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#JeSuisGuppy: Martin Guptill's pivotal and hopeless World Cup

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Ryan new author
Roar Rookie
16th July, 2019
16

Martin Guptill leans forward, eyes fixed on the ball, a flick of the wrist.

The ball comes off the bat with a timing that has deserted Guptill for large parts of this World Cup and scoots across the outfield, barely a bobble.

A fielder gives chase but gives up, unable to make any ground on the ball. The crowd roars as the white Kookaburra jumps the triangular cushions.

Colin de Grandhomme retrieves the ball and throws it back in to Tom Latham. The umpires confer and ultimately award six runs to England. Two run, four off Guptill’s overthrows via Ben Stokes’s bat.

Martin Guptill hangs his head. What has he done to antagonise the cricketing Gods?

***

Martin Guptill. To me, Guppy. I don’t know if his friends and teammate s call him Guppy. In my mind everyone calls him Guppy, the same way a large man is inevitable stuck with Tiny and a red head with Blue.

He debuted in 2009 with a century against the West Indies. First New Zealander to do so. Highest score on debut for a Kiwi. Second highest score on debut for all comers. In 2013 he hit 189no against England, for a time the highest ODI score by a New Zealander.

In the 2015 World Cup he hit 237no against the West Indies and ended the tournament as the leading run scorer. Across 179 matches he has notched up 16 hundreds and 35 fifties. Guppy is no minnow. He is a giant of the one day game.

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Guppy would have had every reason to feel confident coming into this World Cup. Already in 2019 he had scored three centuries. One against Sri Lanka and then back to back centuries of 117no and 118 against Bangladesh.

In New Zealand’s opening match of their campaign he scored an unbeaten 73. That was followed by 25 at a strike rate of 143 against Bangladesh. And then it began.

Martin Guptill

New Zealand’s Martin Guptill (Ross Setford/SNPA via AP)

A first ball duck against Afghanistan. Anybody can get a good one. Or make a mistake. Then South Africa happened. Guptill goes back to a short ball and pumps it through mid wicket. He swivels on the shot, rotates through 360 degrees then slips as he sets off for the run, his left foot crashing into leg stump. He smiles as he walks off.

He knows this game. Knows what it can do. Not his day.

But then follows another first ball duck against the West Indies and five against Pakistan. In the cauldron of the World Cup, games are coming one after the other, no time to reset, no time for reflection. The next opponent is Australia.

The noise coming from the New Zealand team is that Guptill will be right. He will come good. It is what we all want to believe.

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Australia bat first and after dropping a chance in the slips off Usman Khawaja, Guptill removes Steve Smith with possibly the catch of the tournament. It’s a sign. It will give Guptill confidence the commentators say. But it’s not. It doesn’t. Guptill struggles to 20 off 43 before being lbw. Next is England and a score of 8. The confidence is gone.

If this were a bilateral series Guptill would have been rested at this stage. Taken out of the spotlight. But the next game is a World Cup semi final against heavy favourites India. And besides, there is no one else. New Zealand have already jettisoned one opener.

New Zealand win the toss and bat. Guptill strides out in front of a rampant, Indian crowd. First ball he is pinged on the pad by a Bhuvneshwar special.

The appeal is turned down and India review. What is going through Guptill’s mind at this stage? The look on his face is argument enough for the scrapping of the DRS as those seconds convert in to some sort of bizarre torture as Guptill’s career flashes before his eyes. Bowler’s foot behind the line.

Hits him in line. Missing leg Hawkeye finally shows. A reprieve for Guppy. A sign! It’s his day. But it’s not and it isn’t. Three overs later Bumrah finds the edge of Guptill’s bat and he is trudging off with one run from 14 deliveries.

Guptill sits in the dressing room. Alone except for the millions of thoughts running through his head. But from the outside you see none of this. Just the dead eyes of a man who does not know what he has done wrong.

