By AYYAZ MALIK
After 48 games of high quality and high drama, fittingly the men’s cricket world cup would end in a tense, exciting and high-quality finale. The two teams contesting that final (England and New Zealand), one would finally reach the cricketing world summit after both sides have come so close yet so far since the tournament began way back in 1975.
Coming into this final, both hosts England and runners up of the 2015 World Cup New Zealand defeated arguably the two best sides in the tournament in defending champions Australia and join favourites before the tournament started India.
How they won their semi-finals were in very contrasting fashion. The Kiwis New Zealand who were looking to go one better this time after losing to arch-rivals Australia in 2015, edged out Virat Kohli’s India in what was one of the modern classics in world cup history.
After initially playing on Tuesday, rain would crucially intervene, which meant the two sides would have to use the allocated reserve day. Chasing what seemed just 240 to reach the final like they did in 2011, but this is sport and sport doesn’t really play by the rules, none of this, India should win because they’re world number two, rather the laws of sports rule as they please.
That’s how it turned out here as, Kohli, Rohit Sharma and co failed to chase down their target and were unceremoniously dumped out at the semi-final stage. For New Zealand a chance for redemption awaited in the final, but who would it be facing them? Would it be Australia for a round two world cup final revenge match or would it be one of the two sides never to have tasted world supremacy England.
It turned out to be the latter matchup instead of the former after England defeated their old enemy Australia at a canter with an eight-wicket win. So to Lords, this World cup final would go to. World number one England after embarrassingly being dumped out in the group stages in 2015 were looking to complete the full circle and win the world cup as hosts.
In their way were New Zealand, who it could be argued are a resemblance in terms of courage and character of the Pakistan world cup winning team of 1992. Both teams have this “fight like tigers’ mentality and both are marshalled by an excellent leader in Kane Williamson and Imran Khan.
England though have an exceptional leader of their own, Middlesex batsmen, Eoin Morgan, Morgan was newly appointed to the role when the 2015 world cup happened, so naturally was learning about his team and himself as a leader it most definitely can be argued.
As admirable as The Three Lions’ work was in building a team capable of competing in the latter stages of the world cup, that work bottled down to 100 overs of cricket. Winning the toss in this final was going to be crucial and it would the visiting side New Zealand who would win what many believed to be a crucial toss to win due to the state of the pitch.
New Zealand after finding scoring hard to come by were able to post 241-8 in their 50 overs with Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls both impressing with the bat on an increasingly difficult surface with scores of 47 and 55 respectively.
England to their credit bowled admirably, with Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes taking three wickets apiece. After posting 241-8, New Zealand was looking to the inspiration of star bowler Trent Boult to help the 2015 runners-up make early inroads into the England batting line-up.
The Kiwi’s would get an early breakthrough thanks to Matt Henry, who removed semi-final hero Jason Roy early. At that point, that appeared to be a “minor’ set back, but when wickets fell at regular intervals it was left to Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes to win the game for hosts England.
Both men went about their task admirably to help their team get over the line, but when vice-captain Buttler fell for a near run a ball 59, New Zealand could sense blood and the world cup trophy.
Ben Stokes, on the other hand, decided that he single-handedly was going to help his country to world cup glory, arguably eager to exercise the demons of that fateful night of 2016 . The Durham all-rounder went about his task admirably and despite riding his look twice (benefitting from overthrows, due to the ball hitting his helmet and being caught after the fielder hit the boundary cushion), Stokes helped his side secure a tie. Even that looking highly unlikely after the home side England needing 27 from 15 balls on a tricky pitch.
With the game tied, England and New Zealand were going to need to contest a super over, a one-over bowling shoot out between the two sides to determine who can score more runs in one over. England would bat first and they opted to send out Stokes and Buttler.
Such a move seemed to be the right choice, but New Zealand had a trick up their sleeve too as they chose star man Boult to bowl the super over. 15 runs would come off the over with England able to hit two fours, which would prove to be crucial.
New Zealand who were looking to chase 16 runs in an over, decided to send out Martin Guptill and Jimmy Neesham to face the super over, to be bowled by Joffra Archer, England’s leading wicket-taker in this world cup. Such a move could have backfired, but England captain Morgan to his credit was justified in his choice as Archer conceded 15 runs off his over, which wasn’t enough, thus meaning England have become the cricket world cup 2019 world champions.
This final was one of the best finals ever to be contested in the history of world cups. What a final and what a fitting way to end international cricket’s most prestigious tournament.