Jason Roy of England kisses the trophy as he celebrates after beating New Zealand in the World Cup final at Lord’s. Photo: AP Photo
Fundamentally a sandpit that is halfway through a radical transformation process in order to be ready to host a World Cup of its own.

That’s the Fifa World Cup 2022, of course.

But right now, it could not be any further away from the picture-perfect image of Lord’s last Sunday. It may be in mathematical terms 6 765.8km, but I might as well be on the moon such is the difference in reality.

It is here that I have come to make sense of it all. To understand the most extraordinary of World Cup finals that was tied not just once, but twice in fact, and yet still ended up with a winner and loser.

As I lay beside the sparkling pool, ordering my third virgin Mojito to counter the 43 degree heat, I wonder if any of the hotel patrons baking beside me were even aware of “The Greatest ODI” ever played.

I am not sure about the doting Russian couple. Neither the Jordanian family. Possibly the Chinese businessman?

I prefer it that way. I need to be alone with my thoughts. To process everything that happened. To uncover some semblance of sanity within the chaos that transpired.

My taxi driver Mudesh, originally from Kerala, almost spoilt it. Discovering that I am a cricket correspondent and was actually present at Lord’s, Mudesh was beside himself.

A sudden sense of privilege enveloped me. And it was for this reason I felt compelled to entertain Mudesh, who has even forgiven Kane Williamson and his New Zealand team for knocking out his beloved India in the semi-finals after their heroic part in the Lord’s blockbuster.

The Black Caps do have a way of worming their way into your heart. Last Sunday they enveloped it. And it’s Williamson that tugs most at the heart strings.

I have previously stated the impact Eden Park four years ago had on me. Lord’s 2019 has unequivocally eclipsed it. It was something I did not believe was possible, but July 14, 2019 is now firmly entrenched as the “No1” on my list of sporting experiences.

From the moment I arrived at St John’s Wood, courtesy of the Jubilee Line, the sense of occasion was prevalent. Tickets touts roamed like hyenas in the night, ready to feast on the carcasses of desperate cricket aficionados willing to part with as much as £1200 per ticket.

Considering the high-drama that ultimately ensued, that fee - four times the base price - may now be considered a steal.

Almost by tradition the match was delayed by 15 minutes due to overnight showers. It was an English summer after all and with the tournament having started seven weeks ago with the highest rainfall in years, it was only fitting that the heavens once again played its part.

The wait certainly added to the mounting tension. There was an eerie hush around the ground. New Zealand fans had seen their team fall at this final hurdle only four years previously. England, of course, had lost the first two finals at this very ground back in 1975 and 1979, while former England opening bowler and now Daily Telegraph scribe Derek Pringle chose the ultimate retro attire - his playing shirt of the 1992 MCG final as a reminder to everyone in the Media Centre when last the holy grail was within touching distance.

There was a collective release of the pressure valve when the captains finally emerged from the Member’s Pavilion. With a grey blanket covering Lord’s overhead and the pitch greener than the outfield, the scene was set for a “win the toss, bowl first” scenario, but to everyone’s surprise Williamson placed faith in his under-performing batting unit.

It was brave, but also laced with foresight. England would have to chase with all the pressure of 45 years without a major 50-overs trophy bearing down on them from the Mound and Tavern Stands.

At 86/4, in pursuit of 241, with the in-form Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and captain Eoin Morgan all back in the pavilion, it seemed that it was going to be too much to bear.

At least that is what every Englishman in the 30000-strong crowd, and the millions at home watching for the first time in 14 years on terrestrial television, believed was unfolding. They had seen this movie once too often.

The inevitable choke was not confined to the cricket team. It was an “English thing”. For years they have endured the trauma of their football team toying with the emotions at major tournaments. Even the “Golden Generation” had succumbed. Why would this be any different?

Because Gareth Southgate did not have a lion-hearted warrior named Ben Stokes within his ranks last summer in Russia when the Three Lions bowed out in the World Cup semi-finals. Stokes had been to hell and back over the past 12 months. A brawl outside a nightclub had placed the ironically New Zealand-born all-rounder’s career in absolute jeopardy.

Previously one of the most marketable cricketers in the world due to his all-action style, the fallout meant Stokes was now persona non-grata.

It was no longer “cool” to be associated with the “bad boy” of English cricket, with particularly team technical sponsor New Balance reneging on a previous lucrative deal.

There could be no greater stage for redemption. Stokes knew it. And the Lord’s patrons wanted it. They were willing him on every ball. Each and every run was being cheered like it was a boundary.

