England really should have had a head start when it came to World Cup cricket.
The first ever limited overs tournament was the Gillette Cup, played in England in 1963, and it was the end of the decade before the rest of the world began to follow its example. Only 18 One-Day International matches had taken place before the first men’s Cricket World Cup began in 1975; England had played in 17 of them. The most experienced players at the format, with home advantage for the first three tournaments, they should have been nailed on favourites. But victory didn’t come. Losing finalists in 1979, 1987 and 1992, semi-finalists in 1975 and 1983, England seemed destined to be always the bridesmaids, never the bride.
But then came the ICC Men’s World Cup of 2019, England’s first turn at hosting the tournament for 20 years. England had come into the tournament in good form, beating Pakistan 4-0 in May, and started off well with a convincing win against South Africa. But a mid-tournament stutter left them needing to win both of their last two group games to guarantee a semi-final spot. They overcame two of the tournament’s top sides, India and New Zealand before disposing of Australia in the semi. They were through to the final. It was New Zealand again, and it was Lord’s.
It was not a final of blazing boundaries, but of Test Match tension and grit. Runs were hard to come by against tight bowling and England lost four wickets for 86 chasing down New Zealand’s modest total of 241. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler put on 110, but while Stokes kept going, wickets kept falling at the other end. Two were needed off the last ball, and last man Mark Wood was run out going for the second. For the first time ever a World Cup Final had ended in a tie.
Only it hadn’t ended. Buttler came back out to join an exhausted Stokes for the Super Over. The pair smashed 15 off Trent Boult. Surely enough? But Jofra Archer’s opening delivery was called wide, then Jimmy Neesham smashed a six and suddenly it was two to win off the last ball again. It was a comfortable single out to deep midwicket, but two? Martin Guptill scampered back towards the Pavilion as Jason Roy’s throw arrowed in from the deep. Buttler took the ball in front of the stumps and stretched out his left glove to break the wicket as Guptill dived in desperately short. It was another tie, England claiming the trophy by virtue of having hit more boundaries. Their long wait was over, sealed by a moment no cricket fan will ever forget.