2019 Cricket World Cup: Gutted

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How do you even begin to comprehend something like that? To have been so close to something so special only to come away empty-handed, it’s excruciating. Worse still if you stayed up literally all night to witness it. The Blackcaps gave it a little bit of everything and it wasn’t quite enough, not by the tiniest of margins, and I’m afraid that this one is going to sting for a very long time.

It would be easier to take if we’d been outplayed but the thing about that is we didn’t even lose. We were tied at the end of fifty long overs and still tied at the end of a super over… at which point we apparently revert to an utterly meaningless tiebreaker of ‘most boundaries’, which if you think about it, considering we were tied for runs after 50+1 overs and they still hit more boundaries, means that the tiebreaker was also, by alignment: most dot balls. So shout out to England for not turning over the strike, I guess. For a World Cup final to come down to such hair-splitting though, that’s unprecedented. It’s also as cruel as it gets because ultimately both teams had done enough to win and neither really deserved to lose. That’s not how competitive, elite sport goes but that emotional dissonance between the result and the game itself is what makes it so brutal.

We didn’t lose and yet we lost. We tied, they tied, but they get to lift the trophy. And while the difference between the two teams was basically negligible on the day, the difference between the two celebrations/commiserations was vast and chasmic, which again doesn’t reflect the spectacle of what we’d just witness. The whole thing comes with a strange air of disconnect between what happened and then what happened after. Not to say that England aren’t fair and proper champions because of course they are and the rules were the rules coming into things, no point complaining now… but yeah. It was tough. It was devastating. It feels like a punishment that we did nothing to deserve.

There’s always next time? No, this was the next time. When 2023 rolls around it’ll be a different team with a different vibe and that team will get their own opportunity to do something special but for this 2019 incarnation you just don’t get closer to winning a World Cup than this. Same deal with how the Blackcaps are currently being applauded around the globe for their impeccable sportsmanship and attitude towards the game. Sure, that recognition is nice. Kane Williamson being awarded Player of the Tournament is nice. But it all feels too much like that old loveable loser cliché. The nice guys that finished second. We’ve been that team so many times before, in cricket and in plenty of other sports too. The underdogs that didn’t quite get it done – the Jamaican bloody bobsled team. I dunno, it’s cool to have that empathy and respect from other nations but I’d much rather have the damn trophy.

In a game as close as that there are a thousand moments you can look back upon and wonder: if only. The review that we wasted on Guptill’s dismissal, the shocker decision that Taylor got which we couldn’t review, not being able to ramp up the run rate at the death, Santner leaving the last ball of the innings through to the keeper, the not out call to Jason Roy off the first ball which came out umpire’s call, the numerous swings and misses in the first ten overs, the half-dozen French cuts along the way, the bobbled shots and mishits, Boult’s catch on the boundary when he stepped on the rope, the four Buttler hit off the last ball of the super over… a thousand moments and each was as important as the last in getting us to this exact outcome and what’s more is that there are probably ten thousand more which you’d never even think of. Minor field placings. Deliveries which just missed their target. A brief hesitation in a batsman’s mind. Every single ball has an unquantifiable amount of variables to it which is why it’s pointless to pick on any single moment as being definitive towards the outcome. That’s merely a formula for paranoia. At the end of the day (/night), England lifted the trophy and we did not.

Kane Williamson talked about the uncontrollables. Journalists at his presser asked him about bad luck. Eoin Morgan called it the rub of the green. Adil Rashid said England had Allah on their side. Rationalise these preternatural forces however you want, it’s pretty hard to argue that New Zealand simply didn’t have the favours of whatever metaphorical embodiment controls these things, be it conscious or chaotic, and that was clearest of all on the third-to-last ball of the English innings when Ben Stokes dashed back for a second run and Martin Guptill’s throw from the outfield copped Stokes’ outstretched sliding bat and ricocheted away to the boundary for four. Seven runs off two balls became three runs off two balls and it was a complete accident, it was pure misfortune, but it was also the kind of incident which almost never happens in cricket, especially not in such a pressurised situation, and you’d have to do a lot of arguing to convince me that England could have won this game from that point without those runs. A freak occurrence and there goes our World Cup. I mean… what can you even say at that point?

It really makes you stop and wonder why we do this for. What’s the point? Why do we invest so much of ourselves into these games which we’re not even playing in? What, because these lads are from the same country as us? What even is a country? And why do guys like Kane Williamson go out there and keep playing when it means having to experience suffering on this level? Most of sport is failing, after all. Only one team gets to lift the trophy at the end of every tournament/season and these days it’s getting easier and easier to predict which team that’ll be – usually the one with the most money. Here the Blackcaps were huge financial underdogs (we can’t even afford a full Plunket Shield season these days) and we went further than we ever expected but only to get close enough to realise what we’re missing out on. You can say that the losing all just makes the eventual winning sweeter except that what if we never win? Well? Then what?

The lesson we end up realising here is that winning isn’t as conclusive as it’s made out to be. When you can do so much right and then lose because of a wild fluke of an overthrow boundary and a seemingly random tiebreaker then you’re forced to accept that the notion of ‘success’ is a fickle and ever-changing thing. A month ago a World Cup final defeat would have been a stunning success… now it feels like the ultimate disappointment. Funny how it goes, aye? Winning and success can be ripped out from underneath you as cruelly as that, through no real fault of your own.

So if even the notion of winning itself can sometimes fall under the banner of ‘uncontrollable’ then, again, why do we do this thing? It ain’t like there aren’t much more important dramas going on in the world, it was just a game after all. So why do we do this thing?

I s’pose because we bloody love it. And the more love we have for it, the more we suffer for it but life’s a pretty empty vessel if we can’t live in hope, no matter how illogical or unlikely it may be. We care because we love it. We love it because it matters. It matters because we want it to matter, therefore we make it matter. We ascribe meaning in our lives where we believe that meaning should be and it’s no less real for having been wished into existence. The Zen Master Kane Williamson summed it all up pretty well when he said it just wasn’t to be. No real reason to be bitter about it or to try and find excuses (bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting others to get sick), it is what it is and we just have to find acceptance for the way things played out. All we can ever do, really, is accept the things we cannot change and move on. All the explanation, all the context, all the hyper-analysis in the world doesn’t match up to that simple truth: it simply wasn’t to be.

I can’t really offer any bland platitudes. The rest of the world are talking about one of the greatest games of cricket ever seen but it doesn’t feel so great when you’re on the wrong side, especially with how it unfolded at the end. It sucks and it’s probably always going to suck. But that, as they say, is cricket. Sometimes you edge a good one early, sometimes the umpire serves up a dud call, and sometimes you don’t hit enough boundaries and it costs you the World Cup final.  

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