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2019: A Year of Sporting Legacies after the Cricket and Rugby World Cups

Ben Stokes hits out during the Cricket world Cup Final
South Africa players celebrate with the Webb Ellis trophy after winning the World Cup

2019 has been a year that will live long in the memory of sports fans in England and around the World.

Following the way that Gareth Southgate’s football stars brought the nation together during England’s journey to the semi-finals of the Football World Cup last year, the Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup gave Eoin Morgan’s and Owen Farrell’s respective teams a chance to build on that sporting legacy. They did not disappoint.

Morgan’s men eventually emerged victorious from the Cricket World Cup final, that has appropriately been dubbed ‘the greatest match of all time’. Despite Farrell’s juggernauts’ ultimately falling, at the final hurdle, against an inspired Springbok side, their efforts in Japan brought rugby fans, and non-rugby fans alike, to pubs across the country at the crack of dawn to cheer on their country. A sporting year to remember that will leave a long lasting legacy.

It is fair to say that the events that occurred at Lords on the 14th of July 2019 were unlike anything has ever seen in any sporting arena. England had endured a difficult run to the final, having been effectively forced to play knock-out cricket against New Zealand and India in their final games of the group stages after losses to Australia, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan earlier in the competition.

Subsequent victories against India and New Zealand paved the way to the thrashing of Australia at Edgbaston, and just like that, England were in the World Cup final. Nonetheless, their opponents were New Zealand, the side they had beaten by 119 runs just eleven days prior. So, this was surely to be an easy victory? If being a fan of English sport has taught one thing, it’s never to assume anything at a World Cup.

England’s rugby team, led by coach Eddie Jones and captain Owen Farrell, were dominant throughout their lead up to the final, even against the ‘invincible’ All Blacks side in the semi-final. Once the immediate elation of that famous victory slowly wore off amongst fans, there was a peculiar sense of not knowing how to feel in the week building towards the final. Realistically, few people believed that we could beat New Zealand, and thus not many thought that we were going to be in that position. South Africa are a formidable opponent, but we’d just defeated the undefeatable, surely we couldn’t go on to lose in the final? It’s that innate arrogance that’s present within fans of our national sports teams that so often ends up haunting us. It’s the hope that kills us.

In the end, Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s prediction that England may have already played their ‘final’ in the semi-final perhaps proved to be true. It is more than possible that the epic victory against the All Blacks the week before took too much out of Farrell’s men, meaning a similar performance against the Springboks was nearly impossible. When interpreting it like this, it shouldn’t be such a surprise that we collapsed to a 32-12 defeat. Back at Lords under that glorious July sun, however, English fans were treated to the most unpredictable climax the sport has ever seen.

Once Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan had been dismissed with the score on just 86 in pursuit of New Zealand’s 241-8, our hopes and dreams of a first World Cup triumph seemed to be draining ball by ball. Up and down the country, we could hardly bear to watch as England were seemingly on track to do ‘an England’ once more. But then in another turn of events, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes led fightback, moving England’s score to 196 before the former was dismissed by Lockie Ferguson. A mere 46 runs shy of World Cup glory at that moment, we were then forced to watch as wicket after wicket fell, leaving Stokes with too much to do.

Ben Stokes’ international career has been tainted with various controversies, from breaking his hand from punching a locker, to missing an Ashes tour following that infamous altercation outside a Bristol nightclub. One thing, however, that cricket fans worldwide know about the New Zealand born all-rounder, is that he will fight to the very last ball, and in his own head, there is nothing he cannot do. Despite this, most will admit they did not believe Stokes could achieve what he did that day.

15 to win off the last over quickly became 15 to win off just the final 4 balls, yet the nation still had hope Stokes could pull off a miracle. After he sent Trent Boult over deep mid-wicket for 6, and then accidentally punched the ball over the rope on his way back for a second run, the crowd and everyone around the country could barely believe what they were watching. Trafalgar Square was now packed with supporters gathered around the big screen, as word of this ludicrous match spread to even those who would never usually consider watching a game of cricket.

With the sides inseparable after 100 overs of cricket, the World Cup was to be decided by a super-over for the first time in history. Few people could bear to watch; whether it be hiding behind a cushion, or sat with their head in their hands at the pub. When Jos Buttler demolished the stumps to secure England’s place in history, there was sheer elation nationwide, and later footage surfaced of fans at local cricket clubs, pubs and homes jumping around, hugging whoever they could find. It had been too long since cricket united the nation in the way that it did that day, if it ever had before. There was a cricketing frenzy following the 2005 Ashes triumph, but not quite like this; Morgan’s heroes have inspired a new generation.

2019 has left English sport in a bright place. Sport has once again become a tool for unification, as kids aspire to be the next Owen Farrell or Ben Stokes. In a time where the country is so divided, having one common goal that the entire nation can rally around is something that we can all cherish.

Similarly, with South Africa winning the Rugby World Cup, the legacy is nations being drawn together, through sporting excellence, to drive a new vison for the future.

As Siya Kolisi,  the South Africa Rugby Captain ,said on Saturday “We come from different backgrounds, different races and we came together for one goal,” “I have never seen South Africa like this. We were playing for the people back home. We can achieve anything if we work together as one.”

Contributor - Sam Evison

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