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Brilliant and brave Black Caps just the wrong side of glory

New Zealand's Lockie Ferguson and Tom Latham celebrate taking the wicket of England's Chris Woakes
New Zealand's Lockie Ferguson and Tom Latham celebrate taking the wicket of England's Chris Woakes
©Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
New Zealand's Martin Guptill looks dejected after England win the World Cup following a super over
New Zealand's Martin Guptill looks dejected after England win the World Cup following a super over
©Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

The width of a boundary rope. The angle of a stray bat.

  • New Zealand lose World Cup final on boundary countback, in the most dramatic match in tournament history
  • Kane Williamson produces a masterclass in captaincy and earns Player of the Tournament prize
  • Full Match Highlights

“Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.”

Kane Williamson was right but when you come out on the wrong side of a Cricket World Cup final like this, perhaps it isn’t.

What more could New Zealand have done? They were world champions. The trophy was in their grasp, and then it was ripped away from them.

There will surely never be a closer final. England victorious by virtue of hitting more boundaries over the course of their innings and Super Over.

Across 102 overs the only way to split the teams was 26 English boundaries to 17 Kiwi ones.

England players, management, fans, will look back on every run saved when New Zealand batted, every single turned into two in their chase. That final throw on target from Jason Roy with Martin Guptill a yard short of his ground. A yard from becoming a world champion.

But it was not that final ball where the game was lost. It was in the final nine deliveries of the chase.

Liam Plunkett had just holed out to Trent Boult, the surest fielding fast bowler in the game. As he had done against the West Indies at Old Trafford in the group stages, Boult held his nerve, pouched the catch and seemingly took New Zealand to the brink.

All that stood in their way was Ben Stokes. The all-rounder who had truly launched this World Cup with that spectacular opening catch four miles down the road at The Oval against South Africa.

Remove him, and surely England would have no way back.

The next ball Stokes went for it all, Boult was again the man underneath it and everything stopped.

Boult held on, put one foot down, and then the other. That second foot, the foot that kept England alive, the foot that plunged down onto the boundary rope.

Carlos Brathwaite had been a yard away from a match-winning six at Old Trafford when Boult denied him. Boult was a foot away from a match-winning catch at Lord’s.

One chance gone, but not the last.

Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme followed in the footsteps of Chris Harris, Scott Styris, Grant Elliott and many more. Those Kiwi all-rounders who confound expectations and influence games in every facet.

Neesham finished a fantastic penultimate over and gave Boult a shot at redemption. Keep England to 13 and the cup is yours.

Dot, dot.

Everything started perfectly, then Stokes lifted one over midwicket for six. Ok, that can happen. This is Stokes after all.

It was the next ball that will be so hard to recover from. After hitting through midwicket, Stokes had no choice but to come back for two.

Guptill’s throw was on the money, Stokes dived desperately, and inadvertently diverted the ball for four overthrows with his outstretched bat.

From nine off three, the equation became three off two. New Zealand were no longer favourites, they did well to take it to a Super Over.

They would recover that favourites tag when Neesham lifted Jofra Archer for six in the Super Over, but when you let that many chances go, eventually it will cost you.

Williamson showed remarkable restraint after the game. No rage, no tears, just a wry smile from a captain whose batting in this tournament has only been matched by his quick wit and one-liners.

And his bravery.

Williamson is not Brendon McCullum. He will not hit an 18-ball fifty like his predecessor had done when these two sides met four years ago in Wellington.

What he will do is assess a pitch and accept that 12 balls to get off the mark is an acceptable return. There is no need to panic when you have two from your first 20 deliveries. He understands that 242 can be defended, sometimes.

Williamson will set attacking fields and strangle the most devastating batting line-up in this competition.

He will bowl De Grandhomme first change for 10 overs straight, even though De Grandhomme had bowled his full complement just once in this tournament before the final.

Williamson will wait until the 31st over of the final to give Mitchell Santner a bowl.

He will give Lockie Ferguson the chance to win a game and trust Neesham to bowl at the death if it doesn't come off.

He will bowl out Boult in a semi-final to break the crucial partnership when the easier, safer choice, would be to wait.

There is a fine line between bravery and recklessness, and Williamson treads it better than anyone.

Like every New Zealander, he will look back at those moments, Boult’s second foot, Stokes’s flailing bat. But there was nothing more he could have done.

The Player of the Tournament did not score as many runs as we know he can, but as a captain he produced a masterclass in the final.

Because of Williamson, New Zealand are the exception to the rule. They did not score 300 runs in this tournament when conventional wisdom dictated you must.

Every semi-finalist relied on the runs scored by their opening partnership except the Black Caps.

It almost did not matter but, in the end, it did.

 If England deserved to be crowned ICC Men’s Cricket World Champions for the first time, Williamson and New Zealand certainly did not deserve to lose.

©Cricket World 2019