What is luck? Some call it “preparation meeting opportunity”, some see it as the “fine line between survival and disaster”, and some think you can “make your own.” Whichever way it may be defined or made, luck seemed to be the only thing that stood between New Zealand and the immortality of becoming the World Cup Champions.
Professional sportsmen are loath to attribute outcomes of sporting contests to luck when they are at the wrong end of it. To profess the impact of luck on the result could mean the sportsman did not prepare well enough, or did not work hard enough, or that they are not the masters of their domain. Instead, they call it by many other things.
Kane Williamson was reeling from the gut punch of his team not putting England away — twice — when he appeared for the post-match presser. He still had his wits about him to not sound bitter at the rule that made a distinction between the two sides, hid his disappointment as well as anyone in his shoes could, and avoided using the word “luck.” Instead, he resorted to “one of those things,” “fine margins,” and “uncontrollables.”
One day, a throw from the deep by Martin Guptill strikes the stumps directly, catching the batsman on whose shoulders lay the responsibility to complete the run chase short. On another day, instead of hitting the stumps, it strikes the bat of the desperately diving batsman and ricochets off to the boundary, giving away five runs.
One day, Henry Nicholls chooses not to review when adjudged LBW off Chris Woakes. The replays would later show he ought to have challenged the call. On another day, he chooses to review an LBW off the same bowler and is reprieved, going on to make a significant contribution.
One day, Trent Boult swings the ball back into the pads of a key opposition batsman, and the umpire agrees with his appeal. On another day, the umpire refuses to uphold Boult’s appeal when he swings it into the pads on the first delivery of the innings, which on review, showed the fine margins in which this World Cup final existed.
One day at Old Trafford, defending 240 against a daunting Indian line up, Matt Henry and Boult induce 11 false shots in the first 10 overs of the innings and dismiss four Indian batsmen. On another day at Lord’s, the duo induce at least 18 false shots in the first powerplay with just the wicket of Jason Roy to show for it.
One day, Boult has his wherewithals to take a catch at the boundary to end a furious rally of six-hitting by Carlos Brathwaite. On another day, he pouches the six attempt by Stokes in the throes of the chase, only to step on the boundary and give England a new lease on life.
The general opinion on luck in sports is that if you play long enough, it evens itself out. In the round robin stage, when you play nine matches against nine different oppositions, the breaks of the game that go your way one day might go against you on another. It is easier to be philosophical about luck when you could survive in the tournament to fight another day, but in the lose-and-you-are-out stage, the disparity of the rub of the green looms large, and the final game of the 2019 World Cup was one such. Lady luck smiled and provided a generous massage to England while appearing to thumb her nose at New Zealand.
It would be facetious to say New Zealand did not enjoy some slices of luck as well. In a sport built on failures, the players need some luck to survive on a challenging pitch and score, and New Zealand seemed to be the recipients of that general dose. But the inordinate amounts of fortune that seemed to break England’s way — at one point Bairstow and Roy had control of just 50 percent of their shots and yet survived — foreshadowed a historic night in England’s cricketing history. Even Williamson at the end of the match could not explain the contrivances of situations that negated his side from making their own history, shrugged and said, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be”.
English batsmen had immense trouble facing Boult and Co and yet, to not lose their second wicket till the 17th over, took the disproportionality of luck between the sides to a morbidly comic and cruel level. England batsmen wafted numerous times at balls whizzing past the outside edge; many an inside edge skipped past the stumps; toe-ended deliveries fell short of fielders; a simple knock back to the bowler was dropped; there were even deliveries that went between their legs that missed everything!
Despite the cruel hand dealt by luck, and its frequent appearances during the defence of 241 runs that would have broken the resolve of another team with a weaker constitution, New Zealand soldiered on to keep the match tied at the end of regulation. When Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler — the original architects of the run chase — reappeared to post 15 runs in the super over, New Zealand answered in the only way they knew they could — valiantly. Jimmy Neesham thumped a six off Jofra Archer, and Guptill, the quickest runner in the team, sprinted between the wickets at his maximal ability, but it wasn’t enough. Maybe some days it is just not meant to be.
The scorecards from this match will live forever in history as “Match Tied (England won the one-over eliminator)”. They will hide more truths than they will reveal; that the one-over eliminator was also tied; that the victor was declared based on the number of boundaries hit — a cricketing reality where two plus two is less than a four.
It is said, “to the victors go the spoils.” Eoin Morgan brought the World Cup trophy to the post-match press conference but he also brought forth an acknowledgment of the role of luck in the day’s denouement: “The little bit of luck today really did get us over the line.”
The Black Caps were very good in combating the No 1 ranked side in their own backyard on a difficult pitch. They defended to the theoretical limit when there was really nothing to choose between them and England. As both captains said, “it was the finest of margins” and that margin was the luck that rolled England’s way. Some days, it is better to be lucky than good.