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Cricket fans worldwide witnessed history in the making as New Zealand and England went head to head in a super-over International Cricket Council World Cup final that is going to be discussed and debated for generations to come.
Both New Zealand and England had never won the ICC World Cup in its 44-year history, both lost matches against reigning champions Australia early in the competition and both, while sporting excellent squads were not favoured to make it past the semi-finals.
However, both teams braved insurmountable odds. England destroyed Australia in its semi-final standoff by eight wickets and New Zealand cruised by India with an 18-run victory, to make it to the momentous day staged at Lord’s Stadium in the heart of London.
The day dawned with cloudy yet clear skies, with no sign of rain that has been a spoilsport throughout this World Cup. Crowds filled the stadium, many of them having bought their tickets at a heavy premium ‘from Indian fans who had purchased 41 per cent of the tickets anticipating an India-Australia or India-England final’ as reported by Yahoo! Cricket.
New Zealand won the toss, electing to bat and fought hard to put up a score of 241-8 against English bowlers Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes, who each took three wickets.
The New Zealand side’s most significant partnership was put up by Captain Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls, with an impressive 74 runs, before being shut down by Plunkett.
In the end, New Zealand put up a valiant 241, with 14 boundaries and two sixes, sacrificing 8 wickets in their run.
With England needing a sub-par 242 to win the coveted title to one of the most-watched sporting events worldwide attracting more than 600 million unique viewers, the odds reigned supreme in their favour.
Since being destroyed in the World Twenty20 final in 2016, England has worked hard to put together one of the most robust teams worldwide and was heavily favoured to win, before the World Cup started…and fans in the kingdom took notice.
Nitin Garg, 37, from Juffair, who caught the cricket action at the Bahrain Rugby Football Club, said: “England has the better team. They have done really well in the last two years. New Zealand has just been lucky.”
But this is where the magic of cricket comes in. No matter what the omniscient Google probability tracker or the best experts may say, a team’s fighting spirit can make any match from our local neighbourhood matches to the World Cup interesting.
When England stepped up to the pitch to bat, they were off to a slow start, as they were kept in check by Lockie Ferguson and James Neesham, two of international cricket’s most formidable pacers.
The score, at 23.5 overs, was a sparse 86/4, and at the GulfWeekly office, we started to zone out of the match, our photographer Honey happy that his pick New Zealand seemed set to win.
However, the charm of cricket came alive yet again as Jos Buttler joined Ben Stokes on the field. After three maiden overs (which are overs where no runs are put on the board), they embarked on a 110-run partnership, bringing the home team back into play.
This is when, intrigued by this new spirit, our team joined other cricket followers at the Bahrain Rugby and Football Club, to gauge how local fans felt about the game.
The ambience, while a bit dampened by the slow start, was still hopeful. After all, at this point, they only needed 86 runs off 72 balls.
Chris Louis from Saar said: “May the best side win but I am still hopeful England clinches its first World Cup.”
As the final 10 overs of the match began, the English side continued to rally, inching closer to their target. The final two overs were nail-biting cricket at its best. England alternated boundaries and sixes with dropped wickets, sacrificing the rest of their wickets to level the score, with a six and a hotly contested boundary by Stokes being added to the two runs the batters took.
England rounded off its inning with a tying 241, with 27 boundaries and two sixes.
And this is when everyone knew this was history being scripted, as journalists all over the field rapidly leafed through the rule book to determine the guidelines for the super-over, cricket’s version of the penalty shootout.
This is the first ever super-over in a cricket World Cup final, its first outing at a match of this level, since it was introduced in 2008. Each team gets one over or six balls to put up their best score. And as the sporting gods would have it, even here, the teams were evenly matched, putting up 15 runs each.
And here, one of the most-forgotten rules of super-overs became cricket’s most controversial, as England was crowned the victor because they had more hit more fours than New Zealand.
With cries of exuberance and exasperation, possibly the greatest game ever played in international cricket came to an end, as England clinched its first ever World Cup in history.
Fans are going to debate and fight this for the next few generations, while our younger counterparts watch with bemused looks, as we argue over whether it was the pitch, Stokes’ final boundary or just plain luck that gave England its victory.
Ishaan Bhutani, man on the ground, who flew from India to England for the match, said: “Things are crazy over here. Fans are going absolutely nuts. This is definitely history in the making.”