I’ve recently returned from Lords after watching the second day of the Test match against Ireland – probably the most one-sided sporting event I’ve witnessed live since Mario ‘Why me?’ Balotelli shouldered the ball into the City net that day at the Etihad.
I live near the venue and have many mates with easy access to tickets, so have been very fortunate to watch many matches there as well as support England across four different continents and at 18 different venues.
But none of those matches have come close to the 2019 World Cup Final against New Zealand for excitement, atmosphere, and total absorption of the event unfolding before me.
The day started off as normal with, perhaps, a heightened ‘buzz’ on the streets of St John’s Wood as they filled with thousands of spectators and what felt like even more touts.
We took our seats in the Tavern Stand, directly below the WAGS of both teams, and in true English cricket fashion waited for some light drizzle to clear before Eoin Morgan won the toss and put the Kiwis into bat.
It was clear the wicket was more akin to a slow club track than the usual ‘flat belter’ seen at the Home of Cricket and the crowd were increasingly nervous as they became aware of the need to treat every run as a prisoner.
New Zealand posted 241-8, largely thanks to a half-century from Henry Nicholls or, to use the correct vernacular, Hinry Knuckles, and a few from Tom Latham and captain Kane Williamson.
When the latter was out, nicking one from Liam Plunkett (he’ll be the one no one gets in the quiz question to name the starting XI in the future) we knew a manageable total was likely and at the break, there was quiet optimism among the home fans.
The England reply ebbed and flowed and from a shaky position, the partnership between Joss Buttler and Ben Stokes gradually started to shift the balance back.
As we neared the end of the innings, the balance had shifted to ‘Stokes may just do this’ as very unlikely things started to happen. We had catches taken from behind the line and deflected boundaries from diving batsmen, and the atmosphere in the ground changed.
For the first time in my memory, the Lords’ crowd started to believe what football fans have known for a while – that their belief and support can directly influence the result of a match.
The young, the old, the casual dressers, and even the egg and bacon blazers all start to cheer and roar each run with a passion, and to see the effect that had on Stokes and the other incoming batsman was something I will never forget.
But still it wasn’t quite enough. It ended in a tie. Scores even. Both on 241.
At the end of that innings, there was a collective intake of breath amongst the 30,000 souls lucky enough to be there and we started again. The Super Over. Never has such an event been so aptly named.
England batted first this time. The pair tasked with getting the runs needed to set up the win everyone was craving was Stokes and Buttler.
By this time the Sweet Carolines and such were as loud as they have ever been and there was a general feeling that the 15 runs they collectively posted would be enough – just.
New Zealand sent out Martin Guptill and Jimmy Neesham to bat. Eoin Morgan gave the ball to Jofra Archer.
The Kiwis’ reply was every bit as up and down as their previous 50 overs had been.
For six balls (or seven after Archer’s first ball wide that he somehow decided he could review), the match was won and lost at least twice over.
The six that Neesham despatched towards Old Father Time was the bravest shot I have ever seen. To be on one knee while a guy bowls at you at close to 90mph and then have the skill to hit it so cleanly should have been worthy of winning any match, but still England came back.
One moment from the Super Over that is overlooked, even in the very good Sky documentary where Mark Wood describes watching the closing overs from atop a washing machine, is the calmness and fearless leadership shown by captain Morgan.
When Jason Roy misfielded in the setting North London sun he swapped positions, not allowing anyone else in his team to have to be responsible for an error that would end four years of planning and hard work.
No one really noticed but that selfless act paid dividends as the same man swooped to run out Guptill with some considerable help from the diving Buttler.
The place erupted, players running everywhere and spectators who ten hours earlier had never met were hugging each other like lost family members; sheer unadulterated joy at having shared an amazing sporting moment.
The match ended in a tie twice, and England winning on a rule no one had heard of was so very cricket.
It was perfect.
I left the ground a while later, still exhausted after having lived through each and every ball of an amazing contest.
While I love the game, I didn’t for one moment on the morning of that match think it could generate the sort of atmosphere that it did. The combination of partisan support coupled with utter respect for the contest and its participants on and off the field is a rare thing.
I have never experienced anything like it.
Hopefully, the upcoming Ashes series can provide something close to the drama and tense finishes of that day – at the very least it will be some respite from the current travails of being a City fan.
The good people of the ECB have clearly considered that (for once), as they have scheduled the whole series to finish before the new Championship season starts!