at the start. Stokes was striking at around 60 and Buttler was in the 90s, which seemed slow by his usual standards.
Before long they were bumping fists as the crowd applauded their 100-run partnership.
They were within 50 runs and in full control. There were still six overs to go but eight runs an over is nothing with Buttler and Stokes still at the crease. They had already upped the tempo, now they were looking to take control.
It all looked over until something happened that always happens. Buttler skies one and it’s up to substitute fielder Tim Southee to catch it. Which he does. Barely.
The England fans hang their heads. They had already come from despair. They had come from 4/86 and just when they had hope it was gone.
They assured themselves that Woakes could bat. He’d already played a few handy knocks earlier in the tournament.
But they were forgetting that this wasn’t earlier in the tournament. It was the final. And his team needed ten an over for the last five.
Woakes decides to swing his way to glory and quickly skies one in the air. It’s taken and he walks back to the dressing room.
Liam Plunkett shows some fight. It looks good, he’s finding the boundary. England find themselves only needing 25 off the last two overs but then he’s gone halfway through the second-last. By the time the over is finished, Jofra Archer is back in the sheds as well and England need 15 off the last.
Boult bowls two dots to begin it. There were runs to be had but Stokes is on strike so he turns down the singles and keeps Adil Rashid at the other end.
Fifteen off four. New Zealand can almost picture themselves holding the trophy aloft.
Then Stokes pre-empts the yorker outside off and sends it flying into the crowd.
Maybe it’s not over.
Nine off three.
Stokes whacks one into the leg side. They run two. Martin Guptill fires a throw into the keeper’s end and it ricochets off Stokes’ bat to the boundary for another four runs.
No one can believe it. People versed in the customs of cricket know you never accept runs that are available after the ball hits the batsman.
But that doesn’t apply if the ball then makes it way to the boundary.
Now everyone who follows sports and is superstitious enough to believe in the sporting gods knows the game was over at this stage. It was obvious they had forsaken New Zealand and England were going to win no matter what. The ball doesn’t deflect off the batsmen and run away to the boundary in the last over only for England to lose. That’s not how the gods work.
But the rules say it’s four bonus runs and now England need three off two.
Stokes hits the next ball down the ground. There was never a second run in it but Rashid comes charging back anyway and is run out. They’ve made one run in the process.
Two off one. One wicket remaining.
Stokes hits it down the ground again and the recipe is repeated. Mark Wood tries to run two. The fielder throws it back to the bowler. The bails light up and we have a tied final. A super over will decide it.
England stick with Buttler and Stokes to bat out their super over. Stokes is exhausted but it would be a brave captain to tell him he wasn’t going back out there.
The first few balls are good for England. They’ve managed to hit nine off four but then the gods decide to intervene again.
It’s the second last ball and Jos Buttler hits the ball into the deep. It should only be a single because it’s hit firmly and straight to the man. The only problem is the sun has begun to set. The fielder is looking straight into it and he can’t see the ball as it rolls towards him. Eventually, he sees it but not before the batsmen have stolen an extra run. The gods again.
The last ball goes to the fence and England end up with 15.
It seems like too much. New Zealand barely scored more than six in any of their 50 overs. They nudged their way to 241 and now they were supposed to score 16 in an over to win it. Not to mention Archer is bowling, a man who conceded 22 runs in his last five overs while bowling at the death.
But Archer’s first ball is a wide. It’s a touch-and-go call. If you’re supporting New Zealand it was obviously a wide. If you were supporting England it looked like a fair delivery.
The next ball Jimmy Neesham hits for two. Not bad but not great.
Thirteen off five.
What happens next has everyone either jumping out of their seats or slumped over in stunned silence.
It’s a six. A massive one. Straight into the crowd. The champion English bowler is getting smacked around. The pressure is all over his face. He’s only 24, remember, and playing in his 14th game for England.
Seven off four. It seems easy by this stage. A walk in the park. New Zealand are actually going to win it.
Another double off the next delivery.
Five off three.
Three off two.
And then the worst possible outcome for New Zealand. Neesham gets a single off the second last ball and Guptill has to face the final delivery and score two runs. Guptill has yet to face a ball and has looked out of form all tournament. It’s questionable whether he should even be out there in the first place.
But out there he is and he’s about to face the single most important delivery in his life. He needs two runs. Archer spears in a yorker and Guptil whips it out to the deep. It looks good. Maybe even going to the boundary, until you see the fielder sweep into view. Has enough time passed? Have they made it back for the second? You see the ball fired back towards the keeper who takes it wide outside the stumps and back onto the bails. Guptill isn’t even in the frame. Not even close. No need for the third umpire. England run around the field in a frenzy or collapse to the ground.
It’s all over.
In the end, New Zealand scored 241. England scored 241. England scored 15 in the super over. New Zealand scored 15 in the super over. But New Zealand like to nudge and England like to hit boundaries and that’s why they’re the new world champions.
If you wanted to torture yourself with circumstances you could say if only the ball didn’t hit Ben Stokes bat and go to the fence. If only the sun didn’t get in Guptill’s eyes and allow an extra run. If only New Zealand had hit a few more boundaries. If only…
The gods just weren’t on their side.