I’d like to start with an apology to my neighbours for the audible expletives which emanated from my living room yesterday as my Sky box decided the last over of England’s run chase in the Cricket World Cup final was the perfect time to stop working.
Just as New Zealand fast bowler Trent Boult began to run in and hurl the ball at 90-plus miles per hour in the direction of England’s Ben Stokes, my television went black, save for three words emblazoned in white on the screen. “Sky is restarting,” it read.
It could hardly have come at a worse time. Thankfully, I made a quick dash to another room and flicked on a separate TV to see Stokes despatch Boult’s second ball for six. Panic over.
If that was nerve-shredding, worse was to come as one of the greatest pieces of sporting theatre unfolded.
I make no apologies for adding to the litany of words written about the moments that followed. The media is often criticised for only seeing the bad and negative side of sport, and the Cricket World Cup final, and the Wimbledon showpiece taking place simultaneously 11 miles from Lord’s, was sporting drama at its very best.
After Stokes had hit Boult over the ropes, England still needed nine from three balls. The way in which it became three from two balls is something those watching, both the millions at home and the 30,000 inside the home of cricket, will never forget.
As Stokes dived for the line when chasing two runs, he inadvertently diverted the ball, thrown by New Zealand’s Martin Guptill, to the rope. The umpires signalled six runs – two for the runs and four for the boundary – and England were well and truly in the game.
“If you tried that same scenario 1,000 times, it would not happen again,” former England captain Nasser Hussain said afterwards.
It has since emerged that the umpires should have in fact given five runs, adding another element of chaos to an unfathomable, unpredictable and unbelievable spectacle.
The rest, as they say, is history. England went on to score two off the final two deliveries to tie the match, leaving a super over to decide the winners of the Cricket World Cup for the first time.
In the super over, essentially a six-ball shootout, England’s total of 15 was matched by New Zealand, who needed to surpass the hosts’ tally if they were to lift the trophy because Eoin Morgan’s side had scored more boundaries.
An arcane way to decide a major tournament, perhaps, but the teams must be separated somehow.
The winning moment will no doubt be etched into British sporting folklore; the inch-perfect throw from Jason Roy, the superb take under pressure from Jos Buttler and the sight of the flailing bails. England were world champions.
Such was the dramatic nature of the finale that even those with not even a passing interest in cricket were transfixed. Credit must go to Sky Sports, whose agreement with Channel 4 to broadcast the match on free-to-air television proved a masterstroke and allowed those without a Sky subscription to witness arguably the best hour for British sport in more than a decade.
British television figures released today show the Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, taking place at the same time, won the ratings battle. A peak television audience of 8.87 million tuned in to watch two of the game’s greats battle it out for the men’s singles title, compared with 8.3 million viewers who saw England win the World Cup.
While the outcome of the Wimbledon final – Djokovic’s triumph earned him a fifth crown – was familiar, the way it was decided was anything but.
Last year, the bigwigs at the All England Lawn Tennis Club agreed to introduce a winner-takes-all tiebreak if the score was locked at 12-12 in the final set. They would not have believed it would be needed at almost the first time of asking, even if a Djokovic-Federer contest always has the potential to go the distance.
Djokovic, having saved championship points, held his nerve to secure a 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 victory in three minutes shy of five hours, the longest Wimbledon final in the tournament’s illustrious history.
The Cricket World Cup super over and the championship tiebreak at Wimbledon started around three minutes apart. Even the scriptwriters would have been hard pressed to come up with such a scarcely believable scenario.
As I boarded a train home from Wales yesterday morning, I questioned the decision to schedule the two finals on the same day. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise as the technologically-savvy among us were able to watch both simultaneously on what was truly a sensational day for sport.
For cricket, it is hoped this will be the catalyst for increased participation among the youth in the United Kingdom. For tennis, the Wimbledon final was a reminder the old guard still knows best.
New INF President offers refreshing attitude towards Olympic inclusion for netball
The Cricket World Cup may be over, but thankfully for those of us who were left yearning for more after yesterday’s theatrics, the Netball World Cup has got under way in Liverpool.
Much like the FIFA World Cup which concluded earlier this month, the tournament is billed as another huge event for women’s sport.
It is also expected to lead to calls for netball to be included in the Olympic Games, a frequent occurrence when any sport outside of the programme holds a World Championships or major event.
Before the competition started last Friday (July 12), England’s Liz Nicholl was elected to replace longstanding official Molly Rhone as President of the International Netball Federation (INF).
Nicholl is no stranger to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the mechanisms of the Olympic Movement having served as chief executive of UK Sport for nine years.
It was therefore not surprising, but still refreshing, to hear her play down the idea of netball becoming part of the Olympics in the future as she instead told the INF and its members to focus on issues which would benefit the sport.
Every sport dreams of Olympic inclusion. It is the holy grail for everything from chess to dragon-boat racing to netball.
But it can be frustrating and tiresome to hear governing bodies of non-Olympic sports hark on about wanting to be part of the Games without providing a clear vision as to how they achieve it and without acknowledging the reasons why not all of them reach their goal. You get the sense that Nicholl will not fall into that category.
"The sport wants to achieve Olympic inclusion – we have to be realistic but it’s a good ambition to have,” she said on the opening day of the World Cup, according to the Press Association.
"Lots of sports have that ambition but we know the reality is there is a constraint on the number of athletes the IOC would want in the Athletes’ Village and to contain the costs of the Games.
“We can see the IOC is looking at sports that are very attractive to young people — skateboarding, surfing, climbing, 3x3 basketball — so we can see the trend.
“My advice to the INF board is we have to keep an eye on the criteria the IOC would use: some are about smaller versions of games, some are about gender equity and some are about the number of eyes on the sport. So some of those we can do for the good of the sport anyway.
“What I would advise netball to do is concentrate on those criteria because they are important to netball, too, and not solely to the IOC.”