CWC 2019: Legacy assured for England players with World Cup triumph awakening a nation

Rory Dollard 15/07/2019
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Nobody thinks about legacy in the split second when a World Cup is won and lost, but in the swing of Ben Stokes’ bat, the resolve at Jofra Archer’s fingertips or a hopeful hurl from Jason Roy, England’s history-makers might just have reset the course of their sport.

The drama that unfolded at Lord’s will take an age to unpick, with enough defining moments and pivot points to fill a season let alone one unforgettable day out at cricket’s most fabled ground.

For those involved there are stories to be told for a lifetime, for those lucky enough to see it happen at close quarters there are memories that will never fade, but the most resonant moments might have occurred in living rooms and pubs up and down the country.

Of those who tuned in to witness the national team’s first live outing on a traditional free-to-air platform in 14 years there will have been children, lapsed fans, hangers-on and bandwagon-jumpers of all stripes. Somewhere in that curious collection, English cricket might find a brighter future.

The 2005 Ashes has too long been frozen as a moment in time. Like Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the industrial revolution and the casting of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, all associated events are simply described as ‘before’ or ‘after’.

Now, arguably for the first time since those days, the country’s traditional summer sport has captured the hearts and minds of the wider public.

A solitary, celebratory appearance in the mass market will not single-handedly reverse cricket’s gentle but profound slide but it could plant a seed.

In 2016 research showed more British children could recognised WWE wrestler John Cena than then Test captain Alastair Cook. Only one of those athletes had the catchphrase “you can’t see me” but it was true of both, at least for those without access to Sky’s high-quality subscription platforms.

On Sunday some children will have seen Jos Buttler’s genre-bending ramp shot for the first time or witnessed the raw steel that pushed Stokes to his decisive contributions. But this World Cup has also seen a team that relies on a mild-mannered Muslim (Adil Rashid), a breakneck Bajan with a British passport (Archer) and follows the lead of a Dubliner who crossed the Irish Sea to fulfil his ambitions (Eoin Morgan).

The next time they are asked to name an England cricketer, they probably won’t say Andrew Flintoff, who has been a boxer, an actor, a panel show stalwart and a Top Gear presenter since he last wore the Three Lions, but still regularly tops such surveys.

And it all started with a leap of faith. Not the kind of metaphorical vault that takes place in the intersection between dream and reality, but the literal variety that takes place at deep midwicket.

England were already well on course to see off a thoroughly underwhelming South Africa side in the World Cup’s curtain-raiser when Stokes threw himself one-handed at a lost cause. Defying probability, possibly gravity and certainly his own expectations, Stokes pulled off a once-in-a-lifetime catch. It ended Andile Phehlukwayo’s innings and began the job of nudging England’s cricketers into the role of mainstream entertainers.

Such watershed moments require a jumping off point, and for the 2019 World Cup that point was a few yards in front of a rapt OCS Stand.

Yet in a tournament comprising six weeks and 48 matches, keeping the momentum at fever pitch was always likely to be a tough ask. A series of predictable results followed close behind, then the rain came and washed four games in six days down the drain.

Even when England were upset by Pakistan it was taken in stride, with the world number ones performing too well in defeat to provide their rivals much by way or schadenfreude and the elongated group stage robbing the moment of jeopardy.

Concerns were brief but real. When the biggest controversy on offer surrounded the flashing ‘Zing’ stumps and their reluctance to shed their bails, and the major talking point was who had or had not underestimated the all-round talents of Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, it was tempting to wonder quite how long the tournament’s shadow was cast.

In the end it fell to England, as hosts, to reignite the flame. They did so at first with a bombastic display of showboating against Afghanistan, Morgan hitting a world record 17 sixes among an unprecedented 25 maximums from his side.

Appetites suitably whetted, England somehow followed up with an identity crisis of the worst kind. In losses to Sri Lanka and rivals Australia they were infuriatingly timid, rock stars recast as recruitment consultants.

Jonny Bairstow and former England captain Michael Vaughan traded barbs in the press, described by the former as tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping but ultimately serving as today’s blue touch paper.

Pushed to the brink of early elimination they pushed back, besting India, New Zealand, Australia and – thrillingly – New Zealand one last time.

The whirlwind that engulfed both teams at Lord’s will surely have swept the nation up in its wake. Legacy assured.

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CWC 2019: Ben Stokes jubilant after clinching grand prize following 'best cricket match in history'

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Man-of-the-match Ben Stokes hailed England’s dramatic World Cup final victory over New Zealand as the best game in cricket history.

