Destined for Greatness

April 14: Pakistan had to score 204 to win against South Africa. Babar Azam unleashed his first century in T20Is and crushed the hapless Africans. Pakistan won with two overs to spare.

Two days later: South Africa is all out for 144. Pakistan 92/1 in 9 overs -- just 53 more runs from 11 overs. Easy, right? Nope. IT'S TIME FOR DRAMA! Their performance in the next 9 overs: 37 runs for the loss of 6 wickets! Magala steps over the line in the 19th over and the free-hit goes for a massive six. Next over, the second-last ball also goes bye bye. Tiny target chased with one ball to spare.

The T20 World Cup should be fun!

It's rare to see so many strong batsmen: Azam, Rizwan, Zaman, Old Man Hafeez, and Baby Ali. The added pressure of captaincy has had zero impact on Azam. If anything, he has improved in the last few months. Hitting exquisite fours is his signature. He looked very uncomfortable when trying to hit outside the ground in the ODI World Cup two years ago. Now, his highest ODI score is only 3 runs greater than the 122 he smashed in a T20I. Let's see how many trophies he collects in the next decade.


There are so many!

In other sports news:

Sachin Tendulkar, who was hospitalised as a precautionary measure after testing positive for COVID-19, was on Thursday discharged and is now recuperating at home in Mumbai, while staying in isolation.

Though, Sachin did go out for a few moments of cricket earlier today. Here's one photo:

No more lagaan

He looks the same as he did twenty years ago. Extraordinary!


A dangerous team

The third match, again, went to the very last over. South Africa fought hard but they were missing too many talented players. Pakistan wins another ODI series in South Africa.

Who would have thought that Fakhar would break the record for the highest number of runs against South Africa in a three-match ODI series after he got out for 8 (!) in the first match?  This is how the top three performed:

Imam: 70, 5, 57
Fakhar: 8, 193, 101
Babar: 103, 31, 94

Imam is often dependable, Fakhar owns two of the top three scores by a Pakistani batsman in ODIs, and Babar is one of the best in the world. If the middle order settles and clicks, then they can cause some serious havoc.

Also, Hasan Ali is back. Speaking of havoc, he was the Man of the Series in that crazy tournament four years ago.


An impressive fight

The highest percentage of a team's total in Pakistan history:

Zaman's 155-ball 193 was heroic, a one-man show in the truest sense of the word because no other Pakistani managed more than 31 in a chase of 342. It is the highest score in a chase in ODI cricket history, and the second highest ever in a losing cause. Zaman also surpassed Herchelle Gibbs' 175 to record the highest individual score at this venue.

After Azam and Rizwan were gone, I thought that they would lose by a 100+ runs. Zaman proved me wrong. Somehow, he dragged his team all the way to the last over with a very tiny possibility of a win. He definitely deserved the Man of the Match award.


Almost choked!

Pakistan were 186/1 in 31.4 overs while chasing 274. They somehow managed to take the match to the very end even when they only needed three off the last over. Luck is rarely on South Africa's side.

Azam keeps going:

76 Innings required by Babar Azam to score his 13th century in ODIs, the fastest to this feat in men's cricket.

Babar's 103 is also the highest individual score by a Pakistan captain in a successful ODI chase.


What are we chasing?

What a bunch of incompetent buffoons:

Match officials had to stop play in unprecedented circumstances soon after Bangladesh began their chase in the second T20I in Napier, as they were unsure what their actual target was. Play had to stop nine balls into Bangladesh's innings against New Zealand because even then it wasn't clear whether their revised target was 148, 170 or 171.

This surprised me:

"[When we met the match referee] they were still waiting for the printouts and calculations to take place. I think if you are waiting, the game can't start before you get it. What was explained now was that they normally get it one or two balls into the innings, but hadn't received it yet. They were waiting for it. There were delays and all sorts of stuff. No excuses [for the defeat], but this is just very frustrating for us.

Why don't the officials and the playing teams have a simple software program that shows the dynamic par and winning scores as the first innings goes past the ten overs? Why the hell are they "waiting for the printouts and calculations" in an international game?


Weaker, smaller, slower, weaker

The equality BS in Australia:

Cricket Australia has marked International Women's Day by committing to addressing gender imbalances in the game, including the lack of statues of female cricketers around the country.

The governing body said there were 73 statues or sculptures of male cricketers in Australia compared to none of women, but that imbalance would soon be reduced a little with pieces commissioned for the country's two best-known grounds.

