Harder Than You Think, It’s A Beautiful Thing

The morning after the night before. An exhaustion of emotion akin to any life event you can imagine, a thrill ride which included luck, luck and more luck and a questioning of your own eyes. A conflict of emotions, a turmoil I’ve not experienced with a sporting event ever. Yes ever. I watched a team suffer under the weight of their mental pressures, I saw two rocks battle, scrap and claw their way to a chance of a win, and then scrap some more as lady luck turned up just in time. Then the Super Over. The Super Over. So let me try something with this piece. 50 thoughts plus 2 for the Super Overs. It blatantly steals Danny’s idea, but I’m sure he won’t mind.

Over 1 – Imagine if this event had been on pay TV only. Just imagine if the sheer terror of this finale, the pain and ecstasy had not been made available to all. Imagine a sporting body who thinks that this is acceptable. Imagine.

Over 2 – Many people think Ian Smith’s commentary at the end made the Final, added to the event. I then imagine what the doyen himself, Richie Benaud, would have made of it. I’m not sure he would have approved.

Over 3 – Very noticeable empty seats throughout the day. I can go on and on about ticketing arrangements for sporting events, and the legitimisation of onsale markets which become a ticket tout’s charter. But it’s not a great look to have the prime event of the sport’s four year cycle played to areas of seating not occupied. Those there may have a better perspective.

Over 4 – Martin Guptill’s review proved crucial. Not sure why he decided to review something knocking middle pole out, but I really think we need to keep this in mind when having a go at Erasmus later on.

Over 5 – Kumar Dharamasena has been a decent umpire. No-one would have made any comments on the “errors” today if he had not missed the Jason Roy phantom glove, and Roy not go mad about it. I generally loathe people going at umpires. It’s a cop out.

Over 6 – My next door neighbour has never, in my 40 years living next to her, mentioned cricket. I heard her going mad during the Super Over. I was pacing around in the garden between balls.

Over 7 – Chris Woakes bowled another very good opening spell. Not long ago lots were saying what is he doing playing for England. He’s so vanilla. He’s very decent at his job and that is to open the bowling for England in ODIs. He had a really good competition.

Over 8 – Henry Nicholls played a really sensible innings that set a platform for his team. It will barely be remembered among the hubbub that followed. An important constituent part.

Over 9 – Jofra Archer’s opening spell, and then his closing overs justified his selection. He has a nasty bouncer despite not being up there at Mark Wood pace. It’s really odd that you don’t feel Wood’s short stuff is particularly venemous, but Jofra’s is. He made de Grandhomme look like a club pro at times.

Over 10 – Andrew Strauss will probably get a knighthood out of this. As usual England success will be down to the coaches and the authorities, when really it is the players. No ECB planning gives you the ability to play the game. I’ll talk more about this in due course, because the ECB are going to milk this, and how they do is going to be important to watch.

Over 11 – Liam Plunkett wasn’t even in Rob Key’s squad. In this World Cup he played, and we won, and he played a big part. He has an uncanny ability to look toothless and then take wickets. He doesn’t seem to go for too many. A much underestimated cog in the wheel.

Over 12 – Mark Wood bowled a super little spell including a wicket maiden. He also went off injured, with what looked like a rib injury. I’m sure that was improved by his fruitless dive for the line later in the day!

Over 13 – Adil Rashid had a low-key final, bowled his 10 overs, run out without facing a ball, and scarpering when the champers was opened. His presence in the team is valued by those who matter most, his captain and team-mates. And nothing that is said outside is going to impact that.

Over 14 – Sourav Ganguly’s commentary was annoying in the extreme, especially the bit where he rubbed Isa Guha’s nose in it after the Jonny Bairstow decision. Not good. Trolling England fans throughout isn’t particularly a good look.

Over 15 – Sometimes life just isn’t fair. A cosmopolitan England side, with an Irish captain, two Muslim bowlers in the squad, players born overseas, and you get to see pictures of arch-Brexiteers, cosying up with Piers Morgan, on Twitter. I don’t do politics on here, as you know, but some hypocrisies make me retch.

Over 16 – For all our mocking of Paul Farbrace after the Australia loss, he was right, wasn’t he? It’s always appropriate to recognise when we were wrong. Well, I was.

Over 17 – I hope the tired, lazy tropes about momentum and so on are put to bed, although I know they won’t be, and yes, again, I fall into that trap. The final had no momentum issues. None. Nil. Nada. It was a one-off match.

