Ben Stokes looked exhausted. Jofra Archer seemed too raw. But between them – somehow, with millions around the globe glued to their TVs – they won England a World Cup by virtue of a playing regulation no one outside a dusty office at Lord’s even knew existed: more boundaries in the match after the scores finished level in a super over.
Thank God, in that moment, for the pedantry and precision of the rule book. The emotions on display as Jos Buttler completed the winning run-out, following Jason Roy’s desperate throw from deep midwicket, and Martin Guptill’s equally desperate dive for the second run that would have earned New Zealand, not England, a first World Cup, might never have been equalled in this sport’s long history.
Archer, the man entrusted with the task of defending 15 against Jimmy Neesham and Guptill – New Zealand’s two most dangerous hitters – veered off towards cover point, lost for a moment in the magnitude of what he had just achieved, only a matter of weeks after qualifying for England.
Ben Stokes lies on his back as his England team-mates celebrate winning the World Cup
Jofra Archer takes a moment to let his side’s achievement sink in following the game
Stokes lay on his back, overwhelmed by a mixture of elation and exhaustion. Three years ago, as he must be sick of being reminded, he was hit for four sixes in the final over by Carlos Brathwaite as West Indies stole the World Twenty20 from under England’s noses on a crazy night in Kolkata.
And it was 11 months to the day since he was acquitted of affray, an episode that hung over his life and deprived him of an Ashes tour at the peak of his career. Some wondered whether he would ever be the same again.
On Sunday, he answered those doubts. First he dragged England level with New Zealand’s 241, despite looking as if he was running on empty. With 15 needed off Trent Boult’s last over, and only two wickets in hand, Stokes failed to score off the first two balls. New Zealanders in the crowd were beside themselves. Stokes, it seemed, was destined for another heartbreaking near-miss.
Earlier on Sunday, Stokes’s brilliant innings with the bat helped England stay alive in the final
Jos Buttler runs out New Zealand’s Martin Guptill to secure victory for England at Lord’s
Instead, he conjured up 12 off the next two deliveries – a heave over midwicket, followed by a sprint for two and a dive, the ball ricocheting off his bat to the third-man boundary for four overthrows. It was an outrageous piece of good fortune, and for New Zealand the cruellest of blows.
Stokes managed a single off each of the last two balls, but on each occasion lost a partner returning for the second.
Having finished with an unbeaten 84, but with the scores level, he thumped his bat in anger. Surely he wouldn’t now reemerge to open the batting in the super over? Imagine being the man who told him to take a breather.
England’s players show their delight at coming out on top in an extremely tense super over
Archer was the man tasked with bowling the final six balls of the World Cup at Lord’s
Out he stumbled into the evening sunshine for another go – cricket’s equivalent perhaps of Alf Ramsey’s exhortation to his 1966 footballers before extra time. Stokes hadn’t quite won it once, but he was damned if he was going to be denied the chance to win it again.
New Zealand may not agree, but there was a pleasing circularity to Stokes’s World Cup. He got it off to a flyer with his catch on the deep midwicket boundary to catch South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo at The Oval, and here he was at the death, in the thick of things again.
Though, of course, not quite the death. That honour fell to Archer, a young man whose poise and presence have taken England’s bowling to a new level. He finished the competition with 20 wickets – only Australia’s Mitchell Starc and New Zealand’s Lockie Ferguson – claimed more, and was then trusted by Eoin Morgan to bowl what will almost certainly remain the most important over of his career.
England lift the Cricket World Cup trophy after being crowned champions for the first time
Stokes embraces Archer after they combined to help England over the line at Lord’s
He began with a tight off-side wide, and was soon swung over midwicket for six by Neesham – a blow that seemed to confirm New Zealand’s name on the trophy. Instead, he kept his nerve, this unlikely product of Barbados and Sussex.
Both men were breathless as they tried to make sense of what had just happened. ‘I’m pretty lost for words,’ said Stokes. ‘All that hard work for four years and now to be stood here as champions of the world, it’s an amazing feeling.
‘Playing against New Zealand is always tough. They’re a seriously good team. We had some luck at times and I said to Kane [Williamson] that I will be apologising for what happened for the rest of my life.’
Eoin Morgan lifts the World Cup alongside his England team-mates inside a packed-out Lord’s
That was a reference to the four overthrows which reduced the equation to three off two balls – but no one was of a mind to nitpick.
‘I was pretty sure I’d bowl the over but I just had to double-check,’ said Archer. ‘It would have been disappointing if we didn’t win as this is a great group.’
It felt like an understatement in the circumstances. But it was also the observation of a young man whose calmness under pressure had just won his side a World Cup. England are lucky to have him.