Wait, ... there are female cricketers?


What the pitch?

Manic, manic, manic. The speed of the final act of the third Test was, on the one hand, a gross misrepresentation of the extraordinary mayhem that had preceded it.

These are the four completed team scores: 112, 145, 81, 49. If that wasn't surreal enough:

There was Joe Root, England's most likely source of a revival but in his most unlikely guise, claiming the astonishing figures of 5 for 8 in 6.2 overs, the most economical five-for by a spinner in Test history, and the first by an England captain since Bob Willis in 1983.


Miller not enough

We got a glimpse of vintage Pakistan when the opposition imploded from 41/2 to 48/6.

Azam hit a few nice fours but David Miller definitely played the best innings with seven huge sixes. The end was jarring when Andile Phehlukwayo sent down one terrible delivery after another. Pakistan needed 16 from 12. They got 20 off just 4 legal deliveries! South Africa will be looking for payback in a couple of months. It should be very competitive.


Losing the first Test

The Indians are under pressure again. They are facing a team filled with champion batsmen like Root, Stokes, and Buttler. The bowlers will have to turn in exceptional performances for India to win this series. The English players gel well together. They are tougher opponents than the Aussies of today. However, they are not above fear. Root's hesitance to declare on the fourth day means that the rest of the series will be more difficult for India.


A Quick Test

I looked at the 220 all out score and thought, "Weren't the T20s after the Test matches?"

14 wickets on the first day! The Pakistani bowling was excellent. Unfortunately, their batsmen failed as usual. Babar Azam will have a lot of work to do in his second innings.

Update: I was too pessimistic. The top order did fail but the middle rescued the match on Day 2. Fawad Alam showcased his experience and talent once again:

Fawad began to use his feet to the spinners more and more frequently, hitting over the top to push the field back. And in a moment that is only likely to grow both Fawad's legacy and his cult, he would get to his first hundred at his beloved home ground with a dance down the crease to Maharaj, depositing him over cow corner for a six.

What a magnificent bastard!

The South Africans are tired and the Pakistani bowlers are rested and ready to go on Day 3. They'll have to score significantly more than their first innings to have a shot at winning.


India's greatest series?

Ravi Shastri, the coach of the Indian cricket team, speaks:

"This is the toughest tour ever. Playing it in Covid times, [going through] quarantine times and with the multiple injuries, nothing comes close to this," he said. "I got emotional. I am not someone who generally has tears in his eyes, but this is unreal. What these guys have pulled off will go down in history as one of the greatest series ever played. When you look at the Covid situation and state of injuries and then to show the stomach for a fight after being bowled out for 36 is unimaginable."

What makes the win truly shocking:

Shastri was effusive in his praise for Rahane, especially in handling the inexperienced bowling attack. "We were left with no choices," he said of the attack - between them, the bowling group had a combined experience of four Tests, with two of them, Washington Sundar and T Natarajan, debuting.

Sambit Bal provides a few more stunning stats:

Barely 11 fit men to put on the park, with six of their first-choice bowlers, two of whom had made match-defining contributions with the bat, lost to injury (one more would be incapacitated in the first innings of the match) and two middle-order batsmen, in addition to their captain, gone too. The number of wickets taken by the bowlers of the two teams read 1033 to 13, going into the game.

And their captain loses the toss, his third in a row, at a ground where no opposition team has ever mounted a successful chase of over 200. And Australia's bowling attack is one of their best ever.


Stunning recovery

What a difference one month makes:

[...] absolute total failure on the third day. 36 all out! Their lowest total in history. For the first time, in over a hundred years of cricket, nobody reached double figures in a team innings. The Aussie bowlers aren't that good. Even, they're shocked by what happened. Matches between the best two teams in the world don't end in this horrifying manner. [...] Let's see if the team can recover to challenge the ruthless Aussies in the next few weeks.

Oh, they definitely did. India shockingly won the second Test and then fought hard to draw the third. Soon, the final day of the final Test will begin. A month ago, who would have thought that India would have a chance of winning the series? They likely won't as their main concern will be to play it safe and protect their wickets. Not losing three consecutive Test matches against Australia in Australia is victory enough.

The Indians certainly won't mind a few clouds. I would prefer zero rain with two of the best sides fighting it out with all results possible.

Update: The Indians did it! Exactly one month after their lowest total in history, they come back to win the series. Absolutely unbelievable!

