Image Credit: Mark Hillary https://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/250663305
The sporting moment that has affected me most came from a sport which I used to actively dislike, cricket. I found the idea of test matches completely nonsensical, where five days of continuous play, a long slog in itself, could end in a draw of all things. And even the shorter formats of the game, be it 20 or 50 overs, I just didn’t understand the appeal.
However, as a lover of pretty much any sport, and struggling to revise for my second year exams, I turned to the cricket world cup. I watched the first match in the library, while trying to do some work and after the first England wicket fell just two balls into the match, I thought my new interest in cricket would be killed off instantly. Despite the negative start, Ben Stokes scored a quick 89 runs and took the catch of the tournament in South Africa’s innings. This drew me back in and I witnessed my first full match of cricket. Stokes perhaps foreshadowed the incredible summer he would go on to have, and started my huge admiration for the swashbuckling all-rounder.
I went on to watch near enough every match, and leading up to the final I found myself more and more attached to the England team. Learning about the nuances of the game, cricket had taken over my whole summer. The sporting moment that has shaped me however, was undoubtedly the 2019 Cricket World Cup Final. England against New Zealand at Lord’s.
The semi-finals set the stage incredibly well for the final. With both the lower ranked sides from the group stage winning respectively. New Zealand had defeated top of the table India in a low scoring thriller, and England beat their main rivals Australia in a dominant display with both bat and ball. It was also on the same day as the Wimbledon final and despite the early rain delay, was a blazing hot day in the middle of July.
While hoping of course for England to win, what I didn’t expect to see was what some commentators now describe as the best One Day International of all time. It was low scoring, and England’s two medium-fast bowlers dominated the wickets, three for Plunkett, three for Woakes. New Zealand, after electing to bat, had only managed to score 241, but the nature of the pitch being relatively slow and the pressure of a final meant 241 seemed a par score.
England’s four top order batsmen (Roy, Bairstow, Root and Morgan) only managed 66 between them, with Lockie Ferguson’s brilliant catch off Eoin Morgan looking like a key moment in England’s innings. And considering they had all averaged above 40 respectively for the tournament, this didn’t bode well for England’s chances at winning their first 50 over World Cup. The partnership needed was that of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, who finally found a foothold in the game, both scoring at a lower strike-rate than usual, but nonetheless a necessary method to ensure England had any chance of winning the match.
Buttler hit the ball straight in the air, getting out in the process, but England were hoping that their deep batting lineup could shore up the foundations laid out by Stokes and Buttler. Woakes, Plunkett, Rashid and Archer were all meant to be able batsmen, each respectively having success at First Class level.
However, the match was left up to Stokes with the four of them failing to score successfully. What followed was a crazy finish to England’s innings, Stokes slog sweeping his way to 84, including a Trent Boult catch—but in stepping on the boundary line he ended up giving away six runs. Finally, with brilliant commentary Ian Smith described the big moment of England’s innings; Stokes had mistimed a shot on the off side, but the fielders throw to the keeper inadvertently bounced off of Stokes’s bat, resulting in an extra four runs as it ran away to the boundary.
The incredible effort from Stokes resulted in a draw, saving the match in the final few overs. The match was decided by super over, with Stokes and Buttler scoring 15 runs for England, even with Stokes completely exhausted from time in the middle. New Zealand after Jimmy Neesham hitting a six within the first half of the over, failed to capitalise on their great start, only managing 15 runs as well. Jofra Archer becoming the hero of the day, alongside Stokes. England's eventual win came only from a count back of boundaries, the closest an ODI can possibly get, and going down in history as one of the greatest cricket matches of all time.
Cricket, since the final, has become one of the key constants in my life, especially throughout lockdown. Me and my housemates, we have managed to rack up hours of cricket in Hull Road Park, which we have aptly rename Lord's. As well as developing an inside (living room based) version of the game for the Winter months. Cricket has mentally helped me so much during the pandemic, with test matches giving me something to look forward to across the whole year, and playing with my friends giving us a good way to stay fit and competitive.
Not only have I learned to love all three formats, but also the nuances of both watching and playing the game. It has slowly grown into my second favourite sport, and actually kept me fit across the year. For that I can only thank Eoin Morgan’s England team for providing a summer to remember.