Over 18 – The Williamson dismissal via a tiny nick was pounced upon by critics of Kumar. I’ve umpired, obviously not to international standard, and hearing nicks on a quiet Sunday afternoon game is tough, let alone at an international final with 25000 or so people not keeping quiet. What do you want him to do? Guess? He couldn’t hear anything, so there are reviews to prove otherwise. If batsman and bowlers weren’t so keen to tell umpires that they don’t know the LBW rules better than the person there to adjudge, then I’d have sympathy for the players.

Over 19 – Then there was Ross Taylor. I’m not going to go overboard here, but credit to Michael Clarke, who immediately called “height”. No-one else did in the box. If you call it when you see it, you can then comment on the error made. Otherwise, bin it. Erasmus has been a very good umpire and is widely respected (I still think Agar was stumped early on in his 2015 innings), and suddenly the angst pivoted to him. I found that amusing. More of this later on.

Over 20 – Have you ever seen a batsman look more out of his depth than Colin de Grandhomme? It was painful to watch. Archer tortured him.

Over 21 – I for one was wondering what the New Zealand game plan was later on. No-one seemed to try to biff it. I wonder if, looking back, New Zealand wished they’d pushed the button a little earlier. But hindsight is an exact science.

Over 22 – England’s bowling really impressed me again, but you do need to wonder about how much the wicket played a part.

Over 23 – Jason Roy was pinned first ball. It looked it to me. It looked it to most. The verdict was about as close to three reds as could be without being given out. Ian Smith went over the top in the comm box, but listen to his commentary. “Missing leg, is it missing leg”. Yeah. Ian, Slam dunk once you watched it on replay. That annoys me no end. As you can tell.

Over 24 – Jason Roy’s innings never got started, and it is concerning that when he fails, England seem to struggle. Certainly in this World Cup. For this to be comfortable he needed to make a quick half century, because he does seem to drag his partner with him. His dismissal made the chase less Australia semi-final and more India Champions Trophy 2015-like.

Over 25 – Who’d have thought cool Joe Root would let the occasion get to him? 30 balls of tortured batting, an inability to master the wicket, a few skittish attempts to whack it and then a windy swipe to nick off. He exemplified the need to just rotate the strike as much as possible. Easy to say from my sofa, but something, notably Jos Buttler, who is a shotmaker, did when needing to restrain his instincts.

Over 26 – Jonny Bairstow played a very sensible knock, having a little luck, but I was entertaining thoughts of him sealing the cup with a century. He then chopped on, as he looked like he could do, sparking Simon Doull and Sourav Ganguly commentating like infants for a couple of minutes. Bairstow’s rant midway through the tournament betrayed the concerns of the England camp, but he, as much as anyone, spoke in content afterwards with his two centuries. His fielding was immense on the boundary.

Over 27 – The opening bowling was decent without being worrying. Yes, England sort of got away with one early, but reaching 30 without loss should have been the platform to ease to victory. The fear really was what would Trent Boult and Matt Henry do. They weren’t really a factor early on. England were scoring nicely.

Over 28 – The vice was applied by Colin de Grandhomme. He dropped Bairstow when he failed to grasp a firm drive back to him. But the Big Man bowled with guile, skill, accuracy and mental pressure as players who thought they should be smacking him, couldn’t. His application meant the target started creeping up and up. I bet the players could sense our frustrations. Somewhere, out there, Ian Austin was saying to himself “if only” and Mark Ealham was thinking of coming out of retirement.

Over 29 – I never believed Eoin Morgan was going to get us over the line. Whisper it quietly but if someone had scored some runs to put pressure on the team, the obvious batsman to drop is Eoin. Now he has his plaudits and critics in the media and on here, and I think he can be a bit in love with his own brilliance, but when someone called him Brearley with runs yesterday, they were part correct. He’s a more valuable batsman than Brearley ever was, and he’s a very good tactician and leader, that is evident. The credit should rest a lot with him, instead of his authorities. But he’s getting weaker against the short ball, and his dismissal showed that. It seems a long time since he flayed Afghanistan.

Over 30 – Lockie Ferguson’s catch was as good as his tache is bad. His cheeky “soft signal” was, to this contrarian, one of the moments of the Final. I was a hopeless fielder, hated the ball coming to me. I admire anyone who takes a catch above the ordinary because I know I couldn’t. To do that knowing if you miss you might cop a mouthful of rock hard red ball gets my thumbs up. Then Ian Smith called it one of the “greatest ever” and my heart sunk. Really?

