I still haven’t fully processed last month’s unbelievable Cricket World Cup Final success by England. There are so many emotions tangled up in those events, and not merely that last hour of play when absolutely every indication there could be was of the inexorable sliding of the trophy into New Zealand’s deserving but ever-so-frustrating hands.
And then something unbelievable upon any level except the least likely one, that it happened. Boult treading on the boundary, Stokes’ accidental deflection of the ball for four overthrows, two run outs, a super over, and the final decision going on the one factor that nobody in their right mind would ever have believed could be brought into play.
Nothing like that could ever happen again. Nothing weirder than that could ever happen at all. Or should we not be so sure about that?
So many different streams of thought run into that conclusive moment when Joss Butler ran out Martin Guptill. I’m old enough to have watched the first Cricket World Cup, in that long ago hot summer of 1975, the final between Australia and West Indies. I watched the end of that at my mate Alan’s. We went out on Saturday night to the Oaks, a big pub on the edge of Chorlton with a Saturday night disco, but we refused to leave until the final was over, that determined last wicket stand between Lillee and Thompson, the great fast bowling pair, crazily threatening to keep the Ozzies in contention and getting far closer than any sane man would have dreamed.
Forty-four years ago, and forty-four years of waiting to see if England could ever do that, through three finals of defeat that looked like becoming four. I’ve no vivid memories of 1979 or 1992, but in 1989, at my girlfriend’s, I remember coming downstairs on Sunday morning to see England doing well, looking good, until Gatting threw his wicket away to Alan Border and England died in that instant (and I don’t care what bloody excuses you keep coming up with to justify that god awful, stupid shot, Gatting, it was a colossal fuck-up and you carry that on your shoulders. Own up for once, will you?)
Forty-four years and Sunday. Hunting round for ages to find a workable livestream. Finally getting one. Having it, Cricinfo’s Live Score and the Guardian’s Over-by-Over (going to Ball-by-Ball) open simultaneously and flicking from one to another. The stream starting to go a bit shonky. Buffering delays, until the pictures were a delivery behind, until they gave way altogether, with two balls left. Knowing already that NZ had got one, and needed two off the last delivery to win, one was not enough. And the plain, flat entry: England have won the World Cup! Who? How? What? What happened? The crucial last ball and I missed it. Many of you may say it serves me right.
So already I had a personal pall on the moment, a distance from the instance, that I didn’t see it, didn’t feel it, didn’t experience it like everybody else, and had to be told about it.
But we had won the Cup. By the narrowest of all possible margins. We had tied the 50 over game. We had tied the Super Over. We had won because, over our respective 50 overs, England had scored more boundaries than New Zealand. I hadn’t known that about the conditions of the Super Over. I hadn’t known anything about the conditions of the Super Over until we had to play one, but I knew before it began that if that were tied (hah-hah, fat chance of that), England would win.
Almost immediately the game was over, it began, and it’s just got more persistent ever since. So far as I can tell, it’s come from Englanders mostly. The New Zealanders were as gracious and uncomplaining in their acceptance of defeat as their skipper, Kane Williamson, as admirable a man as is on this Earth now.
There was a welter of disagreement, of denigration, of denial that England have legitimately won the World Cup. Some point to the luck going England’s way: Trent Boult, a solid and reliable boundary fielder, catches Ben Stokes but makes the one mistake of his tournament, stepping back and standing on the rope. No catch, no new batsman in the final over, but six runs and a colossal step towards England maybe doing it.
The next ball, Stokes again, desperate to run two, hurls himself full-length towards his ground, no idea where the ball is, only that it’s hurtling in… and incredibly Guptill’s throw strikes Stokes’ out-stretched bat. How the hell could that happen, what possibility fraction had to be overcome that in Lords, two objects travelling in different directions, at different speeds, should for a fraction of a second occupy the same physical space? And the ball skids off and runs to the boundary. Four overthrows, six more, Stokes still on strike. Completely unintentional on the batsman’s part, or else it would be out, Obstructing the Field. These are the margins.
How can all this be happening? Then a Super Over that ends up tied, and England win on a technicality.
And people start demanding that it not be as it is. That the four overthrows shouldn’t be counted (they were completely legal). That the umpires cheated to help England. It should be a New Zealand win, or it should be a tie, or it should be replayed, or there should be an asterisk placed against it in the record books to permanently denote it wasn’t legitimate, it shouldn’t be recognised. The England team shouldn’t celebrate, their ‘win’ is dirty, they should hang their heads in shame.
A day later, TV footage confirms there was indeed an Umpire error over Stokes’ four overthrows. The Law stipulates that the overthrows should be added to the completed runs on the field. At the time Guptill launched his throw, Stokes and Rashid had not crossed. The score should have been 1 + 4 = 5, not 6, and it should have been Rashid facing the next delivery.
A mistake, an honest to goodness mistake. The Umpires assumed the batsmen had crossed. New Zealand assumed the batsmen had crossed. And if there had been an objection raised at the time, there was no provision for DRS to investigate something like that anyway.
But the naysayers eizsed on that. England didn’t win after all. The result should be overturned retrospectively, the Cup given to New Zealand, despite the fact that no Umpire’s decision has ever been retrospectively overturned.
This tide of negativity, this demand to tear down the result, depresses me. Like I say, it’s not the New Zealanders, who have every right to feel aggrieved, who are calling for this, it’s the English.
