Guptill's voodoo rollercoaster
Anger. Elation. Frustration. Relief. These all hog the limelight when it comes to sporting emotions. Despair too often comes to the fore, but during Tuesday's semi-final against India, Kiwi Martin Guptill gave fans a glimpse of one of the rarest states: the devastated funk. This extreme condition occurs when a player is numbed by the relentless and inexplicable paucity of their own performance. It cannot stem from a one-off mistake. It has to come from a deep and systemic loss of form where the sportsman involved is left feeling as if their chosen game has stuck pins in a voodoo doll then thrown it onto a hurtling rollercoaster.
Thanks to nicking off with the inevitability of death to Jasprit Bumrah, Guptill was seen immersed in this mental paralysis. After yet another failure in the tournament, he was pictured sitting back in the Old Trafford dressing room, his face so long it looked as if he'd just peered into the Lost Ark. He was completely gone. "People can say they were frustrated with me, but no one is as frustrated as what I am," he said afterwards. Seeing him there in his stagnant, solitary gloom, it was hard to argue.
Many hours later, in a twist American director, M. Night Shyamalan would have dismissed as too fanciful had you pitched it to him, Guptill ran out MS Dhoni to seal the match. Many were confused at Dhoni's plan to bat India into a World Cup final in the same way Misbah-ul-Haq had in 2011, but there was still a chance of progression when he was left inches short of his ground.
Guptill bounded around like a lamb but with an expression that was completely sheepish. He looked as if he didn't deserve to have done something so astonishing, as if his form with the bat somehow meant his arm shouldn't have been allowed to unleash the most earth-shattering bullet this side of the grassy knoll. It was perhaps the cutest moment of the World Cup.
Fast forward to Sunday. Shyamalan has now had you escorted from his office for suggesting a throw from Guptill is deflected for four by Ben Stokes's bat as he dives to complete a second run in the final over. Forty minutes later and cricket is revealed to just be one big crazy ghost as Guptill is on strike for the last ball of a Super Over with two to win, the tournament's last ridiculous turn granting him the chance for ultimate redemption.
He couldn't quite do it. Jason Roy threw. Jos Buttler punched off the bails. Eoin Morgan's brilliant team triumphed. Guptill was soon slumped down again, teammates' arms over his shoulders but that haunted, terrible look back on his perma-stubbled face. His ride on sport's terrible voodoo rollercoaster had come to the cruellest of ends.
Erasmus's pulsating final
On Sunday, with the buzz of the anthems and smoke of the fireworks still hanging in the air, Marais Erasmus was implored to give Guptill out caught behind. Jofra Archer was slinging down wobbly exocets, one of which clipped something on the way through to Buttler's gloves. England went up, Erasmus's finger didn't, a decision proved correct as the ball had brushed only Guptill's trousers.
It was a great decision from the South African umpire, whose temperament is as unyielding as his figure. Erasmus attributes his calmness to his low heart rate, once revealing in an interview that it was measured at a karmic 52 bmp rising to 90 bmp when giving a decision. Heaven knows what it was towards the end of the Super Over.
Erasmus' astuteness early on was highlighted by the slightly random efforts of Kumar Dharmasena at the other end. First he gave Hamish Nicholls out LBW when it was going over. Then he gave Williamson not out when the Kiwi captain had nicked one, but England successfully reviewed. It was lucky Michael Holding, reprimanded by the ICC earlier in the tournament for criticising umpires, wasn't on commentary.
There is rarely any bother on the field when Erasmus is around. He is all stealth and quiet words, all authority and earthy empathy.
Later on, though, he sawed off Ross Taylor after Guptill, as fate would have it, had used up the review. Some suggested this was a rare embarrassing error from the official but Erasmus, all heart, surely just did it to make his comrade Dharmasena feel a bit better.
Smith opens up
Ben Stokes may well have come up with the most iconic white ball shot in history with that deflection off Guptill's throw. New Zealand (16) ultimately lost the World Cup because they had scored fewer boundaries than England (24). The only thing more painful for Williamson's side would have been if that Stokes one had been decisive.