Cricinfo: Magnificent India take epic series in last hour of last day of last Test.


Stunning collapse

India scored a small 244 runs in the first innings but their bowlers showed up to get Australia out for 191 runs. India ended the second day at 9/1. Advantage: India! And that too on Aussie soil.

Then, absolute total failure on the third day. 36 all out! Their lowest total in history. For the first time, in over a hundred years of cricket, nobody reached double figures in a team innings. The Aussie bowlers aren't that good. Even, they're shocked by what happened. Matches between the best two teams in the world don't end in this horrifying manner.

Worse, the Indians lost their main run scoring machine -- Kohli flies back home. Let's see if the team can recover to challenge the ruthless Aussies in the next few weeks.


Aussies crumble

I've seen too many matches where defensive captains save their best bowlers for the last ten overs when the other team is flying through the run chase. Win or lose, Morgan made the right call by using his strike bowlers early. A strong unit, a positive captain, and a victory without their most dangerous player. Not bad at all.


"The Greatest 1 of All Time"

2019: The Year of Ben Stokes. Test Edition.

Talent, power, technique, energy, and grit. Even though I know the result, my jaw still dropped at the sheer tenacity of Ben Stokes. The magnificent bastard kept on hitting sixes as the shocked Aussies crumbled under pressure -- that missed run out will haunt poor Lyon forever.


Buttler wins it for England

Jos Buttler shows the same calmness here as he did in his gem of a partnership in the World Cup final last year. He played a few risky but calculated shots and hit an absolutely massive six to finish the Aussies. Twenty years ago, the Aussies would have crushed the English team. Today, they just can't seem to win against their old enemies. To be fair, the Aussies don't have the luxury of several great players in their current team.

Let's see if they fight back with fury in the final match.


One match to rule them all

Cricinfo: If you had to watch one match again, which one would it be?

Answer: The most glorious failure in cricket history. England had reached the final of an ODI World Cup three times before 2019. They could not manage to score more than their opponents in all of those occasions. Leading up to the 2019 World Cup, they built a strong team, fought their way through the tournament, and absolutely crushed Australia in the semis to reach the final.

They failed again! They failed to score more than their opponents for the fourth time! A few words to describe the last thirty minutes of that match: epic, pressure, magnificent, stress, divine intervention, hope, grit, failure, survival, agony, victory, glory, history.


Evaporating talent

An absolutely humiliating defeat:

Having been deflated with a collapse of 6 for 26, Pakistan Under-19 could pose no challenge to the India Under-19 opening pair of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Divyaansh Saxena, who shared an unbeaten stand of 176 to lead the defending champions to a thumping ten-wicket win in the first semi-final of the Under-19 World Cup in Potchefstroom.

What a total slaughter. Pakistan used to be famous for their bowling. Today, their teenagers couldn't even manage a single wicket in 35 overs. So sad.


The Curse of the Kiwis

Seven runs needed off six balls. Seven wickets in hand. Ross Taylor, who has played more T20 matches than the rest of his side combined, on strike. Surely, New Zealand couldn't lose from that kind of position again, right?

Wrong. New Zealand had a complete meltdown in the last over of the innings again! Then, of course, as is tradition, they lost in the Super Over.

The Aussies, usually, crush their opponents when the pressure spikes and the game goes into the last over. The Kiwis, however, are the opposite. They keep managing draws and then losing in the tie-breaker. It certainly makes for spectacular and thrilling matches but it really sucks for the Kiwis.


Payback for Mumbai

After the Mumbai Massacre, India bounce back to win two games in a relatively comfortable manner to win the series. The Indians didn't even get one wicket in the first match. Yet, today, their bowling was so good that none of the Aussies could manage a strike rate in the triple digits.

Poor Smith. He must be thinking, "What more could I have done?" Australia definitely missed the firepower of Maxwell today.

Anyway, I was hoping for, at least, one hard fought thriller. Maybe, next time.


Sublime. Stunning. Stokes.

What I wrote on August 25, 2019:

2019 will be remembered as the Year of Benjamin Andrew Stokes. England won the World Cup last month thanks to the magnificent performance of Ben Stokes. Today, England made their highest fourth-innings run chase in history to win thanks to Ben Stokes.

