New Zealand cricket will rise again, as a symbol of faith and hope
“Remember, Jimmy, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
There was no shortage of consolation for Jimmy Neesham when he tweeted – ‘Kids, don’t take up sport. Take up baking or something. Die at 60 really fat and happy’.
Neesham was speaking after suffering heartbreak in the most incredible way in the World Cup 2019 final as England went on to lift the trophy for the first time in history, defeating the Kiwis by 0 runs.
Zero. Incredible. The game was tied not once but twice – a tie within a tie. If there ever was a cricket match equivalent to a movie directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan, the World Cup 2019 final would make a pretty good shout.
It was indeed a game of fine margins - margins that went in England's favour. England lifted the trophy while New Zealand received global sympathy in abundance from ex-cricketers, fans, pundits, coaches (Ravi Shashtri's Shashtri-esque tweet).
A dream delivered, and another one dashed. The Kiwis were left disappointed. And sometimes, sympathy isn't the final solution. Sure, it's the only thing left in the hands for everyone around to give you; however, New Zealand have to wait four years to get another shot at the title.
“I sort of explained it to a few people, it’s like sort of hits you in waves. You feel like, 10 minutes, you forget about it and then you make little jokes and then it comes back to you and you go… ‘that just happened’ and ‘did that just happen’. ‘Is that real’. I woke up wondering if it was just a bad dream and it wasn’t, was it?” Williamson said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.
One of the most significant moments in England's dramatic chase came from Ben Stokes’ ‘Hand of God’ moment. Stokes hit the fourth ball of Trent Boult's final over to mid-wicket and shouted for a two, with Adil Rashid at the other end. During the second run, Stokes made a full-stretch dive as Martin Guptill’s throw seemed likely to beat him. Unfortunately for the Kiwis, the ball hit Stokes' bat and ricocheted for a boundary.
‘What just happened?’ - That was the collective emotion of everyone who had tuned in to watch the final. Despite being aware of the final outcome of the situation, no one could quite comprehend what they had just witnessed at the home of cricket. The on-field umpire Kumar Dharmasena showed six fingers to everyone. Six fingers for six runs.
The New Zealand players walked up to the umpire to inquire about the situation. It was almost reminiscent of a student failing in a subject and walking up to the teacher for grace marks. Dharmasena then referred it to the third umpire Rod Tucker.
The 54-year-old Australian umpire checked whether Stokes tried to block the path intentionally or tried to hit the ball knowingly. Amidst all the drama, the umpires including the players missed out on Law 19.8. A crestfallen Williamson looked down and out after sensing another failure on cards.
Law 19.8, pertaining to 'Overthrow or willful act of fielder', states: "If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the willful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be any runs for penalties awarded to either side, and the allowance for the boundary, and the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act."
The replays showed Rashid and Stokes had not yet crossed for their second run when Guptill threw the ball.
Reason and logic don't stand a chance in situations like these. There can be glory in failure but this isn't the glory Williamson's men were looking for. Still, there is hope.
With their annual revenue being less than that of Surrey County Cricket Club and their population being the smallest of all the Test playing nations, New Zealand's cricket system has been a triumph of efficiency. Such a triumph, that they have made eight semi-final appearances in World Cup history. That is no mean feat by any standard.
In football, Liverpool's gaffer Jurgen Klopp lifted the highly coveted Champions League trophy after losing six cup finals. New Zealand cricket can take inspiration from that, and rise as a symbol of faith and hope.
Despite the dejection, the future looks bright. New Zealand’s team punched well above their weight in World Cup 2019. They always have, and they always will.
The world needs more losers like New Zealand; glorious and gracious when they fall. But it also needs winners like New Zealand - a team of individuals putting in their best despite the odds being stacked against them, and making the most of the opportunities that come their way.
Whether cricket’s pendulum will swing back in New Zealand’s favour or not in the future, time will tell. But Black Caps’ overall success story is here to stay.