Man of the match Ben Stokes spoke for England, and perhaps the world, when he said of Sunday’s extraordinary denouement to the 2019 World Cup: “I don’t think there will ever be a better game in cricket than that.”
Actually, there will be better games of cricket in years to come, but more exciting ones? Surely impossible. England’s defeat of New Zealand in the last ball of the Super Over – cricket’s equivalent of the penalty shootout – was sporting drama the like of which is rarely witnessed. From an England perspective one has to cast one’s mind back to that night in Sydney in 2003 when Jonny Wilkinson dropped a goal in the last minute of extra-time to win the Rugby World Cup.
The run-out of Martin Guptill as the New Zealander strained for the run that would have won the Kiwis the cup was a similarly nerve-shredding moment for English sports fans. “I’ve said incredible 50 times since lifting the trophy,” said Eoin Morgan.
Super human Stokes
Sports stars are often guilty of hyperbole, of describing the most mundane victories as ‘massive’ or good teammates as ‘awesome’; last night the hyperbole wasn’t out of place. It was an incredible victory and Morgan wasn’t far off when he called Ben Stokes “super human… he really carried the team and our batting line-up”.
Stokes, the Durham all-rounder, held England’s innings together when it began to fray at the seams as they chased New Zealand’s target of 241. As he’d done on several previous occasions in this World Cup, Stokes stood firm when many of his team-mates wilted under the pressure. His score of 84 was the highest by some distance from either side on an awkward pitch in challenging conditions.
“It’s incredible. Amazing… Those are the sorts of moments you live for as a professional cricketer,” said Stokes, who four years ago was hit for four sixes by Carlos Brathwaite when West Indies beat England in the final over of the T20 final. “I don’t know what it is about finals that produce moments like that.”
Writing in The Times, former England captain Michael Atherton pundit described Stokes’ performance as “a remarkable redemption”, not just for that T20 meltdown in 2015 but his high-profile court case after a fight outside a Bristol nightclub two years ago. “Ever since, he had said he owed his team-mates for their support and he paid them back with interest yesterday.”
Another former England skipper, Michael Vaughan, said in the Daily Telegraph that England’s win was “the most amazing cricket match I have ever seen… the stuff of fairytales”. The BBC pundit added that its ramifications will be felt for years to come. “This match was English cricket’s chance to capture a nation’s hearts because it was shown on free-to-air television, the first time that has happened since 2005,” wrote Vaughan. “This is exactly what cricket needed. This is the moment that, in five, ten years time, we’ll see kids playing cricket in the street.”
And a third ex-England captain, Nasser Hussain, said it was “an iconic moment in English sport”, one that puts Eoin Morgan and his men in the same pantheon as Bobby Moore and the boys of 1966, and Martin Johnson’s rugby heroes of 2003. “How many opportunities do you get to be crowned world champions in any sport?” asked Hussain in the Daily Mail. “To do it on home soil is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and Eoin Morgan’s team didn’t blow it. They hung in to the bitter end and showed what character they have.”
Even Her Majesty was impressed, the Queen tweeting last night: “Prince Philip and I send our warmest congratulations to the England Men’s Cricket team after such a thrilling victory in today’s World Cup Final.”