The entire England cricket team was out for 67 runs in the first innings. Stokes hit 135 runs in the fourth. The talent and audacity of this man was absolutely jaw-dropping as he smashed 19 runs off Hazlewood's last over. Who the hell hits 8 sixes in the fourth innings of a Test match!?!

Well, that was an easy call:

England allrounder Ben Stokes has won the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC player of the year after playing starring roles in the side's maiden 50-over World Cup triumph and one-wicket win in the Leeds Test during the Ashes in 2019.


A decade for batsmen

Virat Kohli, the Indian run-scoring machine, is the cricketer of the decade.

[...] averaging over 50 in Test cricket, and in all, comfortably finished as the decade's leading international run-getter. True to form (and statistics), he was a near-unanimous pick by our staffers for ESPNcricinfo's men's cricketer of the 2010s, with Smith a not-so-close second. de Villiers finished in third position.

Exactly zero bowlers were contenders for the top three spots. It says a lot about the lack of venom in that department over the past ten years.


No draw this time

For only the second time in history, all the top four batsmen scored centuries in one innings of a Test match. To be fair, the Sri Lankans don't really have a quality strike bowler who could trouble the Pakistanis.

If there was any doubt that Babar Azam is one of the most valuable batsmen today:

42.67 - Babar's career average. It is the first time his average has gone above 40 since his third Test in 2016. At the end of 2017, Babar averaged 23.75 after 11 Tests. In the last two years, he has upped his game significantly, scoring 1232 runs - 616 each in 2018 and 2019 - at an average of 61.60. That average is the highest among the 14 batsmen who have scored 1000-plus Test runs in the last two years.

Wow. I definitely expected some improvement in Tests but not by that much!


An improving middle order

38 minutes in the video, Babar Azam played the shot of the day. A few weeks ago, he had one century from 21 Test matches. Since then, he has scored two from three -- one against the ruthless Aussies and one against the hapless Sri Lankans.

However, the day belonged to Abid Ali who now has a unique record.

Having made his first-class debut among many who grew up at a time when international cricket was absent from the country, Abid made his maiden Test appearance at the age of 31. And he made the most of it by scoring a century, becoming the only player in history to reach three figures in his first Test and ODI.


Muddled Misbah

Misbah, what are you doing?

If the Misbah project doesn't work out, many will look to this moment and conclude he was doomed to fail from the moment he made this bizarre call. In the first series as chief selector, at home against Sri Lanka, he called up Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, a pair of batsmen frozen out under Mickey Arthur, for the T20I leg. It appeared an utterly needless risk; a radically different approach to Arthur was perhaps least necessary in the T20 format, where Pakistan had won 30 of 37 T20Is under him.

One of the men who was dropped was Haris Sohail. He had performed well in the World Cup. He deserved a place in the team. Instead, he was replaced by the mercurial Umar Akmal who managed a grand total of ZERO! runs in two innings. Can't believe that he's related to Babar Azam.

Anyway, that was definitely the most confusing decision by Misbah. Or perhaps the most bizarre choice was dropping Yasir Shah for the home test against Sri Lanka!?


David Warner 335*

It's hard to believe that Warner scored a combined 95 runs in ten innings against England just a few months ago. He averaged 9.5, then. Now, in just two innings, he has scored 489 runs! Average? 489.

It was a stunning display of power and concentration over two days.

In over a hundred years of cricket, only one Australian has ever scored more runs than what Warner unleashed against Pakistan. The only positive for Pakistan is that there are no further matches in this series. Their annihilation will be complete in a couple of days.


The Amazing Azam

157 not out is not too shabby.

Pakistan's sublimely talented Babar Azam belied an infamously poor 50s to 100s conversion rate by gliding to a masterful century against Australia A in a high quality tour contest under lights at Perth Stadium.

Let's see if Azam can manage a big century or two in the series. Ultimately, the core batting trio -- Azam, Azhar, and Shafiq -- will have to score big for Pakistan to beat Australia.


India's MVP

Virat Kohli goes for the jugular and declares before the end of the second day and the tired South Africans lose three quick wickets. Kohli, likely, sacrificed his triple-century. That was sensible given the fact that the Indians had already made a mountain of runs. He has now put himself in some exceptional company:

7 - Double-centuries for Kohli in Tests, the most among Indian batsmen. He has gone past Tendulkar and Sehwag who had six double-centuries each. Now only Don Bradman (12), Sangakkara (11) and Brian Lara (9) have more double-hundreds. Hammond and Mahela Jayawardene also made seven.

