How Stokes secretly prepared for that sensational super over
England’s World Cup glory revisited,
The dressing room was in chaos. The umpire was explaining the rules, Roy had lost his box and Archer was having an injection
‘I still can’t quite believe we have got over the line. It was almost superhuman from Stokes’
Lord’s is a cacophony of noise. Music is blaring out of the public address system and the atmosphere is raw as the World Cup final comes down to a super over. Twelve balls will settle a seven-week tournament and decide the legacy of this England team.
Finding a quiet spot as the frenzy of the super over approached was hard in a ground packed with 27,000 supporters and television cameras following the players from the middle, through the Long Room and up the stairs to the dressing room. But Ben Stokes had played at Lord’s many times. He knows every nook and cranny. As Eoin Morgan tries to bring calm to the England dressing room and sort out their tactics, Stokes nips off for a moment of peace.
He is covered in dirt and sweat. He has batted for 2hr 27min of unbelievable tension. What does Stokes do? He goes to the back of the England dressing room, past the attendant’s little office and into the showers. There he lights up a cigarette and has a few minutes on his own.
If the DJ at the ground had known, he would surely have played Bach’s Air on the G
String, for the music from the Hamlet advert would have been the perfect backdrop as Stokes tried to make peace with the task ahead of him.
The dressing room was in chaos. Umpire Aleem Dar was explaining the rules of the super over, Jason Roy had lost his box and had to borrow one from Mark Wood, and Jofra Archer was having an injection in his side.
The rules of the super over are that the team who batted second in the match go first but that the bowling side have the choice of ends. Trent Boult surprisingly chose to bowl from the Nursery End rather than use the slope from the Pavilion End.
It meant a rethink for Morgan. Originally, Roy was padded up to go in next. But after two balls Morgan decided they needed a lefthander because they would be hitting to the shorter boundary on the leg side under the Mound Stand. Despite his poor form, Morgan volunteered himself. He would go in if England lost a wicket.
Jos Buttler and Stokes met again on the stairs going out to start the super over. Friends for years, they had batted together many times but never under this pressure. Stokes had never been involved in a super over and afterwards said: “It’s not one of the things I ever want to be involved in again, just because of the stress.”
Buttler drew on his Indian Premier League experience. “I was chosen but I had my hand up as well. I was ready to go. There were 10 seconds of: ‘Oh my God, the game is still going on.’ It was surreal.”
It was no surprise New Zealand turned to Boult. He was the most experienced bowler on either side.
It is 7.07pm. The World Cup final started 8 hr 37 min ago. It feels like a lifetime with all the twists and turns of a five-match Ashes series packed into one day. Nobody has left the ground. Usually there is a reserved, low hum at Lord’s. Now it is as partisan as Edgbaston’s Hollies Stand on Test match fancy-dress day.
Sky flashes up bullet points on the super over. One says in the event of a tie, the team who have hit the most boundaries during the match win. England are ahead 24-16. But a super over never ends in a tie, does it?
England are batting first, just how they like it. A score with double figures is the bare minimum.
Ball one: Boult aims for off stump, full length but not quite a yorker. Stokes clears his front leg and tries to whack it through the off side to the Grandstand boundary. The connection is not clean. They run three. England 3-0.
Ball two: Buttler is on strike. Boult goes for his stock ball, the leg-stump yorker. Buttler heaves it to the leg side, one bounce straight to the fielder at deep midwicket. England scramble one. England 4-0.
Ball three: Boult again bowls full, aiming at Stokes’s off stump. Stokes goes down on one knee, sweeps and hits it hard to the short boundary on the leg side. “Has he found the gap? Yes he has,” says Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special. England 8-0.
Ball four: Boult goes for a wide yorker, gets it wrong and produces a waist-high full toss. Stokes has to reach for it. It is a gimme. Stokes is tired and slaps it straight to the cover fielder. England run one. England 9-0.
Ball five: Right in the block hole on off stump. Buttler chips it into the off side. The low evening sun makes fielding hard and Henry Nicholls struggles to pick up the ball in the light. His hesitation allows Buttler and Stokes to run two. England 11-0.
Ball six: Buttler on strike, the 360-degree hitter. Captain Kane Williamson knows the danger. He is worried about Buttler’s ramp shot. He brings midwicket into the circle so he can move third man onto the rope to cover the ramp. Boult goes for a leg-stump yorker, it is off slightly. A full toss. Buttler hits it cleanly to midwicket. Two bounces and it is four. England 15-0.
So New Zealand needed 16 to win. While England were batting, Archer had been bowling to Chris Silverwood, the bowling coach, in front of the pavilion. There was no mystery over who Morgan had chosen to defend their target.
