As summer sweeps across England with its beguiling mix of sunshine streaks, sashaying dark clouds, dry heat, cold breeze and the feathery drizzle, cricket’s birthplace found its rainbow moment. Lord’s was in a frenzied state, not a trait you would associate with a venue known for its stiff upper-lip.
But this wasn’t an ordinary Sunday and at a ground known for its storied history, a fresh chapter was added. The crisp pages with Eoin Morgan and his men as the lead characters, had the wonder of the present and would acquire reverence over the coming years.
Do remember July 14, 2019, it was a marvellous day in which England finally shed its shy dalliance with ODIs. This was a full blown romance with a hearty embrace of limited overs cricket.
England won the World Cup after prevailing over New Zealand in a final for the ages. The rivals scored an identical 241 through the full duration of the contest and there were heroes on either side but it was Ben Stokes (84 not out), who lorded over the rest. His was a knock finessed on chutzpah, outrageous talent and an unerring belief that the cup would surely come home. It was almost like Yuvraj Singh’s indomitable faith that India would win in 2011!
The sporting gods were aligned too as a throw from the deep struck Stokes’ bat and raced to the boundary for an over-throw that yielded six (two run, four over-throws) in a nerve-wracking last over bowled by Trent Boult.
But Stokes wasn’t finished yet and once the face-off ended in a tie, he and Jos Buttler, with whom he had a stirring partnership earlier, stepped out for the super-over. The duo scored 15 and in reply, New Zealand did the same.
Lord’s throbbed with anxiety and excitement and England won on the basis of extra boundaries (26 to New Zealand’s 17). To be fair, it was a double-stalemate but the rules and the obsession to somehow have one winner helped Old Blighty emerge victorious through a technicality.
It was a surreal moment and players from either side cried unabashedly. Just that the lachrymal glands were reacting to both ecstasy and agony.
Morgan said: “I still can’t believe this and that’s why I am carrying this (the cup) around as much as I can.” The trophy lay next to him on the table and as a long-winding post-final press conference commenced, there was no mistaking the dampness in his eyes.
His New Zealand counterpart Kane Williamson, of the elegant runs, measured voice and impish grin, just whispered: “Gutted.”
The Kiwis didn’t deserve to lose. They played hard but with a smile. Professional skills were coated with the gentleman’s spirit and it was a throwback to the gracious days of the past when manners and respect reigned.
It wasn’t easy for both teams. England started superbly, stuttered in the middle before finding a glorious tailwind in which every game almost became a knock-out during the league phase. Meanwhile New Zealand galloped ahead till three defeats in the end, nearly ruined its chances of making it to the last four. Still destiny’s arms were drawing the colonial power and its former colony towards one defining tilt at each other.
In the semifinals, England walloped Australia, New Zealand stunned India and two favourites had crashed. The host held the aces and it is credit to Williamson’s men that they almost won the title.
Life isn’t easy and rules can be weird and as the Kiwi captain said: “It is what it is!” In 2015, New Zealand lost to Australia in the final in what turned out to be a meek surrender but in the latest global cricketing climax, it refused to be overawed and just wouldn’t capitulate.
This was England’s tournament and it marked a change in narrative. Since conceptualising and hosting the inaugural World Cup in 1975, England has been a coy presence in ODIs, be it a bilateral series or a multi-nation tournament.
Limited overs cricket was seen as a friendly acquaintance, whose foibles had to be tolerated. The Tests were the real deal and Ashes the eternal quest.
In the past, there were tales of ‘so near but so far’ as England competed in three World Cup finals and emerged second-best. The last such endeavour was in 1992 when it was ambushed by Imran Khan’s mercurial Pakistan at Melbourne. One of England’s stars then, Derek Pringle, now a journalist, just couldn’t hide his glee in an otherwise aseptic press box as Morgan and his men ushered in a miracle.
England’s progress this time around wasn’t a surprise as it has performed consistently through the last few years. Ever since crashing out of the 2015 edition, Morgan’s troops did a self-introspection, improved their attitude, some personnel were changed and under coach Trevor Bayliss, ODIs were seen as an avenue for self-expression.
It was more of throw the stuffy coats and have a party in pyjamas, like that old saying ‘dance as if nobody is watching’. The gawkiness was gone and pleasure started right at the top with Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow clouting bowlers all over the park, a relatively sedate Joe Root at three, maverick Morgan at four and then with the likes of Stokes and Buttler coming in later, England had a terrific list of batters.
The fast-tracking of Jofra Archer helped too and he and Chris Woakes struck a fine tandem and proved that fast bowlers indeed hunt in pairs.
Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood completed the quartet and one among Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid served as the back-up spinner. England had all its bases covered. “This has been four years of hard work and dedication,” Morgan said.
Muscular batting, probing bowling, sharp fielding and above all the can-do spirit embellished England. The world is its oyster now and this momentum has to be maintained irrespective of what happens in the Ashes commencing on August 1.
The land of W. G. Grace and Ian Botham, is slowly warming up to cricket despite football’s magnetic pull and it augurs well for the willow game. All arise, do applaud England the champion!
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