Kohli will turn 31 next month. He has the time and the talent to break the double-century record of The Don.


Marching towards greatness

Were he to retire today, he'd finish with more ODI hundreds than any Pakistani bar Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yousuf. No Pakistan batsman in history boasts a superior ODI average, while only Amla scored 3000 ODI runs in fewer innings. The numbers suggest he is on track to perhaps becoming the greatest Pakistani ODI batsman, and while this may be an era friendlier to run-scoring than the ones his counterparts played in, Pakistan can ill-afford to talk down a prospect that bright.

Babar Azam is the best batsman Pakistan has produced in this decade. He has that one rare quality that all greats possess: he makes batting look so easy! His performance in the World Cup was excellent. Though, sometimes, he did get flustered. For instance, he tried to force the scoring rate by taking unnecessary risks: attempted a six and missed, and then immediately attempted another and got caught.

Anyway, as the article mentions, he'll likely captain Pakistan in the next World Cup. Let's see if his sharp batting mind translates to shrewd leadership.


So many wrongs

Cricinfo: What has gone wrong for Pakistan cricket this century? A story in 16 graphs.

One very interesting point about the poor quality of batsmen:

[...] a player performs really well in the domestic game, takes that form into ODI cricket, where it carries him for a while before his technical deficiencies are highlighted by opposition think tanks; he then gets dropped, returns to the domestic game, and continues to score there without ever needing to change what made him fail at the highest level.

I instantly thought of Babar Azam. His value to the team is absolutely immense. The management and other players should be asking him about his unusual success at the international level. Even then, they can copy his hard work but the talent can't be duplicated.

The writer couldn't ignore him either:

Considering that Babar Azam is the only player who made his debut this decade who has actually become an elite middle-order player, the summary quite simply is that Pakistan's team managements have failed emphatically.


The Ashes are Alive!

2019 will be remembered as the Year of Benjamin Andrew Stokes. England won the World Cup last month thanks to the magnificent performance of Ben Stokes. Today, England made their highest fourth-innings run chase in history to win thanks to Ben Stokes.

The entire England cricket team was out for 67 runs in the first innings. Stokes hit 135 runs in the fourth. The talent and audacity of this man was absolutely jaw-dropping as he smashed 19 runs off Hazlewood's last over. Who the hell hits 8 sixes in the fourth innings of a Test match!?!

When Lyon fumbled that run out, it must have really hurt the Aussies. That was their clear chance to win ... by 1 run! Instead, Leach got the most applause anyone has ever gotten for scoring only 1 run when he got Stokes on strike in the very next over. Of course, Stokes finished it with a safe boundary.

Whatever England is paying Ben Stokes is not enough.

Lots of incredible stats from the game like this one:

67 - England's first-innings total. There are only three instances of teams scoring fewer runs in an innings, in a Test match they ended up winning, and they were all in the 1880s.

In other words, nobody alive today has witnessed such a stunning cricket match before.


Clown World Down Under

The world keeps getting crazier by the day:

New guidelines released on Thursday mean transgender cricketers will be allowed to play community or grassroots cricket only by “demonstrating commitment to their gender identity”. There is no requirement for players to have undergone treatment or transition surgery, while clubs are banned from requesting a player undergo a medical examination for the purpose of gender verification.

In an exclusive interview with Macquarie Sport Radio‘s Cam Reddin, Blackwell urged women and girls who did not feel comfortable playing or changing alongside trans players to play something else.

What, exactly, is the point of women's sports then?

These are simple truths: men are faster, bigger, stronger, and faster than women. However, when you have shit for brains, then these are the words that come out of your mouth:

Blackwell rejected suggestions some female players may feel disadvantaged under these rules.

“Whenever a policy like this is put to the broader community – it is the broader community that has the problem, not the participants,” Blackwell said.

Of course! The issue isn't asshole men who want to compete against women and then disrobe in their locker rooms. No! The problem is all these horrible women who don't want to get their skull fractured by a bouncer and then have to deal with a creep with his balls hanging out.

Meme of the day:


The poor wicketkeepers

We just had one of the craziest Test matches in history.

4 Number of times a team has won a Test after making a first-innings score less than England's 85 in this Test. All the four instances occurred more than 100 years ago.

For the first time, both wicketkeepers got out for zero twice

Bairstow: 0 off 6 balls and 0 off 6 balls. Those are some mighty elegant ducks! That must be one rude deflation in spirits after winning the World Cup.