Television network Sky Sports had been running a #Believe campaign in the build-up to the final. Billboards all over London promoted it vociferously, ironically using an image of Stokes looking back at a cheering crowd. Lord’s now had full belief in the flame-haired left-hander.

New Zealand, though, did not get this far by simply relenting. They are past masters at scrapping and creating a pressure valve so intense to leave an opponent bursting at the seams.

They had got to this point virtue of a Zimbabwean-born all-rounder who would not be out of place in your local Sunday league team. Colin de Grandhomme doesn’t do fancy, but does everything else ridiculously efficiently.

Buttler was the first to succumb, caught off Lochie Ferguson, the fast bowler who boasts an 1980s-style ‘tache that would be the envy of Magnum PI. Next to go was the usually ultra-reliable Chris Woakes. Followed by Liam Plunkett.

What was happening? England’s power-packed lower-order was meant to be their X-factor in this World Cup. It was the very reason teams feared them, the foundation of their uber-attacking gameplan.

But now when needed it was tripping over its shoe laces. It was all being left to Stokes.

For a few brief seconds time stood still though within the grand old ground though. It was the penultimate over. Resembling New York Yankees slugger Aaron Hicks who pumped the first Major League Baseball home run in London only a few weeks back, Stokes looked to go deep over long-on. But unlike Hicks’s flyer, the ball seemed to hang in the air just long enough for Trent Boult to get his mitts high up to take the catch. Everything that comes up must come down, though, and Boult stepped on the boundary rope before he could release the ball to nearby team-mate Martin Guptil.

Lord’s erupted. England could believe again. It was a matter of millimetres and milliseconds and the dream would have been all over.

Yet that was just a mere appetiser. What unfolded over the next period was pure fantasy that even Steven Spielberg would struggle to replicate.

Boult was tasked with defending 15 runs off the final six balls. Make that 15 runs off four balls with Stokes smashing two inch-perfect yorkers straight to cover. Advantage New Zealand.

Fortune favours the brave, though. The very next ball was smashed over mid-wicket for six before the most astonishing play ensued. Scrambling to get back on strike Stokes dives to complete the second run, but unknowingly the return from Guptill hits his bat and ricochets all the way to the boundary.

Lord’s was stunned. The old adage that cricket is a funny game was showing off all its might. It was not only bizarre, but the timing of it all left England needing three off two balls with the umpires awarding six runs.

We now know it was the incorrect ruling. It should have been five runs.

Perhaps, then, there was some justice that Boult still managed to contain an exhausted Stokes those final two balls and take the game into the World Cup’s first-ever Super Over. New Zealand deserved at least another shot after their cruel luck.

The chatter around the ground was all about who would take on the respective responsibilities for their teams. Who was going to come out to bat? Who would bowl the all-important six balls? Did Stokes have anything left in his tank for one more over?

Lord’s was reverberating with excitement. Even the customarily reserved “Egg and Bacon” tie patrons in the Members Stand were singing along to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline to calm the frazzled nerves.

Not quite maybe joining the sing-along, but Morgan went to great lengths to ensure his players were smiling in the team huddle. Equally Williamson. It was almost as if they were consigned to the fact that this result belonged to “Mother Cricket” and they were merely the role-players.

And that’s exactly how it played out. Stokes and Buttler’s 15 runs were matched by Guptill and Jimmy Neesham. Boult had returned for the Super Over, while Barbados-born rookie Jofra Archer showed that ice runs through those Bajan veins of his by maintaining his composure after conceding nine runs, including a wide and six, off his first two legal deliveries. He conceded just a further six off the final three balls.

It was a life-changing moment. Only weeks before, I shared a tube carriage with Archer after South Africa’s defeat to Pakistan at Lord’s. He was now a national hero, and in line for an MBE, having delivered the world crown to a country that had barely accepted him into their fold shortly before the World Cup.

The fact that England were world champions by virtue of an ICC by-law stating that teams tied after a Super Over would be separated by boundaries scored during their actual innings capped off the surreal atmosphere that had radiated all day.

Williamson accepted his team’s fate in the most graceful manner, earning him a standing ovation after his final media briefing. His counterpart Morgan claimed it was not the luck of Irishman, but rather that divine intervention had played its part, even saying “Allah was with us today”.

As I lay here in the desert, replaying it over and over, I finally reach the conclusion that making sense of it all defeats all purposes. That it should just be appreciated in all its beauty, and in all its flaws, and purely be remembered as that “one crazy day at Lord’s”.

@ZaahierAdams


Weekend Argus

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