But that seems to be part of things today in this godawful country. I first saw this, in virulent force, ten years ago, and it seems only to have proliferated. Much of the attack on England’s win is an attack on the rules of the World Cup itself. For most of One-Day Cricket’s history, a tied game has been decided in favour of the team losing fewer wickets. On that basis, New Zealand would clearly have won, no Super Over necessary. They finished on 241 for 8, England were 241 all out. Simple, logical.
Except that those were not the rules of the competition. The Super Over rules were decided o before the tournament began, they were accepted by all the participating Countries, they were the same for everyone and no-one gave a damn, until they were needed. But since England won under a new system, the naysayers argued that the rule is stupid (maybe it is), unnecessary (possibly so) and introduces a new and unfair criterion for victory overthrowing longstanding and sensible methods (which it does). So the rule should be chucked out now and the Cup should be awarded to New Zealand.
To which the only possible answer is, Bollocks. This was the rule under which the tournament was played. You cannot go back and change it just because you don’t like the outcome.
I mentioned something ten years ago. I’m talking about the 2009 series of University Challenge. The final that year was contested between Corpus Christi, Oxford and the University of Manchester. Corpus Christi were the overwhelming favourites, having steamrollered all opposition, largely due to their captain, Gail Trimble, who seemed to know everything about everything. Trimble had become a social phenomenon.
But Manchester knocked Corpus Christi out of their stride, getting off to a flying start, running up 95 points without reply, until Trimble’s team-mate Sam Kay intervened to answer a tricky question, and get them off zero. You could see Corpus Christi visibly relax. The inevitable happened, Trimble got going, Corpus Christi ran out comfortable winners.
And were then disqualified and the trophy awarded to a much-embarrassed Manchester, who didn’t want it in those circumstances.
Corpus Christi were disqualified for fielding an ineligible team member, as it happened the same Sam Kay who had changed the course of the final. University Challenge rules require every participant to be a student of their University or College at all times up to and including the final. Kay had graduated and left Corpus Christi between the second and third rounds.
There was no two ways about it: Corpus Christi had cheated. Whether they had deliberately set out to pull the wool over the BBC’s eyes, or whether it was an innocent mistake was irrelevant.
I had quite recent experience of that, when it came to Droylsden FC. This was in the infamous FA Cup Second Round tie with Chesterfield in 2008 that took four games, two of them abandoned incomplete, to settle.
The sequence was an away tie abandoned at half-time due to fog, a new game drawn 2-2, during which Droylsden defender Sean Newton got a yellow card, a home replay abandoned after 70 minutes due to floodlight failure after 70 minutes and a final game won by Droylsden, 2-1, both goals scored by Newton.
The problem was that Newton was ineligible to play in the winning game. His yellow card at Chesterfield took him to five, invoking a one-game suspension. Droylsden received notification of the same on the day of the replay, consulted their fixture list and confirmed that the suspension – for the first game played after seven days from the FA notice, would be the Boxing Day notice.
That night’s game was abandoned and the next match rescheduled for the following Tuesday. As such, that game became the one to which Newton’s suspension must apply. By an understandable but devastating oversight, no-one realised this. Newton played, scored both goals and Droylsden were expelled.
There were protests, heartfelt pleas, an unsuccessful appeal to the FA but, as I had known from the moment the news broke, nothing to be done. However innocent the mistake, Droylsden had played an ineligible player and there was only one punishment: expulsion. That this was the first (and only) time Droylsden qualified for the Third Round only made it more painful.
But the Rules are the Rules, as my lawyer background insists. Whatever you think of them, they must be applied. As with Droylsden, so too with Corpus Christi. The outrage was instant. Gail Trimble had become a media darling and everyone was insistent that her story end according to the pre-determined script. Some way had to be demanded to let her win.
That Corpus Christi had broken the rules was undeniable. What therefore had to be denied was the validity of the rule. It was stupid. It was idiotic. It was nonsense. The rule should be stricken out. Or if it stood, it shouldn’t mean Corpus Christi should actually be punished for breaking it. Or not punished that way. Over and over again, until I watched open-mouthed in astonishment. Everything had to be undone so that Trimble should win.
What was so astonishing to me was that not one person seemed to consider the situation more than molecule deep. The rule was that a competition for University students should only be open to those who were students throughout: that seemed to me to be not merely fair, nor reasonable, but the whole bloody point to begin with.
And what of the other Colleges and Universities who had entered? All had agreed to abide by the rules, on pain of expulsion and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, every one of them had observed the rule, except Corpus Christi. What is that a textbook description of if not cheating?
By keeping to the rules, Manchester University had crippled themselves. Everybody had crippled themselves. How many Trimble-like candidates had been turned away because they did not qualify? How many more didn’t even apply because they knew they didn’t qualify? But these considerations were irrelevant to those who had had their expectations overturned.
Put in its least polite form, it was a mass exercise in stamping ones feet, holding ones breath and screaming, “Waaah! It’s not fair!”
Exercises of that nature accompany almost every decisive moment. England’s win at Lords is just the latest. “It’s not fair!” Tear it down, don’t allow it, I don’t like it, and if the rules say so, then the rules are an ass and should be thrown out the window so I can have my way.
It’s just one more way in which my once-beloved country is turning into a joke, a mess, an embarrassment. And it’s throwing a shadow over that astomishing game to see so many people whining about it, asking for any other outcome than an England win, anything but that. Forty four years of waiting, from an extended sunny Saturday evening to an extended sunny Sunday evening, and the sound of babies crying.