Three years have passed since England sealed their maiden ODI World Cup at Lord’s in a way that defied logic, sense or any morsel of reason. Cricket, bloody hell! There’s perhaps no better way to describe the madness of the day, the bewitched spectacle that unfolded in front of our eyes, upending the very nuts and bolts of how we perceived this game. Rarely an ODI game had aroused such wild emotions among cricket fans.

Specks of dust and rust that filled their trophy cabinet were finally replaced by a World Cup Trophy. But the manner of their triumph, secured by bizarre boundary count rules, has added an eternal asterisk to their win. More than England’s victory, the perennial question is did New Zealand, a team brimming with good guys and good vibes, deserve to lose in such a heart-breaking fashion?

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There’s no doubt England were arguably the best team in both the tournament and in the lead-up to it. Eoin Morgan’s band of boys were playing a thrilling, ruthless brand of cricket, smothering every opponent, every target on their way with presumptuous ease. But then World Cup, or any knock-out tournament, is hardly about crowning the ultimate best. For every good side that wins the tournament, there are at least a couple of better sides who choked at a crucial juncture. This randomness is the hallmark of such tournaments. And that’s why there’s no doubt about England’s worthiness, but the million-dollar question is were they simply better than New Zealand in the summit clash to be crowned as champions?

Trevor Bayliss, then England head coach, himself feels that his team got a bit lucky. “Its history, isn’t it. That’s fair enough. Whatever rules the governing body has for any competition, rules to be played too. In the World Cup, everyone knew what the rules were and it’s not that we made up the rules in the last moment. We were just lucky enough to end on the winning side,” said Bayliss.

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Had it not been for that ill-starred deflection from Ben Stokes’ blade, they would have secured the trophy in regular time itself. Had it not been for an umpiring error from Kumar Dharmasena, they would have finished the game on the last ball. And lastly, had it not been for that ill-thought rule that was scrapped months after the result, New Zealand would have had another Super Over to fight for. 

With 15 needed off the final over, Ben Stokes whacked a towering six after playing two dots to bring his team closer to the target. But they still needed 9 off 3 against Trent Boult. The next ball was drilled to the deep mid-wicket, and a throw from Martin Guptill crashed into the bat of the diving Ben Stokes before deflecting to the boundary. What should have been a run was converted into six runs. 

And then came a major umpiring error from Dharmasena. Since the batters hadn’t crossed each other before the release of the ball from Guptill’s hand, they should have been awarded five runs, not six.

The exact timing of the batters crossing each other is crucial here. Simon Taufel, the veteran umpire, said, “So it’s unfortunate that there was a judgment error on the timing of the release of the ball and where the batsmen were. They did not cross on their second run, at the instant of the throw. So given that scenario, five runs should have been the correct allocation of runs, and Ben Stokes should have been at the non-striker’s end for the next delivery.”

Soon England were level with New Zealand. But another twist in the tale reckoned as Mark Wood got run out on the last ball, and the match moved to the Super Over. This is where the contentious boundary count rule came into play. If there’s nothing to separate the two sides after 102 overs of the game, the team which struck more boundaries is declared the winner. Forget the fans, a majority of the players too must not have been aware of this before the match reached this stage.

Amidst much furore from fans and experts, the ICC had to scrap the rule months after the event. “In group stages, if the Super Over is tied, the match will be tied. In Semi Finals and Finals, there is one change to the Super Over-regulation in keeping with the basic principle of scoring more runs than the opponent to win, the Super Over will be repeated until one team has more runs than the other,” said the ICC release. 

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Had this rule not existed, New Zealand would have got another lifeline, and they deserved it after putting their heart and soul into the contest. But again, the asterisk that is so vividly marked against England’s triumph will soon start to fade. They played and won by the rules, not by any malice.

Featured Image Credit: ECB