Over 31 – Four down and Buttler came in. Stokes had struggled to get going, but as was accurately mentioned on comms, the ball makes a different sound on Jos’s bat. What Jos did which was so damn good was he rotated the strike. Whereas Stokes kept hitting fielders, Jos kept avoiding them. He got the wicket early, knew it wasn’t one for his pyrotechnics, and played the situation. He would hit the shot when it came to him, but he let the game flow naturally knowing that a partnership needed to be built. He was the calm to the Stokes energy.

Over 32 – The run rate kept climbing. My brother asked me, via text, who I thought was going to win. I said New Zealand. This was not a pitch to score more than a run a ball on. New Zealand’s last ten overs reaped 62,

Over 33 – The Stokes/Buttler partnership saved England, no doubt. But was it a touch too slow? I’m not sure what Stokes’ issues were early on, but he was scoring at Root rates early on. I can only guess how hard it was for him to temper his natural game, but he was getting leading edges, bunting it into gaps where it wasn’t intended to go. Stokes has been the rock of the middle order, and it is hard to question him in hindsight, but the accelerator was always going to be tough to push.

Over 34 – Buttler got to 50, but the 40-42 overs all came in at much less than required, and at that stage I was convinced it was New Zealand’s. I said so on the blog. Especially when Buttler got out.

Over 35 – Jos Jos Jos. What was that shot? It’s easy to pop from your sofa, but you played a shot to a ball that wasn’t there and you’d been almost perfect up to then. While you were there I believed, hoped. When you were out, I felt that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I recognised it. It was the one when Simon Jones dropped Kasprowicz in 2005. At that point, I knew how far along the spectrum I was in the England love-o-meter. I couldn’t say I didn’t care. I know I did. I wanted them to win. Very badly. Oh, and it was a fine, fine catch by Tim Southee.

Over 36 – Woakes was overmatched, and departed to a skier. I noticed Tom Latham’s little photographer’s dive after taking the catch! A big plus to Nasser’s pretty cool commentary during this time. Concentrating on the dot balls, the number of balls and targets rather than wickets. I made a note to mention it.

Over 37 – Liam Plunkett put bat to ball better than most, but he was faced with having to do it from the start and with no time to adjust. His catch given to long off was inevitable. Liam had a good World Cup, and 10 off 10 balls doesn’t sound much, but it gave us hope when there wasn’t any.

Over 38 – Jofra Archer came in in front of Rashid, and promptly got bowled going for glory first ball. I have yet to see Jofra the bat, and he can according to many, but his was a minor part in the overall proceedings with the bat.

Over 39 – Went out of order.. the batsman crossed from the Plunkett steepler, and Stokes smashed the next ball from Neesham to long on. Boult was under it again, he took the catch, stepped back, knew he was going over the boundary, threw it to Guptill, and I put my head in my hands. But wait. Guptill is signalling six. What? Why? How? Oh my god, he’s stepped on the boundary. Is our name on the trophy? 16 off 8 sounds better than 22 off 9. A moment to say well done to Guptill. Of course, it would have been proven to be six, but he signalled it, knowing what the replay would show and not trying to pull a fast one (as Morgan, perhaps, could be accused of with the Ferguson catch). It says a huge amount for the way New Zealand play the game. I think it sounds patronising to keep patting their heads, but they are a fine team and do not compromise it by cheating. I wish it was like this everywhere.

Over 40 – So we are now down to 15 off the final over. Stokes in the position to be the man again, like the T20 Final. Irony not lost on me. Two dot balls were not in the script. Stokes might have been able to take a single but he thought he was the only one who could score the runs. The third ball was in the slot, down low he got under it, and belted it over midwicket, a long way back for 6. Great, but it is still 9 off three.

Over 41 – The moment of the match. Stokes hits the ball to midwicket and they were always going to go for two. It was a 1 3/4 run. Stokes steamed, head down, for the crease knowing the only chance of staying in the hunt would be to get there. Guptill’s throw was quick, hard, accurate. Stokes stretched and the ball appeared to ricochet away. It diverted past Latham and kept running, on and on, to the boundary. What? How? What? That’s six runs, isn’t it? Stokes sticks his arms out to say sorry. But it is going to be six runs. Suddenly it is 3 off 2. We have to win this now. The luck has been going our way.

