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15th Jul 2019

Thrilling end to World Cup final could prove to be a seminal moment for cricket

England are world champions thanks to the collective efforts of this diverse team full of heroes who may have just propelled cricket to the next level

Reuben Pinder

Cricket is a simple game; 22 men hit a ball around for nine hours and at the end England win, somehow

For the past seven weeks, the Cricket World Cup had not exactly captured the attention of the nation. Schools weren’t putting lessons on hold to stream matches in classrooms as they would for the tournament’s footballing cousin.

It had sort of just been happening in the background. Cricket lovers were well invested as they always are, but the tournament, for all its excitement, had not converted many cricket agnostics.

That was until Sunday afternoon, when what many are now calling the best ODI of all time saw England lift their first ever World Cup trophy at Lord’s, the sport’s spiritual home.

Cricket has been facing an uphill battle in promoting itself to the masses for too long now. So much so that the ECB thought it would be wise to throw a fourth, arguably more confusing format into the mix, The Hundred, but that’s an argument for a different day.

For the most part, cricket dwindles along, with ripples of polite applause scattered throughout the day and the much chit chat between shots. It is not hard to see why many sports fans, accustomed to short, intense bursts of action, seem immune to the bug.

But on Sunday afternoon, the entire nation was glued to the TV, as Ben Stokes hung on for dear life after an alarmingly slow start to the run chase. Every ball was a matter of life and death.

In that final half hour, Stokes was caught on the boundary, only saved by a misstep onto the rope from New Zealand’s Trent Boult. Wickets continued to fall but Stokes remained afloat, sustaining the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, unfazed by the magnitude of the task at hand.

He then deflected an overthrow for an extra four runs, earning six from that ball – one more than the laws stipulate should have been awarded.

Lord’s broke into pure and utter delirium as they witnessed this barely believable moment, a logic-defying collision of ball and bat that was a mixture of pinball and theatre. So much for the boring, by the numbers game that cricket is so often made out to be.

England got the rub of the green, as captain Eoin Morgan put it so eloquently in his post-match press-conference.

It was this drama, this constant, agonising tension, that captivated a country and demonstrated the best, and cruellest aspects of the sport on the biggest stage. And most importantly, it was free to watch for the entire country.

Sky’s decision to make the final free-to-air will benefit all parties and potentially resonate for years to come. There will now be more interest in the upcoming Ashes series that they have exclusive rights to broadcast, and the children who were watching through their fingers or from behind the couch on Sunday are sure to be begging their parents to take them to the park with a bat and a ball so they can emulate their newfound heroes.

Stokes has completed the most spectacular redemption arc since Jaime Lannister rode north, with this heroic innings a form of catharsis after losing the T20 World Cup final for his country in the last over two years ago and off the field incidents a persistent distraction from his immense talent.

Jofra Archer has made the sceptics look foolish, taking 20 wickets at an average of 23.05 with an economy rate of 4.57 throughout the tournament and being trusted with the most significant six balls in English cricket since, well, 2005.

Beyond that, the Barbadian-born bowler has epitomised the diversity of his England side, who have exemplified the power of diversity at a time when UK is fractured by political and social division.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking, perhaps the interest will die down again once cricket returns to Sky and the football season resumes. But yesterday felt more significant than a one-off. It felt like a seminal moment for the sport, cementing the slow progress it had made over the past few weeks.

Morgan may not play at the next World Cup, but the legacy of the team he led to glory will live on for years to come.