The Fault in New Zealand’s Stars!

England didn’t win it, New Zealand didn’t lose it. Yet there was ecstasy and agony at the same time. Luck? Or was the fault in the stars?

Exquisite! Exciting! Incredulous! Iniquitous! Riveting! Scintillating! Sensational!

Throw in all the adjectives you want, analogize everything you witnessed to a roller coaster ride at Six Flags or a Steven Spielberg thriller. Eat your heart out, Game of Thrones, Red Wedding episode, this had a more dramatic ending for real hearts were wounded over the fictional ones that were stabbed.

No seriously, throw in every word that you can find, because that’s what these twenty-two individuals did in some capacity or the other, they threw the kitchen sink and every weapon in their armory and every arrow in their quiver. And yes, there was an individual named Archer who fired his own arrows in the end, but that’s beside the point.

But as the late Trinidadian writer C.L.R James said, “What do they know of cricket, that only cricket knows”? And ergo, what do we know of the finals, that only the finalists know? We saw it, but can we truly empathize the incredulity of ecstasy and agony in a single frame, if we weren’t in one of the squads?

It made, sense that a victor would be coronated, but it made little sense how? England won by zero runs and New Zealand lost by zero runs, not once, but twice. So England didn’t win it and New Zealand didn’t lose it, yet, the World Cup, the crown jewel of London for the day, the new Lord’s of cricket went to England (oh forgive me, for puns are all I have for now, since I am lost for words).

What the luck! As this op-ed title goes, is perhaps the most appropriate phrase for England now buffing the crown jewel. The post-mortem results are plenty — we can start with the obvious the bat of god, Stokes, who wielded the willow so well, inadvertently stuck the same wood out too much, and connected with the ball (when he shouldn’t have) and the ball (as if there were English Angels in the Outfield) raced to the boundary, and the umpire had no choice but to signal four; if only it had stayed to four, maybe five but then he signaled six (four + two = ?). An egregious sin within the context of fallibility and the high stakes of a match that it was. A closer inspection revealed that it was indeed an error of judgement awarding England six instead of five runs.

But was that the only error? The umpire did strike back a few times — Ross Taylor given out when he wasn’t and Jason Roy given not out, when he could have been. Were the runs won and lost here? It surely, couldn’t have been a case of bad karma because New Zealand are the quintessential good boys of cricket, they’re everyone’s second favorite team, surely the fate gods wouldn’t deal them a cruel blow.

But the stars present on the New Zealand flag, didn’t align for them in the sky. How cruel was it, you ask? Why even Trent Boult, who has been ever so impressive this tournament, took a brilliant catch of Ben Stokes in the deep, only to find, gulp, he stepped on the rope, when he could have tossed the ball sooner to the ever-agile Martin Guptill standing right beside him. That was the first of two cruel six runs for Stokes in the last over. Oh dear, did I just mention Guptill?

If the changing tides of luck and fate needed to be epitomized, this here is it. On another day, Guptill’s brilliant throw would have hit the stumps and won his team the match — Oh but wait, MS Dhoni wants to weigh in here. But this time, his throw ricocheted of Stokes’ bat and I can’t bear to write what happened again. If Guptill won the semi-final for New Zealand by millimeters, he lost the final by a few centimeters, scampering back for the second, and New Zealand tied.

Yes, New Zealand tied — so yes, a tie! Reiterating that England didn’t win it, and New Zealand didn’t lose it, but disbelief in both camps. One couldn’t believe they won it, and the other couldn’t believe they had lost it.

The egregiousness of the ICC in awarding England the victors on the basis of most boundaries scored, has left the entire cricketing diaspora with more salt than they can handle. Some of the salt already thrown into New Zealand’s fresh wound, but you wouldn’t know it when Kane Williamson smiles in the press conference, epitomizing grace and sportsmanship. The arbitrary rule of the ICC was such that if wickets were a measure over boundaries, the world cup would be going to the antipodes.

There is a profound overtone here. The fact that the ICC couldn’t ascertain a clear winner and had to resort to something as arbitrary as boundaries, perhaps shows how the sport is still lacking in some foundations. Granted the ICC is far from FIFA and football which is more concrete in rules and where more parties have a stake. In the last decade or so, in cricket, we have a seen a new format, seen powerplays come in (rules changed on that), super subs went out and so did bowl outs but the super over came in and how it stayed on and decided a final but yet didn’t decide a final.