Over 42 – There is something quintessentially English about feeling guilty about profiting from luck or mistakes, yet we are the first to moan about our ill fortune. England’s 1966 win is prefaced with us going on and on about the third goal. Do you think Germany, who in their guises have won the competition three times since give a shit now? Argentina don’t asterisk their 1986 triumph about Maradona’s Hand of God. I watched the 1992 Final, and honestly never remembered the Pringle LBWs until he made a thing of it a bit later – I was more pissed off at Botham not nicking it and being given out. Pakistan don’t give a shit, it’s all “cornered tigers” BS. Yet here we are – we should have let them win, it was only five runs, it should have been just two, it should have been this, been that. It’s sport. It wasn’t dishonest. It was luck. I am sure the rule will be changed as a result, but just do one with this asterisk shit. Why bother if the sport is to be cleansed of any element of chance. It is why I hate VAR. If your motivation for this is an anti-England feeling, then that’s your choice. I recognise it for what it was, a massive, enormous, huge slice of luck.

Over 43 – Three off two balls, but Stokes mishits one to long on, and there’s barely one and a half runs in it. The ball is thrown to the bowler’s end and Rashid is miles short. Out not facing a ball, note how Adil, when he walks off, tries to encourage Stokes. The thought, under all this pressure, was were New Zealand playing it safe getting the non-striker out, and not going for Stokes, who would have been out in all likelihood because he had a slow start given he’d got so low in hitting the yorker. In that cauldron, better to play safe.

Over 44 – The last ball, two to win, one for a Super Over. What will Stokes do? Go for glory? Make sure of the one if he can and gamble for a second. Mark Wood isn’t the fleetest of foot at the non-striker’s end. Boult bowls a full toss on middle stump, the ideal ball to whack, but Stokes bunts it to mid-on area. We have the single, they turn, the throw is deadly accurate at the non-striker’s end, Boult gathers and takes the stumps. The replay confirms he had ball in hand, nothing untoward, and it is a Super Over. At that point, I think I inhaled some air for the first time in 15 minutes. This is crazy. But this is sport. Meanwhile, at Wimbledon, the Men’s Final goes into that competition’s equivalent of the Super Over, a fifth set tie-break at 12-12. Sport.

Over 45 – The Super Over rules, and another chance to de-legitimise the victory. It is clear, if the score is tied after 50 overs, wickets are irrelevant. It has been for about 20 years so bloody well spare me the angst over that. There’s an Irish guy I follow on Twitter who is banging on and on about this (and the Super Over) and all he ever does is complain about sport. I genuinely ask why he watches it any more if he hates it that much. Yes, coming from me. So it is clear. Super Over – most runs win, and if it is a tie, who hit the most boundaries in combination. It’s in the bloody rules of the game. You might not like it, but it is clear. I still hate penalty shootouts. It still doesn’t mean I don’t count Millwall knocking Chelsea out of the Cup in 1985 because we won on one. Don’t be daft.

Over 46 – It had to be Buttler and Stokes. Never did find out who was number three (was it Roy?). First ball squirts for three runs down to third man. Second is a well hit single to mid-wicket by Jos. The third finds a gap between the two leg-side boundary fielders to give Stokes 4 runs. 8 from 3. What is safe? The next ball Stokes carves straight to cover for a single. Buttler hits a yorker for two, and then smashes the last ball over mid-wicket for four. Is 15 any good? I can’t process basic thoughts. It sounds good. Archer is warming up. Good god. We’re trusting a kid, relatively, to bowl that last over. Really? Really? And this did not help:

Over 47 – Don’t bowl a wide. Don’t bowl a wide. Don’t bowl it in the slot. Don’t bowl a no ball. Don’t bowl a long hop. The first ball passes over the blue tramline. It’s a wide. Was it harsh? I thought so. Would I have gone on about it if we’d lost? Probably not. Thin margins.

Over 48 – Neesham squirts the next ball for two. The Black Caps got their skates on. At this point the comms were questioning whether Neesham was the right man for this. Next ball he takes a good length Archer ball and belts it into the Mound Stand. We’ve lost. 7 from 4. Neesham hoicks the next one to mid-wicket, Roy misfields, and it is another two. Five from three. Next ball, yorker, Neesham repeats the shot, it is better placed and there’s another two runs. Three from two. It has to be three, because England have hit more boundaries. Next ball is a slower ball bouncer. Neesham pulls it into his body. Guptill gets a motor on and makes it easily. Two from the last ball.

