Chris Waters – England take hard road to bask in glory of becoming champions of the world
YOU thought of Andrew Strauss, who tragically lost his dear wife to cancer last December and who now savoured one of the happiest and greatest days of his life.
For it was Strauss, as the newly-appointed director of England cricket after the last World Cup, who helped to mastermind England’s white-ball revolution, recruiting the one-day specialist Trevor Bayliss as coach and retaining Eoin Morgan as captain, and who encouraged the fearless, aggressive style of cricket that yesterday led England to the top of the world.
You thought of the Bairstow family, Yorkshire and England’s Jonny, his mother Janet and his sister Becky, whose backstory is among sport’s most painful and poignant.
What World Cup glory must have meant to them – and in such incredible circumstances – can scarcely be conceived; sometimes the deserving really do get what they deserve.
You thought of all those England players of previous years who had fought and failed to achieve what their successors managed at Lord’s; not since 1992 had England reached the World Cup final, and they had never won a tournament that began in 1975.
And you thought of every childhood cricketing dream that you ever had yourself – and which never came true – and immediately appreciated the significance of what Eoin Morgan and his men accomplished in north-west London.
England has not had too many World Cup winners in any sport over the years; those who are can dine on the triumph for the rest of their days.
Of course, this being England, it was never going to be straightforward; if there is a hard road to take, we will find a way to take it.
The tension, at times, was evocative of the 2005 Ashes, which was appropriate given that it was the first time since that unforgettable series that cricket had been back on free-to-air television, albeit for one day only.
Eventually, however, it surpassed even that for nerve-shredding tension; indeed, there has surely never been a more dramatic game of cricket in any format.
As with 2005, the plot snaked and twisted like a country road, both teams negotiating the bends in hair-raising fashion before New Zealand, eventually, fell off the edge.
Anyone tuning into Channel 4 who was not utterly gripped by it all will never understand this game of bat and ball; it was a simply sensational advert for the summer game.
Initially, at the halfway stage, you felt that England probably had the trophy in the bag. New Zealand’s 241-8, after they had chosen to bat on a slow pitch typical of this year’s competition, was certainly competitive, but by no means beyond the scope of the world’s No 1 side, one which, on a faster, flatter surface might have creamed off the target inside 25 overs.
But when England’s innings did, indeed, reach that point here, most people by then thought that New Zealand had the trophy in the bag.
England had subsided to 86-4, their inspirational leader Morgan yelling “No!” as he sent an uppercut into the hands of deep cover, only for a hundred stand between Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to tip the scales once again.
Thereafter, it ebbed and flowed unbearably. Stokes somehow got England to a level total, the deflected four overthrows off his bat as he tried for a risky, but necessary second run in the final over a sign, surely, that it was England’s day.
The closing stages were hell, quite frankly, the equivalent, one imagines, of how a defendant must feel when he is waiting for the foreman of the jury to deliver his verdict.
Right up to the very last ball, we had literally no idea whether everybody’s favourite underdogs would beat everybody’s favourites, New Zealand reminding us of Mark Twain’s wisdom that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
England, for so long the top dogs of one-day cricket, had the player of the match in Stokes, who looked close to tears as he accepted his award, the events of Bristol 2017 no doubt flashing through his mind.
They also had the cherry on the cake in Jofra Archer, fast-tracked to take part in this tournament and then, amid unbearable pressure in the Super Over, cool enough to hold himself together – just.
When the match was over and the drama was done, there was barely enough energy for England to celebrate. Only when Morgan lifted the trophy, with the clock having ticked past 8pm, did reality sink in and the party start.
Strauss described it as “the greatest game in cricketing history”.
He might just be right.