Again, quite a stunning match:

England have completed one of the great comeback victories in Test history after bowling out Ireland for 38 in the fourth innings at Lord's.

Not since 1907, when England defeated South Africa in Leeds despite having made just 76 in their first innings, has a side won a Test having made such a low first-innings score. But despite England being bowled out for 85 before lunch on the first day, a devastating spell of new ball bowling from Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad saw Ireland bowled out in just 15.4 overs to leave England the victors by 143 runs. It is the fifth lowest first-innings total in history to have resulted in a win and the first Test since 1887 in which two sides have each been bowled out in a single session.

The Ashes should be very competitive.


The Hall welcomes the Master

The Indian cricketer is inducted in to the Hall of Fame:

Former India captain Sachin Tendulkar, former South Africa fast bowler Allan Donald and former Australia Women's fast bowler Cathryn Fitzpatrick have become the newest additions to the ICC Hall of Fame. The trio were inducted in a ceremony in London on Thursday.

I watched tons of Tendulkar on TV in the 90s. It was always a pleasure to watch his shots race to the boundary with not a single fielder in the frame. His timing and placement was so precise, that the opposition had zero chance of stopping the ball. He made it look so easy.

Tendulkar's victorious battles against Warne and Akhtar make him the greatest of his generation. For me, only Brian Lara and Saeed Anwar came close in elegance and pure entertainment value.


The Divine Deflection

My father had setup the receiver for new TV channels. He wanted to watch the Cricket World Cup as it happened. The New Zealand team had done well but they stumbled at the end. England had earned a spot in the final match but they were set to chase a tricky total. They fought hard for glory but wickets kept falling at regular intervals.

At the end, England lost. Pakistan won. That was the first live ODI cricket match I had ever watched. My dad provided his colorful commentary and cheers. I was familiar with veterans like Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. He talked of a new, chubby kid who had dismantled the undefeated Kiwis in the two prior games; some guy named Inzamam-ul-Haq. Of course, there was also the greatest bowler Pakistan had ever produced -- the Man of the Match of the 1992 Cricket World Cup final: Wasim Akram.

That was the third World Cup final for England and their third defeat. They had been set imposing totals to chase on each occasion and they failed every time. The country that invented the game still hadn't won the ultimate trophy. After the loss in 1992, England waited 27 agonizing years for another appearance in a World Cup final.

****

England crushed Australia, the defending World Champions, in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup. New Zealand punched above their weight and beat the mighty Indians to make it to their second successive finals appearance.

After 44 long years of failures, this new, powerful, energetic England side had the chance to become champions. They had beaten New Zealand before in the same tournament. Surely, it won't be so difficult this time. It should be a simple, straightforward, and a sensible victory for England as they are ranked number one in the game. Right?

The Kiwis won the toss and, of course, decided to bat. The weight of history was against England. Chasing sides often lost in this tournament and England had lost all their previous finals while chasing. The pressure built up right from the start. Pakistan scored 249 in 1992. The Kiwis managed 241 this time; a very tricky and competitive total. Nothing exciting or fancy so far.

Then, England started the chase. Matt Henry was getting excellent movement and Jason Roy edged and got out for a slim 17 runs. England 28/1.

After a few quiet overs, the best batsmen in the English side couldn't handle the mounting pressure. His body language clearly signaled his increasing frustration as he shockingly tried to charge and hit the ball but missed! He again attempted a strike but, like Roy, edged and got out for a painful 30-ball 7. England 59/2.

Bairstow was playing quite well. He tried to hit a four but chopped the ball back on to his stumps. England 71/3.

Morgan, the captain of the side, couldn't control his shot selection and hit the ball in the air, only to shout a NO! as the ball flew to Ferguson who took an extraordinary catch. England 86/4.

New Zealand had the momentum. Their fans were making a lot of noise. They needed only two more wickets and England would fall for the fourth time at the biggest stage of cricket!

The sixth man to walk out and bat for England was Jos Buttler who played the most significant and stunning innings of his life. He had made 59 runs off 59 deliveries before he got out to another spectacular catch. The game was truly alive. Either team could win at that point. England 196/5.

Only one man stood between New Zealand and their first World Cup triumph. Ben Stokes had been batting for nearly 22 overs. He had five overs to get 46 runs. It was all on him. He was fatigued. He looked shaken. The pressure on this man was unimaginable.