Over 49 – Time stands still. Utterly still. Only sport can do this. Spellbinding. Two to win, and the man tasked to score them was out at around 11:30. He hasn’t faced a ball in the Super Over. Archer is a rookie. On their heads the game rests. The field takes ages to set. The tension building. I’m absolutely numb. I know that a win is what I truly, totally want. It feels good, but it also feels like I’ve been a bit of a fraud. My last five years of agnostic, almost loathing of elements of this team. But damn you Stokes, damn you Jos, damn you Jofra, you’ve brought me back. Archer bowls full on leg stump, Guptill gets a great bat on it, you can’t smack that and gets it to deep mid-wicket. The fielder, heaven knows who it was at the time (the irony being Jason Roy who misfielded earlier) threw in, Jos gathers, smashes the stumps. Guptill looks well short. I am screaming yes, yes, yes. Jumping around the living room. Teddy looks scared, so I hug him and give a non-plussed border collie dying for his walk, a big old kiss. I feel that wave of elation, it lasts not as long as it used to, but that is what sport, and excitement, makes you do. I try to focus on what needs to be done, but I’m numb.

Over 50 – I am genuinely, totally uninterested in anyone else’s reaction. I don’t care in the immediate aftermath. I don’t want to hear pundits, I don’t want to hear people tell me what I think about it. These memories are mine, not yours “experts”. I want to react the way of the natural order. I take Teddy for his walk. I am buzzing. England have won the most exciting game of cricket I’ve seen, certainly since 2005, and up there with the best finales you could ever wish to see. And as sport fans, what more can you ask for?

Super Over 1 – From a personal standpoint I was trying to reference this match with other great sporting events I’ve watched. Personally, nothing can match the tearing up of my insides that was the second half of the FA Cup Semi-Final in 2004, but in hindsight that was meaningless, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. The obvious cricket reference point is Edgbaston 2005. I think it is really similar to that, but a little different. England had that game won, and couldn’t finish off the team. Here England never had that won, and indeed, to be fair, didn’t win, but the miracles it took to get there made it exhausting. I am trying to remember an event where I actually shed tears during it. I did after that ball hit the bat and went for the boundary for the four “overthrows”. I actually couldn’t breathe. The winning moment was greeted with huge excitement, but I think I’ll remember the richochet more. Sport is amazing. Utterly amazing.

Super Over 2 – The time to talk about the ECB is in the next few days, not really now. But let this be said. They have been given this blessed gift from the gods. For a long time this was a dull ODI, played on a dog of a pitch, with no pyrotechnics, and only lifted because of the occasion. It finished in a maelstrom of total, utter, excitement. Think Wilkinson’s drop goal, Jones catching Kasper, the Aguero winner/Thomas winner of the league with the last kick of the season. Think Liverpool and Spurs on successive nights. Think how that can catch a country’s imagination, bring them together. The ball is in your court. I’ll wager you’ll congratulate yourselves and ignore the signs of what can be. Or as one of our number just said in this tweet:

There will be more, and I’m sure I missed some key moments too. I hope this conveys my thoughts adequately. I have the whole game recorded. I’ll be committing it to digital copy this afternoon. It’s not often a whole confluence of emotions are concentrated on half an hour of sheer sporting drama. I can’t do the flashy words. I’m more visceral. Yes. Yes. Yes. Get In There!

 

ADDITIONAL….. Maxie is right to raise the following:

For a long time this was a dull ODI, played on a dog of a pitch, with no pyrotechnics, and only lifted because of the occasion.

For someone coming to the game for the first time in ages, the match might have appeared dull, the same way a taut Cup Final with no goals can be to those not emotionally involved. It’s amazing how many big football matches my team played that were 1-0 or 0-0 never seemed boring to me. It wasn’t a dull game, it was tight one, but this was meant as a reflection as to how someone new to this might look at it. This isn’t T20….

Also, and totally remiss of me, I want to thank Chris, Danny and Sean for the coverage of the whole of this World Cup. I am biased, but it has been brilliant. Chris did the end of the live blog last night when I could barely think, let alone write. Danny and Sean put the hard yards in during the interminable group stages, and brought their own perspectives to the blog. I love what we do, I am honoured to write this blog with them, and even in those times when none of us are up to it, the BOC thing still resides in our heads. We are nothing special, we are just cricket fans. When we speak, we speak from our hearts. We care, care so much that it hurts some times. We can be brutal, but we are never trolls. We can call people out, but we do it through our own frustrations. The blog and the community we have, both here and on Twitter live for moments like this. There is no correct reaction. It is personal. All four of us show that in our writing. Thanks to all of them. I don’t say it enough.

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