A more commonly seen white ball shot in recent years has been one whereby a batsman hits the ball back through their legs to the on-side. It has become known as the "Natmeg" after England's Natalie Sciver, although it was also played by Steve Smith back in 2014 against South Africa when he squirted a free hit from Morne Morkel from outside off to deep fine leg for four.
"Nutmegged AND run out - it's not your day!"
ICYMI - That Jos Buttler throw went THROUGH Steve Smith's legs!
— News Cricket (@NewsCorpCricket) July 11, 2019
Smith nonetheless had cause to wish he'd kept his legs closer together this week when he was brilliantly run out by Jos Buttler in England's semi-final win at Edgbaston. Seeing Smith go for a single off a miscued hook, the glovesman scampered up to the square and threw down the stumps at the non-striker's end, somehow managing to get the ball through the batsmen's lower limbs via an inner thigh.
This was one occasion an Australian may have wished they had had sandpaper, or indeed any other sort of sturdy material, in their underpants. Had Buttler's throw been a couple of centimetres higher Smith may well have been in gentlemen's agony and shouting the sort of profanities the England keeper famously has written on the top of his bat handle. He instead lost his wicket but kept all parts of his anatomy intact, which was almost the exact opposite of what happened to teammate Alex Carey. Earlier in the innings the keeper had worn a bouncer on the head from Jofra Archer, but somehow caught his dislodged helmet just before it tumbled onto his stumps as his chin simultaneously erupted in blood. After a few stitches the impressive Carey simply carried on batting, as you suspect he will do for many years to come.
Roy puts Australia to Jadeja's sword
When Ravindra Jadeja achieved his fifty against New Zealand on Tuesday he paused for a moment, possibly contemplating whether to celebrate or not. Often batsmen in the midst of unfinished business choose the latter in order to show the opposition, their coaches and even themselves they know there's still a job to be done.Here Jadeja knew there was work ahead but after the "bits and pieces" player taunts of Sanjay Manjrekar, simply couldn't resist doing his famous sword dance celebration and pumping his chest out towards the media centre. It was the correct decision for him, the crowd and the occasion.
On Thursday, Jason Roy notched 85 off 65 to take England into the final, a knock which was only ended by another peculiar decision from Dharmasena. It was also one which saw him whip the ball into areas that barely had fielding positions assigned to them let alone fielders. This manipulation drew comparisons with VVS Laxman, but really it was like watching a man base an entire innings on Jadeja's celebration, so wristy, charismatic and intense was his stroke-making. 'Sir' may have departed the tournament, but his swashbuckling lived on.
Neesham's quiche marketing
Two weeks ago Rohit Sharma tweeted his wry displeasure at an umpiring decision after he was given out caught behind. At the time people wondered whether he might get a fine or some demerits for this cyber-dissent. He didn't and Roy, who received heavy censure for questioning that Dharmasena decision to end that semi-final knock, could take some tips from Rohit about turning his on-field rage into online impishness.
It has in fact been a decent tournament all round for cricketing social media. Archer's archive of tweets was pilfered and applied to seemingly every possible current situation, earning him the title "Jofradamus". Whole match reports were written using them.
No one, though, does online like Jimmy Neesham. The Kiwi even has a Reddit handle, UnleashTheQuiche, where he merrily engages with fans. This week he used his 109k follower-strong twitter account to urge Indian fans with tickets for the final to sell them on the official resale site, not at an inflated value elsewhere. "I know it's tempting to try to make a large profit but please give all genuine cricket fans a chance to go, not just the wealthy," he wrote. This earned him inclusion in a cricketing Socialist XI on Reddit.
That selection will be of little consolation to Neesham, but he should at least take comfort he may have contributed to giving a few people the greatest live sporting experience of their lives with ticket plea tweet as well as his performance. At the end of his side's fantastical defeat, he sent this heart-wrenching post:
"Kids, don't take up sport. Take up baking or something. Die at 60 really fat and happy."
Kids, don’t take up sport. Take up baking or something. Die at 60 really fat and happy.
— Jimmy Neesham (@JimmyNeesh) July 15, 2019
If the 2023 final is tied, the Trophy should be awarded to the side with the best tweeter. If it's the same two teams it will be a thrilling contest between Archer and Neesham. It wouldn't even be, to be honest, that much more random than how this World Cup was decided.