The Kiwis had choked the second-best team in the world a few days before. Now, they were utilizing their bowling talent to squeeze the top side in the world. "What a thrilling match! This game is going to the very last delivery," I thought and I was super right.

Over 46.1: Woakes hits the ball high in the air and the wicket keeper calmly collects it. England 203/6.

Over 48.3: Plunkett wants to hit a much needed six down the ground. Instead, it finds a fielder. England 220/7.

Over 48.6: Jofra swings the bat and the wickets are rattled. He leaked wides with his bowling and then: a golden duck. England 227/8.

England needed 15 runs off 6 balls for victory in the World Cup final. Few batsmen in history have felt the absolute maximum pressure. Ben Stokes had reached that level.

Over 49.1: Dot ball.

Over 49.2: Another dot ball. 15 from 4 balls. Advantage: NZ.

Over 49.3: Stokes gets down on one knee and smites the ball into the spectators. 9 from 3.

Over 49.4: The drama hits the stratosphere. The jaw-dropping moment of this final had arrived. The teams will swap the emotions of hope and despair. Stokes is running for his life to get back for two. He extends his bat and dives to make the crease, the fielder throws the ball which hits the bat and then runs away, and away, and away to the boundary. God must have looked down and said: Not today, Kiwis! No one who watched this match will ever forget The Divine Deflection.

The stadium erupts. England need 3 runs from two balls.

Over 49.5: Stokes isn't hitting any more sixes. He wants to run and reach 242. He gets one run while the other guy is run out. England 240/9.

Over 49.6: Stokes, again, wants two runs but the other guy has no chance. Run out! England 241 all out.

England needed 242 runs to win. They managed 241. This most epic of epic failures makes this the greatest World Cup final in history. After 100 overs of the most intense and thrilling cricket, we witness a tie!

We got Super Overs at the grand stage. Each team scored 15 runs each in their over. It's another tie! England hit more boundaries. The trophy comes home! England fought till the very end and with unbelievable luck won their first World Cup. Ben Stokes is the man. Williamson, the New Zealand captain, earns the Man of the Tournament award for his exceptional batting and captaincy. The Kiwis didn't let the opposition score more runs in the final but then they went home without the ultimate prize. It was just not their day.

The historical context, drama, pressure, intensity, emotion, the double ties, and that deflection makes this the greatest ODI match of all times.


Final: England vs. New Zealand

2019 Cricket World Cup Final: the country that invented the game, the country that I thought deserved most to win, won in the end. England lift their first World Cup.

New Zealand scored 241/8. Just like their semi-final against India, they'll need another spectacular bowling performance to win this match.

This is England's fourth World Cup final. They have built the strongest team in the world over the past few years. Today, they need to make 242 runs under pressure to finally lift the ultimate trophy. England has defeated New Zealand in this tournament before. Now, just once more.

The pressure gets to Root who goes for an ugly 30-ball 7. The Kiwis are playing very well. England needs to play sensibly and not take risks.

Bairstow edges it onto stumps. England needs a partnership. 71/3.

Spectacular catch by Ferguson. Morgan out. England unraveling at 86/4.

Finally! England build a fighting partnership. Stokes and Buttler are keeping England alive. Buttler's strike rate is very impressive given the context.

Jos Buttler stands and delivers for England. A magnificent half-century. 50 for Buttler, 50 for Stokes, and a 100+ partnership, all in the same over.

Buttler out for 59. The World Cup final is going for a thrilling finish.

The most thrilling 100th over of cricket in World Cup Finals history! After three bloody Final losses, the most powerful England side of the generation gets a fucking tie!

Now, comes the Super Over nonsense to decide the champion. Sigh. If you thought the pressure and drama couldn't possibly increase.

15 runs in the Super Over and then ... 15 runs in the Super Over! The Kiwis have fewer boundaries. Therefore, England wins the most thrilling World Cup final of all times.

New Zealand was ranked fourth in the tournament when the semi-finals started. They defeated the mighty Indians in the game before and today they tied TWICE! against England. However, their weak batting efforts got them in the end. The low number of boundaries became the deciding factor. They definitely punched above their weight and fought hard. There is no shame in making two World Cup finals in a row. Spare a thought for Kane Williamson. He scored close to 600 runs and took his team to the finals only to tie, tie, and lose. Williamson is the Player of the Tournament.


Good for Cricket

This four-day-old article aged really well: An Australia-India final is likely and that's not good for the game.

