A few days ago, I would have given this tournament a letter grade of maybe a B-minus. Today I would give it an A-. Maybe even a full A. For the semi-finals gifted us not one but two upsets, as New Zealand squeaked by India over two days and this morning England demolished a woeful Australia. And not only that, neither England nor New Zealand have won a World Cup, so no matter who wins on Sunday morning at Lord’s, we will get a new name on the trophy. The safe bet, I think, is on England, but as these semi-finals have shown, there are no safe bets at this tournament.
The New Zealand-India match — and to some extent, the England-Australia match — goes to show how thin the margins are in cricket, despite how long the matches are, especially at this high level. India probably played 50 hours or more of cricket over the course of the group stage, but per India’s captain Virat Kohli, it was just 45 minutes of bad cricket that cost India — the best team in the tournament by a country mile — a spot in the finals. 45 minutes. Just a hair over 1% of the cricket they played so far in the tournament. Remarkable. You cannot — cannot — switch off when you are playing at this level. Even just a few minutes could cost you. The length of the matches gives the impression that there is always room to make up for an early wobble, but that is rarely the case when you are playing a team as clinical as New Zealand. Sure the games are hours and hours, with as many as 600 balls bowled, but it all comes down to a few good deliveries, a whisper close run out, or the ball grazing the bat on its way to the wicket keeper.
And the same could be said to some degree of the England-Australia game. The difference was that Australia’s openers were gone almost immediately — again, just a few minutes of good bowling and sloppy batting — while England’s openers saw the ship safely through the first ten overs, which put the game more or less out of reach. And it isn’t just about what happens on the field either. England were terrible when Jason Roy was out, but started winning the minute he was back in the side. At its heart, cricket is an individual sport in the guise of a team game. And Roy proved that out again today. In most other sports, you can lose your best player and still be okay — Ronaldo in the 2016 Euro final for instance — but that is just not the case in cricket. England need Roy. And as long as he doesn’t throw away his wicket on Sunday, I think the match is England’s to lose.
That said, this tournament has proven that while cricket can be oh so very predictable, sometimes it’s not, and that’s why we all keep watching. It’s a remarkable sport with its long days governed by the minutiae of a single ball or a just a few minutes. Which, in a lot of ways, is like life. We go through our lives — which despite what people say, are very long, not very short — and all we focus on in the past are a few minutes here and there, minutes that define us and all that we do. Car accidents. A chance meeting. Something that happened on some random Sunday at 11 o’clock in the morning that broke your heart forever.
And so in life, just like in cricket, it’s best not to switch off, for you never know when magic is going to strike.
Until Sunday then. I can’t wait.