New Zealand chose Jimmy Neesham to bat. Not a surprise given his hitting. But who to bat with him? They gambled on Martin Guptill, a player bereft of confidence for the biggest over in New Zealand’s cricketing history. Why? Because he is the quickest runner in the team. Archer looked cool and composed. As he stood at his mark, Stokes walked over from mid-on with some advice that Archer will remember forever. “Stokesy told me, even before the over: ‘Win or lose, today does not define you.’ ”
Stokes, of course, had been hit for four sixes in the last over of the 2016 World Twenty20 final, something that had fascinated Archer when they played together in the IPL. “I knew that even if we did lose, it was not the end of the world,”
Archer said. Despite the outward look of calm, Archer had actually started to mark out his run up at the Pavilion End until the umpires told him he had to bowl from the same end as Boult.
Ball one: Archer goes for the wide off-side yorker, the hardest ball to hit. But it is a gamble. The umpires have two blue lines to help them judge if it is a wide. This one is so close to being perfect, but it is a centimetre or so the wrong side of the line. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena shouts wide. New Zealand 1-0.
Ball one (2nd attempt): Archer goes tighter to off stump. Another yorker. Neesham digs it out and times it perfectly, for it goes slowly along the ground to James Vince at long off and they take two. New Zealand 3-0.
Ball two: Poor ball. Archer’s length is wrong. It is right in the slot. Neesham times it beautifully and the ball flies 50 rows back into the Tavern Stand for six. New Zealand 9-0.
Ball three: Seven runs are needed from four balls. It is another ball in the slot but slightly fuller. Neesham is on the back foot because he is expecting the short ball. He swings hard into the leg side but connects with a bottom edge. Roy snatches at the ball, allowing Neesham to get back for the second. New Zealand 11-0.
Ball four: Five needed from three. Archer goes full again. This time it is the right length. Neesham can only dig it out and hits it straight to Roy at deep midwicket. He picks up cleanly this time. New Zealand gamble on the second. Roy throws to the wrong end, the bowler’s end, where Guptill was always going to make his ground. New Zealand 13-0.
Ball five: Three needed from two balls. In years to come it will be the final ball of the super over that will be talked about by England supporters as they reminisce on an incredible day. But it was this penultimate delivery that was so important. Archer knew Neesham was picking the yorkers so he gambled by changing his length. It was the difference between winning and losing the World Cup. Archer bowls back of a length wide of off stump. Neesham swings hard trying to pull it to the leg side. It hits the bottom edge and trickles back to Archer. Neesham goes for the single. With ball in hand, Archer could run him out. Agnew speaks for a nation as he screams at Archer: “Don’t throw it, don’t throw it …” Overthrows would have been the end. Now Guptill was on strike for the first time in the over. New Zealand: 14-0.
Ball six: Two needed from one. England know a tie is good enough. Over to Agnew: “It has come to this. Here is the last ball of the World Cup final.”
Archer goes full on leg stump. Guptill tries to place it and take the pace off, giving him and Neesham as much time as possible to run two. They make one. Roy advances off the midwicket boundary. No fumbles this time. No throw to the wrong end either. Roy’s throw is about two metres to Buttler’s right. He has to move across the stumps to gather it in his right hand. He switches it to his left and dives at the stumps. They light up. Guptill dives but he is short and knows it. New Zealand 15-1. A tie, England had won on boundaries hit in the match.
Ian Smith captures the moment vividly. “England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins. By the barest of all margins. Absolute ecstasy for England. Agony, agony for New Zealand.” Nine seconds of silence later, Smith says just one word: “Wow.”
Buttler rips off his right glove, then his left, as he runs towards the pavilion chased by his team-mates. Jonny Bairstow sprints in from the boundary to punch the air two-fisted at his mum Janet and sister Becky, who are sitting in the Tavern Stand. “Dad and Grandad were there with me in spirit also,” he said.
Archer is on the ground punching and kicking the turf like a toddler having a tantrum. Bairstow leaps in Joe Root’s arms. The two have played together since the age of 13. Root shouts: “World Cup, World Cup.”
Morgan gathers himself to speak into a microphone. “I still can’t quite believe that we have got over the line,” he said. “It has been an extraordinary day. It was almost superhuman from Stokes. He has carried the team.”
The four-year project worked. England were world champions on a gloriously sunny evening at Lord’s. This was the 193rd time Lord’s had hosted an England match. Cricket had never seen a game like this.
Moment of glory: Jos Buttler runs out Martin Guptill (above) to complete a victory inspired by key players Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer (right)
Champions: England players start the celebrations on the ground at Lord’s (above) which continue in the dressing room (left) after a World Cup triumph which had been four years in the making