I’m sure there were some, but I don’t suppose too many of The Times of Israel’s millions of readers worldwide were watching the final of cricket’s World Cup from Lord’s in London on Sunday.
I don’t know if it was screened in North America, where so many of our readers live. It certainly wasn’t broadcast by any of Israel’s multitude of sports channels.
Let me tell you a little about what you missed… and I don’t mean by giving you (only) a sports report.
A London-born cricket enthusiast and mediocre player who tried, largely in vain, to interest my Jerusalem-born, sports-mad kids in this most gripping of sports, I watched the mind-boggling drama unfold through Sunday afternoon and evening via a succession of unreliable live-streaming websites that went into beyond-infuriating buffering mode at several pivotal moments — though not, crucially, in the final minutes. This I supplemented with ball-by-ball written updates from the Guardian. And I intermittently bolstered all that, in turn, by listening to the BBC’s radio commentary, before that went dead on me.
Somehow I managed to see and hear the entire, wrenching denouement. Everybody, and I mean everybody, who watched this astonishing game, wherever they watched it, will surely remember it forever.
As a cricketing occasion, it was simply unprecedented. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” wailed a radio commentator at the height of the drama. “This doesn’t happen,” agreed another. And these were accurate reflections of the action out on the field, rather than the usual sporting hyperbole. The Guardian’s match report began, “This was the most astonishing, fortuitous, preposterous climax to any cricket match I’ve witnessed, let alone a World Cup final.” The former England captain Andrew Strauss declared it “the greatest game of cricket in history.”
The World Cup is the sport’s centerpiece event — a tournament held every four years that, in the 2019 format, featured seven weeks of one-day games culminating in Sunday’s final between England and New Zealand.
I make no apologies for the spoiler that will now follow. If you care a whit about the sport, you’ll know the result already: England won.
England won, that is, via an unprecedented rule almost nobody had heard of before the game began — “on the relatively random basis,” again as the Guardian put it, “that they had hit more boundaries in the match.” This culminated an unprecedented sudden death “super over” that had ended in a tie, after the two teams had already tied once, both scoring 241 runs, in their regulation 50 overs. If most or all of that is incomprehensible, then don’t worry. Like I said, this is not (entirely) a sports report.
While cricket correspondents worldwide are reaching for sporting superlatives to try to put into words a contest that lurched back and forth in each team’s favor, that tested the limits of the players’ skill and their character, and whose result remained unknowable until the very last ball, there was wonder to behold, too, for the non-enthusiasts.
The knock-out stages of the tournament that ultimately led to Sunday’s final had already underlined the capacity of sport to bring people, and peoples, together: India and Pakistan are not the best of neighbors; that makes their cricketing encounters all the more ferociously contested. But their cricketing rivalry — the sport is the most popular in both countries, spectacularly so in India — was played out with passionate grace in the early stages of the tournament, no matter how great the sporting stakes.
In the final itself, New Zealand were profoundly unfortunate, to put it mildly, at one key moment, when the ball ricocheted from an unwitting England player’s bat for a vital extra four runs. This freak incident, which was also erroneously judged by the umpires, did not produce petulant scenes from the New Zealand players, but rather a response that moved from shock at what had happened, to dismay, to acceptance. England’s Ben Stokes, the batsman in question, rather than celebrating the unexpected boon, apologized at the time and said afterwards that he would be “apologizing for the rest of my life.” The incident was a “bit of a shame,” acknowledged New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson, stoic and astoundingly sporting in defeat.
What was most striking in the wider, cricketing-and-beyond context, however, was the composition of this England team; this first England team to win cricket’s World Cup; this team from an England currently struggling with the implications for its national identity of its 2016 “Brexit” vote to leave the European Community.
For a start, this England team is captained by an Irishman, Eoin Morgan. Its player of the match, the aforementioned Ben Stokes, was actually born in, of all places given Sunday’s opponents, New Zealand. Its opening batsman, Jason Roy, is from South Africa. Jofra Archer, the 24-year-old newcomer to the team who bowled the game’s final, decisive over, was born in Barbados. The team’s 12th man (first reserve), Moeen Ali, is a bushy-bearded Muslim from Birmingham with family origins in Pakistan (who, I should note, was banned by the cricketing authorities five years ago from wearing “Free Palestine” and “Save Gaza” wristbands). A key player in the team was another British-born Muslim, spin bowler Adil Rashid. Summed up Daniel Lawes of the Youth Politics UK activist group: “Captained by an immigrant, batting led by an immigrant, fastest bowler an immigrant, leading all-rounder an immigrant, main spinner son of an immigrant.”
This group of players, of different places of origin, skin color and religion, having come perilously close to exiting the tournament in its earlier rounds, pulled and pushed each other forward to victory. It was a success that ultimately came down to team spirit, to togetherness.
Sunday’s cricket World Cup final was a magnificent showcase for the most enthralling of all sports. It also exemplified a whole so much greater than the sum of its disparate parts.
“Howzat!” as cricketers exclaim in moments of triumph. Which in this case translates as: What a joy to behold.