New Zealand were beaten by the rules, not by England.
In the greatest ODI match of all time, between two fine teams that scrapped like pitbulls, the scorebook could not separate the Kiwis and England in the World Cup final.
There were two ties yesterday – 241 vs 241 in the 50-over component of the match, followed by 15 vs 15 in the super over. But, as per ICC rules, a winner had to be decided at this point and so it was England who triumphed.
England did not deserve to win yet they also earned this World Cup victory. That’s a weird sentence, isn’t it?
Then again, this is the weirdest scenario to unfold in my 30 years of following cricket. So let me explain.
The Kiwis were dudded by two very-rarely enacted rules, which are illogical and should be changed, and also potentially by an umpiring error in the application of one of those odd rules.
England, though, didn’t make these rules, they didn’t break any rules and they spent four years excelling in ODIs to get to this moment. That luck fell in their favour is not their fault.
England are worthy World Cup champions.
It is unfortunate that some nonsensical ICC rules have grabbed a hefty share of the focus in the wake of this phenomenal game. But there is no ignoring this issue, even if the magnanimous Kiwi team are trying to do so.
The ICC are incredibly lucky the team on the receiving end of last night’s comical ending was New Zealand, the only team in world cricket likely to let it slide.
Imagine, for a moment, the earth-rattling furore that would be unfolding right now if this had happened to Australia, India or England themselves?
I find it very hard to believe we wouldn’t have seen livid protestations on the field by players from those teams.
Can you picture the likes of David Warner, Virat Kohli or Eoin Morgan keeping their cool in the same circumstances and just shrugging it off like NZ captain Kane Williamson has? Not a chance.
They would have very colourfully expressed their disgust at two rules that make no sense – punishing the blameless fielding side for a deflection caused by a running batsman, and arbitrarily using boundaries scored as the sole decider in a countback, instead of the number of wickets or dot balls or singles or twos or threes or sneezes or any other randomly-determined factor.
Then I can easily imagine lawyers for the big three cricket boards getting involved once it emerged the umpires may have butchered their decision on the Stokes bat deflection overthrows, as reported by ESPNCricinfo yesterday.
Australia’s players, coaches, board and media would have gone into meltdown if they were robbed like the Kiwis. The Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) would have lost the plot – who knows have far they would have taken this issue?
And for those English fans trying to write off the effect of these illogical rules, to claim it’s all white noise, consider what would have gone down if the roles had been reversed.
After four years of building to their first World Cup, if England had one foot in the winner’s circle only to have a sequence of questionable rules rob them of victory? The UK would still be shaking, as if the earth had ruptured under the kingdom.
English players would be crying foul, their media would be cutting loose, their fans would be screaming bloody murder and the ECB would be exploring its options.
And they’d all be justified in doing so. Because what happened was simultaneously fair and unjust.
The rules were known before the match and were the same for both teams. That’s fair. But the deflection rule is categorically unjust.
The Kiwis made no error in that scenario, so how can they possibly be penalised four runs for Ben Stokes’ actions?
When this same situation unfolds, with a throw deflecting off the fielder but not going to the boundary, the batsmen do not run. It is accepted at all levels of cricket that you do not run on a deflection because it is not fair, because the fielding side made no mistake.
Why, then, should this change just because the ball deflects all the way to the boundary. What is to stop a crafty batsman who sees the ball coming towards him in his peripheral vision from extending his bat to deflect the ball for runs, while giving the impression he’s just stretching for his crease?
It is a rule that must be changed immediately. The ball should be dead in such circumstances. England get the two runs they completed and nothing more.
There is also a need to change the super over countback rule. It is folly to make the arbitrary decision that, when scores are tied, the team with the most boundaries is worthier of victory. The ICC needs to review this rule and come up with an alternative that actually makes sense.
OK, time to catch my breath. That was quite a rant.
But, you have to understand, those of us who stayed up to watch every over of this exhilarating final experienced emotions that won’t make sense to the rest of you.
Never before have I had the same feeling of an injustice being done, of a worthy cricket team being robbed like this. It just felt so, so wrong.
Yet it also shouldn’t detract from what England have achieved. Their transformation as an ODI side over the past four years has been remarkable.
After 20 years of mediocrity in this format they overhauled their approach to 50-over cricket, rose to No.1 in the rankings, thrashed Australia in a World Cup semi-final and then fought for their existence in a classic final.
Right now this match is shrouded in controversy. But over time that will change and it will be remembered fondly as the greatest ODI in history.
Congratulations England. Commiserations New Zealand. Lift your game ICC.