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It was an image so disconsolate, despondent and desolate that you wanted to hug him. Tell him it was just a game. But most of all you wanted it to stop. No more World Cup, no more batting. And it should have been. It should have finished that very afternoon. But it didn’t.

Rain set in and Guptill was forced to sleep on his nightmare and come back again the next day. Eventually set a meagre 240 to win India’s powerhouse batting should have chased it down with ease. I wanted them to chase it down just so Guppy could go home. India looked like getting there until Dhoni chanced a second run.

To who else but Martin Guptill? A direct hit and he had run out India’s saviour and sent New Zealand through to the final. It was a sign! Guppy was back. He was still contributing. He would come good with the bat. But as his teammates rushed around him I wondered if deep inside, Guptill he was already thinking about coming out to bat in the final of the World Cup.

And he did. He came out to bat. He fronted up again. First ball was a wild swing and miss to a delivery starting wide and going wider. But it was a signal of intent. He had come to play. Then in the third over a ramped six off Jofra Archer.

And then that straight drive. That Guppy straight drive. That emphatic, full face of the bat staring back at the bowler like Jack Nicholson punching through the door in The Shining and the ball whistling to the boundary. Here’s Guppy! He’s back. It’s his day. But he’s not. And it isn’t.

As he walks off you feel for him on some deep, human level while simultaneously knowing you know nothing of what he is going through. To fail is human. To fail in front of millions is torture.

But there is some comfort in the fact that it’s finally over and won’t have to bat again in this World Cup. But it’s not and he does. For when it looks as though England cannot possibly scrape together nine runs off three balls the cricketing Gods decide they are not done with Guppy yet.

The overthrows. He could have held it. Lobbed it into the bowler’s end. It could have missed Stokes’ bat and cannoned into the stumps. It could have deflected to a fielder.

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Go down to your local cricket field. Stand on the boundary. Have a friend take a cricket bat and sprint the length of the pitch and dive full length into the crease. Now, try to throw a ball from the boundary to hit the bat.

You can’t. It’s impossible. It cannot be done. Guppy did it. England have scored 12 off 2. England will get the 3 off 2 that is needed and then, finally, finally it is over for Guppy. But they don’t and it isn’t.

We can only imagine what happened in that New Zealand dressing room when they were deciding who would face the Super Over. Colin de Grandhomme is known as a pinch hitter but looked anything but during his innings.

Ross Taylor once hit 7 sixes in a World Cup innings but that was in 2011. But none of these things mattered. By now it was clear that for whatever reasons, the cricketing Gods had their sights on Martin Guptill and out he came.

After four balls Neesham was doing a good job of finishing the game by himself. But the Gods didn’t want that. They wanted Guppy. The fifth ball was a mishit and the batsmen scampered through for a single to bring Guppy on strike. One ball left, two runs required to win a World Cup.

Chris Woakes and the beaten Kiwis.

Chris Woakes consoles the vanquished Kiwis after their World Cup thriller. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Archer delivers a full ball and Guppy digs it out in the direction of deep midwicket. He’s quick Guppy. Quick despite only having two toes on his left foot. They get through for the first and then turn.

Only 22 yards to cover. 22 yards to wipe out the golden ducks, stepped on stumps, edges, lbws, signs, signals, corners turned, despair and desperation of the previous seven weeks. Guppy dives desperately but the zing bails are already lit up and Jos Buttler is tearing away across the grass.

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There will be no player-of-the-tournament awards for Martin Guptill. There will be no social media campaigns in support of him. But anyone who has ever suffered at the hands of cricket, whether spectator or player, professional or amateur can see themselves in Guppy.

But we can only imagine the fortitude and courage it must have taken for Martin Guptill to take up the challenge of the cricketing Gods and walk out to face that Super Over.

There was nothing in the last seven weeks that would have given him any cause for optimism or belief that he could succeed. But over the top he went.

We can only wish that we were all Martin Guptill.