Joy – The Full Toss

Yesterday morning was one of the most enjoyable ones. I woke up, made a brew, quickly whipped up some poached eggs with smoked salmon – how stereotypically middle class – and then returned to bed to watch England win the World T20 final at the MCG.

It was precisely the morning I had in mind; and probably the very last thing that the tournament organizers, neutrals, and the whole of Australia were hoping for. Tee-hee. Well, England cricket tours down under usually end in disaster, so I’ll allow myself a little childish satisfaction on this occasion.

What pleases me most about England’s triumph is that we are now World Champions in both limited overs formats. And when you consider that no other country plays 100-ball cricket, perhaps we can claim to be champions at that, too – a bit like the Super Bowl winners always call themselves World Champions by default? Ok, I accept that I’m probably a little delirious right now.

So what did you think of the game itself? At one stage, I just couldn’t see us winning it. Pakistan’s frontline seamers were so good, and getting so much movement in the air and off the pitch, that I thought a repeat of the 1992 ODI World Cup was guaranteed. I couldn’t get that image of Wasim Akram cleaning up Chris Lewis out of my head.

Although England’s bowlers bowled tightly – more of that later – we didn’t seem to get anywhere near as much movement as the Pakistanis. Was it a change in atmospheric conditions? Was it the rain in the air? Had Aaqib Javed popped down the MCG to hand Babar Azam a bottle-top? Absolutely not. It was probably because Pakistan’s seamers were faster and taller. Fair play to them. We might have seen a different result had the impressive Shaheen Shah Afridi been able to compete his full quota of overs. He was desperately unlucky.

The man who got England over the line, of course, was a certain Ben Stokes. Again. Just as I thought that the game was getting out of hand, he cracked a couple of superb boundaries that turned the tide. I should’ve had more faith.

Stokes’s partnership with Moeen Ali proved decisive in the end. It just goes to show that class and experience wins just as many T20s as big-hitting cameos. Did anyone else wish that Joe Root was striding to the crease rather than Phil Salt or Harry Brook? Sometimes it takes batters with good techniques and supreme skill to see off the best opponents.

Fortunately, Stokes was able to use all his experience and class to get us over the line. He never panicked – even when I clearly was – and picked his moments to attack beautifully. He’s now played arguably the three most memorable or important innings in recent English cricket history: this one, the World Cup final at Lord’s, and the 2019 Headingley Test. Stokes has balls bigger than planets.

It was England’s performance in the field, however, that set up this victory. Adil Rashid was incredible. He used all his BBL experience and proved, once again, that leg-spin (rather than finger-spin) is a trump card in Australian conditions.

Sam Curran was also impressive again. It’s been a pleasure to watch him mature before our eyes. I remember scoffing when he was first signed up by an IPL team. I didn’t see the logic at all and expected him to be fodder on Indian wickets. How wrong I was. He’s obviously learned a huge amount from playing in elite franchise competitions and now possesses all the skills. He’s a massive credit to his father and thoroughly deserved his Player of the Series accolade.

So now thoughts turn to next year’s 50-over World Cup. Can we retain our trophy? Well, it’s obviously going to be harder without the retired Stokes. But don’t forget that we’ll have both Root and Jonny Bairstow back in contention. I don’t envy the selectors when it comes to choosing a final XI.

But perhaps that debate can wait. Let’s just let this victory linger on the taste buds a little longer. We’ve suffered so much agony and ignominy over the years, particularly in Test cricket, that we deserve to enjoy this moment.

So let’s put the division caused by The Hundred, and the rows about the domestic schedule and the future of county cricket to one side for now, and look forward with genuine optimism to the future. With a new ECB chairman in Richard Thompson, and a new CEO in Richard Gould, perhaps we can finally do this?

In the meantime, I’d just like to thank Ben, Jos, Mo, Adil, Sam and the lads for giving me a morning to remember. Those poached eggs weren’t half bad, either.

James Morgan

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