After the match was tied at the end of the 50 overs, underpinned by Stokes’ unbeaten 84, England then beat New Zealand in the super over courtesy of striking more boundaries throughout the course of the entire game

An exhausted Stokes told Sky Sports: “I’m pretty lost for words. All that hard work for four years and now to be stood here as champions of the world, it’s an amazing feeling.

“This is where we aspired to be and to manage to come here and do it in such a good game, I don’t think there will ever be a better game of cricket in history than that.

“Playing against New Zealand is always tough, they’re a seriously good team. We had some luck at times and I said to Kane (Williamson) that I will be apologising for what happened for the rest of my life.”

Stokes was referring to an incident late in the final over of the 50 which saw him diving to beat Martin Guptill’s throw, inadvertently steering the ball to the ropes for four runs.

Stokes and Jos Buttler resumed for the historic super over, both hitting a boundary as they set a winning target of 16.

Despite conceding a six to Jimmy Neesham in his super over, Jofra Archer bowled superbly given the pressure on the 24-year-old’s shoulders.

Stokes added: “There was no chance I wasn’t going to be there at the end.

“It’s moments like that you live for as a professional cricketer and the new kid on the block, Jofra Archer, I backed him all the way.

“The talent he’s got is incredible, and he’s showed it on the world stage.”

England captain Eoin Morgan praised both his own players and those of New Zealand following an epic final.

“There wasn’t a lot in that game,” said Morgan.

“I’d like to congratulate New Zealand for the way they played. The spirit and fight they showed are worth aspiring to, and the example they lead is commendable.

“We were up against it but Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes put together a partnership that we really needed.

“This has been a four-year journey and we have developed a lot over those four years, but particularly in the last two.

“We find it hard to play on wickets like that – as many good teams around the world do – but it was about playing cricket to get over the line and we managed to do that and it means the world to us.”

After being named the player of the tournament, New Zealand captain Williamson said: “To lose by one run is tough.

“There are so many parts of that match that could have gone either way. But congratulations to England, they’ve had a fantastic campaign and they deserve the victory.”

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CWC 2019: World Cup final defeat "hard to swallow" for New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson

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Kane Williamson branded New Zealand’s World Cup final defeat due to an inferior boundary count as “hard to swallow”.

The Blackcaps skipper hailed champions England, who edged out his side after a tied super over, the World Cup’s version of extra time.

England swept the title by virtue of hitting more boundaries, where the two sides were tied on 241 runs, with the super over stint being tied on 15 runs apiece.

New Zealand lost their second straight World Cup final with England sealing their maiden triumph, leaving Williamson lamenting a hefty amount of “uncontrollables” in defeat.

Asked if he felt the super over rules are fair, Williamson said: “I never thought I’d have to answer that question. While the emotions are raw it’s pretty hard to swallow.

“Two teams have worked really hard to get to this moment in time.

“So when two attempts to separate them with a winner and a loser still didn’t perhaps shine, it just is what it is.

“The rules are there are the start. No-one probably thought we’d have to resort to that. But it was a great game of cricket.

“Everyone is still here, they want more. But we’re looking forward to putting our feet up now and reflecting on the tournament.”

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes’ match-high 110-run partnership dragged England from 86 for four to 241 all out.

Stokes could so easily have been out and England’s game up when he appeared to hole out to Trent Boult on the boundary rope.

Boult stepped on the rope in fielding the catch, however, and the Kiwi quick had the sportsmanship to admit his crucial transgression.

Stokes wound up 84 not out in the 50 over section and then he and Buttler steered England to 15 in the super over.

New Zealand matched that super over tally to leave the title decided on boundary count, with England’s 26 trumping the Blackcaps’ 17.

England’s eventual 241 also involved another controversial moment, when Martin Guptill’s shy at the stumps deflected off Stokes’ bat for four byes.

Quizzed on that incident, Williamson said: “The rule has been there for a long time.

“I don’t think anything like that has ever happened. But you can’t look at that and think that perhaps that decided the match.

“There were so many other pieces to that game that were so important.

“It was a pretty tough pill to swallow that, yeah, when we were looking pretty likely with Trent bowling pretty well.”

And asked to comment on Boult’s sporting act of admitting Stokes was not caught but had hit a six, Williamson added: “I suppose we’ve just finished the game, but whether people talk about it in years to come we’ll have to find out.

“It is quite hard to look at it in a rational way when we’ve just been through that. But judging by the support clearly this was a great spectacle.

“Whether to laugh or cry, it’s your choice, isn’t it. It’s not anger for us, a lot of disappointment I suppose. The guys are really feeling it.

“Today it ebbed and flowed but the guys stuck with it beautifully well. The rules are there I guess, aren’t they?

“I don’t even know what the boundary count was, but obviously we were slightly behind.”

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