Cricket is a marvellous game. It’s a contest of skill, patience, aptitude and derring do. It’s also sometimes as cruel as all hell. The final of this year’s World Cup saw the Kiwis and England play out what well may be one of the most intriguing and dramatic one day games ever played, and while England can lay claim to the title of champions, not only did the Black Caps not lose, they won over millions of cricket fans all over the world with their fighting spirit, and their grace in ‘defeat’.
I watched the Black Caps’ innings and then had to surrender to sleep, like many other fans, resigned to thinking that the 241 runs we had posted would not be enough against a robust England batting line up. Before dawn approached I woke to check the score and was mightily surprised to see that with one over to go, England needed 15 runs to win the match. I hurried to the television to watch the conclusion of one of the most dramatic and frustrating ends to a cricket game that I had ever seen.
“It’s hard to take losing under most conditions but the hardest still are when your team has not really been beaten at all.”
At the end of the game the scores were tied and then came the nail biting carnival of the two overs dictated to decide the winner. At the end of that? The scores still the same but England had won, all because of a ludicrous set of rules that dictated the winner on the strength of the superior number of boundaries in the match. What a gyp. It’s hard to take losing under most conditions but the hardest still are when your team has not really been beaten at all.
As anyone who has tried to explain the rules of cricket to a novice will know, the game is riddled with rules. Leg before wicket is a great example. Was the ball pitched outside the line of leg stump? Did the batsman manage to touch the ball with his bat before it hit the pads? Would the ball have actually gone on to hit the stumps? Dd the bowler overstretch in his delivery and ball a no ball? Technology has been applied to the game, so that the third umpire can decide all of those factors if the batting, or bowling team decide to question the ruling of the umpires. Even still it does not always provide the ‘right decision’ and injustices occur.
But what could be a greater injustice than England being awarded six runs for an overthrow when Martin Guptill’s throw to the stumps hit Ben Stokes’ bat and careened over the boundary for four overthrows? The rules of the game seem to have been applied incorrectly by the umpires when five, not six runs were awarded. But still, it changes nothing and England, not New Zealand have a bright, shiny trophy to adorn the cabinet for the next four years.
“With all that was at stake, that’s a marvellous gesture and one of the reasons that so many fans adore cricket – it’s inherent sense of playing the game a certain way, to a certain code.”
Ben Stokes was born in Christchurch, and spend his childhood here, before moving to the UK and honing his skills to end up representing England. He’s had controversy, on and off the field but he played a leading role in the final, amassing a good total and contributing with the ball. When Guptill’s throw hit his bat and raced toward the boundary, he didn’t run, as is the established convention and to his credit, it’s been reported that he asked the umpires not to award the four runs to his team. With all that was at stake, that’s a marvellous gesture and one of the reasons that so many fans adore cricket – it’s inherent sense of playing the game a certain way, to a certain code.
In ‘losing the final’ the Black Caps established exactly how a team should act in the face of such a cruel loss. There was no whining, no hand wringing, no blame – even if the same can’t be said for many commentators and the usual keyboard assassins on social media and comments sections. One example is Martin Guptill, who had a below par performance with the bat for the whole tournament and was the focus of a few unlucky moments in the game – the overthrows, reviewing his plump LBW, that then cost the team a review that they so desperately needed when Ross Taylor’s dismissal was questionable, and failing to score the two runs required off the very last ball of the game.
“Sport, like life is riddled with drama and that’s one of the overriding reasons for its appeal.”
And while at the time I could not fathom why Williamson had selected Guptill as one of the two batsmen for the super overs, after some days to reflect, I think I do now. It wasn’t just for his speed running between the wickets or his established history as a pinch hitter who could smash boundaries at will. I think it’s because Williamson values his team and the players with different skills within it. He backed his player when it mattered most and while he may have fallen tantalisingly short, he still won, even when we lost. A good leader always backs his or her players, shields them, encourages them and Williamson is undoubtedly a great leader. Not only was he by far the standout performer for the Black Caps throughout the tournament – he was adjudged the best player for the World Cup.
So while, like so many other Kiwis, I would loved for us to have sneaked home and been decided the ‘winners’, I take immense pride in the way our team played and how they handled such a terrible and cruel result. Sport, like life is riddled with drama and that’s one of the overriding reasons for its appeal.