(Laughs.)

The disappointing aspect of the 2019 World Cup is the predictability of the final four. Australia, India and England were always favoured, and solid New Zealand were most likely to be the other semi-finalist. That's exactly the way it has turned out after more than a month of scrapping.

A few paragraphs later:

The redeeming feature of this World Cup is that the best four teams of the tournament reached the knockout stage. However, the most likely outcome is an India versus Australia final. That is a fairly predictable outcome for a tournament desperately in need of a jolt - another India 1983, Pakistan 1992 or Sri Lanka 1996. And it needs that jolt pretty soon.

Ian Chappell is using the words "disappointing" and "redeeming" to describe the exact same cricket tournament!? Anyway, he should be very happy now that we definitely don't have an Australia vs. India final.


Australia vs. England

Cricket World Cup Semi-final: England crush Australia by 8 wickets with nearly 18 overs remaining! England and New Zealand have never won the World Cup. So, we'll have a brand new World Champion on Sunday.

Another semi-final, another catastrophic top-order failure! Australia reduced to 14/3 in under seven overs. The Aussies, the defending champions, are in danger of losing their first ever World Cup semi-final! Again, we'll need a spectacular bowling performance by the batting-first team to win this match.

England has been the strongest team for the past two years. The last time they made it to the finals was in 1992. They definitely have the firepower and the hunger to go all the way.

Aussies 166/7. If they can't crack 200 runs, then it'll be a T20 chase for England in an ODI match. Can't imagine the pressure on Smith.

That Smith run out was sick! The ball went between his legs to hit the stumps! Doesn't look like Australia's day. They're all out for 223 runs in 49 overs. England chased down scores of 340+ multiple times in May this year. Now, they have a smaller target but with infinite pressure. Again, just like India yesterday, this is England's game to lose now.

Wow. Roy smashes a six off Starc! England means business. 31/0 off only six overs. A safe and sufficient run rate of 5 from England. 40/0 off eight overs. Seven boundaries so far. Excellent start. Roy is playing very aggressively. No need for that reverse sweep. That six was enough damage for the over.

Starc comes back to bowl and gets taken apart! 15 runs off one over. England 95/0 after 15 overs. Only an epic meltdown of the England batting is going to save Australia.

Finch is out of ideas. He brings on Smith to bowl and HOLY SHIT! Three consecutive sixes! Roy is razing Australia!

124/1. The injured Bairstow is LBW. England need exactly 100 runs. The openers have given them a dream start. Oh! Roy robbed of his hundred. Given caught behind when the ball never touched the bat. Very poor decision by the umpire.

The last time England beat Australia in a World Cup match was in 1992. The last time Australia lost a World Cup semi-final was ... never. This new and powerful England team storms into the 2019 World Cup final by absolutely crushing the defending World Champions. Just one more win next Sunday! I have wanted them to lift the trophy from the start. They have definitely earned the right after years and years of toil, hard work, and heartache.


India vs. New Zealand

Cricket World Cup Semi-final: New Zealand managed only 239 runs in their 50 overs. 158 dot balls! One has to feel for Williamson. That man dragged New Zealand kicking and screaming all the way to the semi-final match but the other batsmen around him simply haven't put up enough runs. Now, they need to unleash the best bowling performance of the tournament to win this match. India has a simple task. Don't lose wickets and score a boundary once an over. With veterans like Sharma, Kohli, and Dhoni, this is now India's game to lose.

Well, with that said, Sharma is out for a 4-ball one!

Kohli also gone for one! Wow. Over one billion people shocked!

That's the only way the Kiwis can win: get India out. And they've started spectacularly.

Holy shit! Rahul gone for ... one!

India 5/3 after 4 overs in a World Cup semi-final. Wow.

Old Man Dhoni walks out with India crumbling at 71/5 with 23 overs gone.

62 runs from 36 balls. Dhoni still there and Jadeja has played the best innings by a number 8 in a World Cup semi-final.

100-run partnership. One billion people have hope!

Dhoni run out! What a magnificent throw from Guptill! What a match!

The game goes to the final over but the Indian fans are dejected. It would have been an epic comeback from 5/3 if India had won.

What a two-day semi-final! New Zealand fought hard to take down the number one team of this tournament. They will go to their second World Cup final in a row.

Tomorrow: Australia vs. England. Australia has never lost a World Cup semi-final! Let's see if England can create history.