What. A. Ball.
This game can be so cruel.
A boundary count to determine a winner from a tied match? Enough has been said about that already. Almost every finals series in cricket World Cups of the modern era have courted controversy of some description, and this was no different.
In an uncanny way, the debate surrounding England’s maiden World Cup victory have only heightened the drama, excitement and vivaciousness of this game, and I think cricket is better for it. As the global cricket community continues to unpack the bizarre ruling around the unusual boundary count law, it is important to discuss the greater importance to why this World Cup final was indeed the iconic match that it became.
Cricket desperately needed this. And I’ll tell you why.
Historically speaking, World Cup finals of recent years have often turned out to be dull, boring and often ridiculously monotonous one-sided matches. It’s all too evident that one team caves in hard to the pressure of such a significant game while the other capitalises on the momentum from taking a few early wickets or the flurry of hitting some quick boundaries.
To non-cricket folk, watching such matches only solidify their vastly uninformed opinion that cricket is a boring game, and I don’t blame them. Those matches certainly do induce a yawn or two.
There are heaps of examples to support this. For all the furore surrounding Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup triumph, that final itself lacked any of the competitive juice we saw on Sunday night. On that fateful night in Lahore, Aravinda de Silva scored a sparkling hundred as well as taking three crucial wickets, as the Sri Lankans cantered to victory with seven wickets in hand and three overs to spare.
They were helped along by Stuart Law dropping a sitter and Warne missing a crucial caught-and-bowled opportunity off Ranatunga which burst through his fingers. Great game if you’re a Sri Lanka fan, but objectively speaking it was a highly one-sided affair.
The 1999 final was the same, if not worse. After bundling out Pakistan for a paltry 132 thanks to some Shane Warne wizardry, Australia coasted to victory with eight wickets in hand and almost a whopping 30 overs to spare. Yawn. Next.
Enter Australia’s period of world cricket domination. The 2003 World Cup final. Please give us an exciting, hard-fought, exhilarating encounter? Nope. Ricky Ponting showed everyone why he was the undisputed number one batsman of the time as he blasted a damaging 140 off just 121 balls, taking India’s toothless attack to all parts of the ground.
In reply India could only muster a meek 234, in a match that effectively ended the careers of some players in their dressing room that day.
The 2007 final was a complete farce, as was that entire tournament. Playing in near darkness, the Sri Lankans were made to bat blind as they were instructed to play out the remaining overs even after they had been offered the light and conceded defeat to a rampant Australia.
So shambolic was the organising of that final that the presentations podium was being rolled out as the batsmen were walking in again to bat. The stump cam showed nothing could be seen on the ground as it was pitch black night.
This excerpt of ball-by-ball commentary from CricInfo’s coverage of that final perfectly sums up the comical circumstances of that day.
“It’s what is traditionally known as night. It is so dark but the umpires are now saying the match will continue. Heads should roll for this. The man is out putting the 30-yard circles back out. He needs a torch to do so. The batsmen are heading out to the middle accompanied by a guide dog.”
If there ever was a worse moment cricket’s marquee global tournament history, it was the 2007 World Cup.
The 2011 final had some excitement to it and was a massive improvement from the shambolic organisation of the previous tournament, but it was ultimately another easy victory for the home team as they galloped to victory in cruise control. Suspicions arose from that final questioning as to whether Sri Lanka had ‘sold’ that game to India and were under the influence of bookies and match-fixers, as many were baffled by their unusual bowling changes and ultra-defensive fielding changes after having the home team on the ropes at two for 31 with Tendulkar and Sehwag back in the shed, the latter departing for a duck.
Starts don’t get much better than that.
The 2015 final was a similar story to 1999. As soon as McCullum departed for a three-ball duck, his off-stump castled by searing, swinging, brute of a yorker from Mitchell Starc, you could already sense where that game was heading. As New Zealand folded for a meek 183, it was just a mere formality for Australia to march towards victory, and they got there with seven wickets in hand and a lifetime of overs remaining.
Happy days if you’re an Aussie fan. Boring for everyone else.
Which brings me to the magic we witnessed on Sunday night. By comparison to the finals that preceded this one, this match was truly one of the greatest, if not the greatest limited-overs cricket World Cup final ever played. Enough has been harped on about the drama, action and excitement of that game, but if cricket ever needed a revival and a strong advertisement to attract more fans and future players, this is it.
There are too many talking points. The sheer competitiveness and gritty nature of cricket played in this World Cup is what has made this tournament so compelling and absorbing to watch. Finally, there was an even contest between bat and ball, at times skewed towards more favourably towards the ball, but that is okay. Cricket needs that.
The average run rate for all matches in this tournament was just 5.43, which meant there were never going to be those huge scores happening frequently as confidently predicted. For all the talk surrounding team totals exceeding 400 with regularity, only England got close, smashing 397 for six against Afghanistan.
Otherwise, the average team score across all games in this tournament was at 299.2, which is still competitive but nowhere near the astronomical numbers fans were hoping for.
Kane Williamson and Eoin Morgan are both inspirational and gutsy leaders who led their teams with distinction under considerable pressure. Williamson, in particular, deserves an honourable mention in the way he handled New Zealand’s unworthy defeat. As a bloke, he is way too chilled out, humble and easy-going.
For a superstar cricketer, his social media presence belies the accolades he so richly deserves. He ‘only’ has 644,000 Instagram followers, which pales against the likes of Virat Kohli, who has amassed a whopping 37.7 million. Williamson deserves more. New Zealand deserved more.
Anyway, if you ever wanted to explain to non-cricket folk why you love this game so much, show them this match. It is what cricket needs.