For my American brother-in-law, and American friends watching the match with me, I had to describe the rapid pendulum movements of the match in a football (soccer for your American tongue) context. England and New Zealand ended with a scorecard reading 4–4 at the end of 90 minutes. Throughout the game back and forth goals were scored, touch and go penalty calls awarded to England and taken away from New Zealand. The archetypal edge of your seat match, with momentum swinging as per who was taking the lead. Two of those goals on either side coming in the closing seconds of extra time. They had it, no they lost it, no they have it again moments. Then it went to penalty shoot outs, once again, momentum kept swinging with hits and heroic saves and finishes 3–3 after five shots and still no clear winner. So then, we move to sudden death, and after three more shots each, there is no clear winner. England awarded the cup, on some arbitrary rule which was akin to because they had more shots on target. There you go, I found the best way to explain the cruelty to the Kiwis in a wider sporting context.

Cruel as Greg Baum rightly writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that “great sports contests should be won by what happens next, not last.” There was barely a hair separating both teams, yet many remained flummoxed as to why the spoils weren’t shared?

And Simon Jenkins in the Guardian agrees with me when he says the right result would have been a tie but he attests that wasn’t so because “human nature hates a balance. It craves a victor and a vanquished. The sporting solution would be for both captains to admit the fact and shake hands. But the money, the chauvinism, the howls from the gallery, were more powerful”.

Speaking of powerful, I could only imagine how livid the megalomaniac filled BCCI would have reacted had India been on the receiving end of this. A rematch perhaps? A letter to the ICC to boycott the ECB and a letter the Ministry of External Affairs, no go higher, the Prime Minister’s Office to cut off all ties with the United Kingdom. Hyperboles aside, this accentuates just how sporting Kane Williamson and his entire ‘high flying Kiwis’ have been.

So, if England didn’t win and New Zealand didn’t lose, did cricket really win? It did entertain, but did it win, if it left people feeling such gross injustice had been done, making New Zealand feel like they were at a dirge while sending England into raptures.

But cricket is unassumingly beautiful, beyond the hype of other cash-rich lucrative tournaments that serves the coffers of a few. I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate England on their maiden World Cup win, their fourth final since 1979. For a country, that invented the sport as early as the Saxon-Norman Times circa 16th century, this was no doubt a long time coming, forty-four years to be precise. The Barmy Army last year in Russia, throughout the FIFA World Cup regurgitated the ‘It’s Coming Home’ song, during England’s campaign to the semi-final, hoping for a 1966 encore. And how apropos to it’s coming home, that the country that invented the sport, won the world cup at home at the proverbial home of cricket. Like Wembley in 1966, like Lord’s in 2019, the Barmy Army travelled the world in search for glory, only to find it at home.

For the paparazzi in the United Kingdom, a break from breaking ties with the European Union (EU). But speaking of Brexit, since immigration is a contentious issue world over, the press should remind certain policy makers that the English fans are thankful to an English team that was led by an Irish-born captain (Eoin Morgan), thankful to a South African-born fielder (Jason Roy) who threw the final throw to win the cup, indebted to a Barbadian-born bowler (Jofra Archer), who bowled the last over and the irony of all — A New Zealand born match winner Ben Stokes won the match for England. Also, in the mix, British Pakistanis — Adil Rashid & Moeen Ali who played vital roles in the campaign.

But, certain Brexiters and naysayers on immigration have their own view of immigration being a bane on the British economy and the society at large.

I want to end with two images that stood out for me. The first being England’s Chris Woakes consoling a dejected Martin Guptill and Jimmy Neesham.

This image will go down for posterity’s sake, the same way Grant Elliot lifted Dale Steyn after the semi-finals in 2015. The same way, Allan Donald was left stranded halfway down the Edgbaston pitch while the late Hansie Cronje had his arms on his hips in 1999 and the same venue in 2005, where Freddie Flintoff was consoling a despondent Brett Lee after the second Ashes test of 2005.

The biggest cricket match on the world stage, finally decided by the smallest of margins in Guptill’s runout. A call to Kipling once again, let’s treat triumph and disaster as the same imposters. It was certainly, one winner but two champions.

The second image circulated is of this cherubic eleven-year old boy, born in Christchurch, New Zealand seen here cheering for the Auckland Warriors in his favorite childhood sport, rugby. Had he been told then, that in sixteen-years’ time, he would make it great for his country on the big stage, he would have assumed it would be playing for the All Blacks in rugby.

A eleven-year-old Ben Stokes in Auckland in 2003
A eleven-year-old Ben Stokes in Auckland in 2003

Perhaps if rugby coach, Gerard Stokes hadn’t moved with his family to the UK in 2003, Ben Stokes could have been the pride of New Zealand and not its nemesis that night.

But life and fate had different plans for Ben, for England and for New Zealand in the years to come. Best to sum it up by saying that perhaps, just perhaps that the fault was in New Zealand’s stars.

Or else, how could you explain it all?

A journalist by profession. He writes about business & finance, geopolitics, sports & tech news. He is a TEDx & Toastmasters speaker. Follow him @Akshobh

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