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World Cup final a game for the ages

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17th July, 2019
17

I can vividly recall watching transfixed as South Africa contrived to squander a gilt-edged opportunity to advance to the World Cup final in 1999.

Just one run to win, one measly run, the player of the tournament on strike, and four balls in which to get over the winning line.

Anyone who follows cricket, and probably plenty who don’t (especially if they hail from the southern part of Africa) knows what happened next. An immediate thought was how, if at all possible, a contest of such drama, tension and emotional extremes would ever be matched.

Plenty have dubbed it the greatest limited overs game of all time in the 20 years since and that has been an opinion difficult to form an argument against.

Well, maybe now it has a rival.

England’s defeat of New Zealand in Sunday’s global showpiece – yes I know technically it was a tie and they won on countback so you needn’t bore me with the details – was a quite remarkable game, a superb advert for the 50-over format and, in simple terms, a ringing endorsement for the sport itself.

Plenty of matches ebb and flow with the winner less than apparent until deep into proceedings, but very few seemingly see the momentum shift on almost a ball-by-ball basis.

Chris Woakes and the beaten Kiwis.

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

Add to the melting pot a piece of good fortune so outlandish any half-decent scriptwriter would consider it far-fetched and a super over that only ratcheted up the tension and you have a sporting event for the ages.

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From the moment Jos Buttler carved Lockie Ferguson to deep point at the end of the 45th over, when the Kiwis regained the ascendancy which has been slipping away, the task of picking a winner became a lottery.

And as for the final over, that was just bonkers.

Fifteen to win, six balls – probably New Zealand by a whisker.

Dot, fifteen to win, five balls – New Zealand by an increasing margin.

Dot, fifteen to win, four balls – definitely New Zealand.

Six, nine to win, three balls – New Zealand by a whisker.

Six, three to win, two balls – England.

One, two to win, one ball – England (probably).

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As far as death bowling goes, Trent Boult’s effort was nigh on perfect and his reward was to have to do it all again.

Even those who won’t accept there are two teams in any given contest would’ve have struggled not to feel sorry for Kane Williamson’s side who must have thought they’d offended a higher power somewhere down the line to be treated in such a manner.

It was, undeniably, cruel and it was undeserved but it only added to the overall tapestry. It was sport, it was cricket and it was magnificent.

It has to be mentioned that while the idea of a six-ball shootout, or a boundary count, to decide who comes out on top isn’t to everyone’s tastes and the overthrows that shortened England’s odds dramatically were incorrectly awarded, the obvious reply to these is that for the former duo, rules change and this was the 2019 version and for the latter, it was an umpiring error and nothing more.

Come the next tournament in four years’ time there is every chance the method for splitting teams will be different and the overthrow laws may be amended or tightened but that is for then.

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Personally, I’d go back to wickets lost and then a countback on scores but I doubt that’ll happen.

Jos Buttler celebrates.

Jos Buttler celebrates England’s miracle World Cup victory. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

As for now, an excellent tournament that produced plenty of absorbing cricket ended with a remarkable final and enough evidence to suggest that the world game, and this is the crux of the matter, is given context, is in pretty decent health.

It is too easy to knock the sport for what it doesn’t do but what was produced at Lord’s showed what it has to offer.

So as for India in 2023, a simple request. More of the same please.