Monday, July 15, 2019

Oh New Zealand! What have you done?

(If this match doesn't bring me back to cricket blogging, what will?

What a final it turned out to be! There have been, to my memory, two T20 World Cup finals that went excitingly into the second half of the last over, but none as close as this in either T20 or in ODIs. The last-ball-six may come close, but one half of the supporters in that match don't want to remember that, so we'll let that pass. Much as the "the most boundaries rule is silly" argument keeps running around on Social Media, it is worth remembering that the rule was known to both teams and at least passionate cricket followers, so no point arguing against it in retrospect. And yes, while the "New Zealand won hearts" trope must be trending as well, when Kane Williamson sits back and reflects on the might-have-beens, he will realise that New Zealand, did falter at some key moments in the game.

To begin with, Martin Guptill's dismissal. The desire to overcome a slump in form and a feeling that 19 off 18 is a portent for a big innings do not together overrule the fact that the lbw was as plumb as it comes. But review he did, and lose did New Zealand the review. And as is almost inevitable, it came back to bite them later, when Ross Taylor did not have the card to overrule the umpire when the ball was sailing over the stumps.

England manage to weather the opening spell of Trent Boult (strangely off colour on this day; more on that later) and Matt Henry and reach 39 for 1 off ten overs in their chase when Colin de Grandhomme comes in to bowl. Mohinder Amarnath of 1983 and his fellow-countrymen's dibbly-dobblies of 1992 come to mind when Grandhomme bowls. And he starts off pretty much like his illustrious predecessors, with five dot balls on the go. Off the sixth, Jonny Bairstow tries to break the shackles, but hits the ball straight back at big Colin, who, inexplicably, lets it slip. On 18 at that time, Bairstow manages to double his score. In a match with a scorecard like this, every run is gold. And Bairstow gets 18 carats.

Then come two serious heartbreaks for the Kiwis. The target is now 22 off 9, with three tail-enders accompanying Ben Stokes. Stokes smashes Jimmy Neesham in the air towards the midwicket fence. Trent Boult covers a lot of ground there and manages to catch the ball. But, perhaps because of the bigness of the moment or the fact that he has had an off-day, he forgets to keep an eye on the ropes, as almost every boundary rider in T20 franchise cricket is trained to do. Boult does manage to relay the ball to Martin Guptill inside the rope, but his foot has already stamped on the boundary padding. It was the moment that swung the pendulum.

And as if one moment was not enough, England have another stroke of the luck in the final over. The target is now 9 off 3 balls, with Stokes again on strike, having just hit a six of the previous ball. This time he does not get the elevation off the Boult full toss, but still manages to muscle the ball towards midwicket. Guptill gets there and rifles a throw towards the wicket at the batsman's end. Stokes dives, gets into the crease, completes the second run, and watches as the balls homes in on his bat and diverts off to the third man boundary. A gun throw, an unwitting interception, a raised hand of apology from Stokes, a raised hand of frustration from Kane Williamson, but four more runs to Stokes and England.

And then, if I may, there is this tactical mistake from Kane Williamson. I feel sacrilegious even to think that this is possible off Williamson, but surely, Trent Boult in the super over? After he had gone for 24 runs in his last two overs, as part of a wicketless ten overs for 67? Yes, he had been New Zealand's gun bowler in the tournament (and more), but in a one-over shootout, would you rather have gone with the day's form? Grandhomme's gentle pace might have been risky, but perhaps Matt Henry or Lockie Ferguson?

Any one of these, if they had turned out differently, could have changed the destination of the cup.