On 14 July 2019, England won the men’s Cricket World Cup for the first time. In an incredible final with New Zealand that was tied across 50 overs and the tie-breaking super over, the hosts triumphed by virtue of having scored more boundaries. Stephan Shemilt was there for BBC Sport.
There was a moment during the change of innings in the super over when there was nothing else to do but marvel at the sheer brilliance, uniqueness and emotion of the occasion.
Time had long ceased to be relevant in the evening sunshine that gave the grand Lord’s pavilion a twinkle in its terracotta eye. We were here for as long as it would take. The longer the better, actually.
All that mattered was the equation. Runs and balls. If New Zealand got 16 from the six to come they would be world champions. Anything less and the World Cup was England’s.
Ordinarily, the home of cricket would deal with such tension through a stiff upper lip, a sip of something sparkling and a slight shift nearer to the edge of the seat.
Now, the seats were redundant, booze was being guzzled as calming medicine and every mouth was taking part in a Neil Diamond karaoke.
A World Cup final was always going to be a bit special, even if the hosts hadn’t made it and the contest was a one-sided romp.
This, though, was the recipe for the most delicious meal you could ever eat.
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The culmination of England’s four-year journey from laughing stock to what they hoped would be the world title. Back at the ground where Australia pushed them to the brink of elimination, only to climb off the canvas and make the nation believe again with a demolition of the oldest enemies in the semi-finals.
New Zealand the determined, doughty and worthy opponents for top-level live cricket’s return to free-to-air television for the first time in a generation. Not just a party for those lucky enough to be invited to Lord’s, but a celebration for the whole country.
That Sunday morning, the mouth of St John’s Wood tube station would have been a ticketing marketplace had anyone actually been willing, or stupid, enough to want to sell.
Instead, those begging for a break by holding messages scrawled on cardboard – even some who travelled from New Zealand – would surely be left disappointed.
With Finchley Road closed to traffic, spectators had the freedom to march, entertained by the jugglers, drummers and skaters. A holidaying American family stood in the middle of it all and explained that they didn’t know what was going on, but wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Imagine them trying to understand what happened at the conclusion of the match.
Ordinarily, the overcrowding of a press box and resulting eviction to a temporary desk in the Edrich Stand would be cause for consternation. Not on this day. To be exposed to every roar, sigh and song of the crowd was a gift.
And then, after the choreography of parachutists landing the match ball on the Nursery Ground and the pomp of the anthems it was, well, just cricket.
Yes, cricket that was absorbing, nip and tuck, always holding the attention, but cricket nevertheless. A game of bat and ball seen umpteen times before.
Commentary radios to the ear, smart phones giving updates on the Wimbledon men’s final and the British Grand Prix. Picnics, souvenirs and selfies. Bustle back and forth from the bars.
Only in the last hour was a gripping contest elevated first to a classic, then an all-time great sporting moment and, finally, one worthy of a place in national folklore.
It was barely possible to believe everything you were seeing. Or take it all in to the point of being able to remember it just a few hours later. Even now, months on, videos and reports reveal incidents that would have headlined any other match, but that were lost in this logic-defying shuffle.
England had won World Cups before. Extra-time, drop goals, Anya Shrubsole galloping in on the same ground two years earlier.
But nothing like this.
England were supposed to win this World Cup – belligerent batting bullies set to sweep all before them.
Not like this.
Never in your wildest cheese dream could you conjure the set of circumstances that led to the conclusion, a series of freak events that even now has you questioning the reality of it all.
Did Trent Boult, the master boundary catcher, really step on the rope to give Ben Stokes six rather than sending him on his way?
Did Martin Guptill really face the first and last ball of the day? Did both sides really need two to win from one delivery, only to have a despairing batsman lying face down in the dirt as the stumps were demolished?
Most astonishingly, did the path of Guptill’s 60-yard throw really intercept that of the diving Stokes’ bat and send the ball away for four of the most outrageous overthrows ever seen in international cricket?
Was it to be enjoyed or endured? Yes, there were enjoyable moments, but there were too many conflicting emotions to say the overriding feeling was one of enjoyment. Nervousness, dread, fear, hope and excitement.
The real satisfaction comes in the looking back and knowing you were able to live every height scaled, depth plummeted, ball struck and wicket broken.
In the closing moments of any match, a writer will be furiously pounding the keyboard, perhaps only one eye on the action, trying to have the report filed as soon after the final delivery as possible.
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On this day, New Zealand ending England’s World Cup dream, Jos Buttler blasting England to glory and England’s super-over heartbreak were all drafted and discarded.
Eventually, as Jofra Archer made his way to the end of his run-up for the final time, all you could do was stop and take it all in. What had gone before had proved guessing at the eventual outcome was futile. The filing of perfect prose could wait. Words probably would not do it justice anyway.
When the glorious moment came, Buttler’s gloves sending the bails into orbit and beginning a pale blue dash of celebration across the hallowed turf, the outpouring of joy united the egg-and-bacon ties of the MCC members with those who had discovered cricket for the first time that afternoon.
In these divided times, an England team captained by an Irishman, inspired by an all-rounder born in New Zealand, containing two devout muslims and a fast bowler raised in Barbados was being celebrated in the Lord’s stands by those who will forever be bonded by what they witnessed.
Officially, it was 30,000. At some point in the future, 10 times that number will claim to have been there.
And what’s really cool? It was totally unique. Never again will a tied super over be decided on boundary countback. They’ll keep super-overing until a winner is found.
The first, last and only. The greatest game. Privileged doesn’t even come close.
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