“The bowler approached the wicket at a lope, a trot, and then a run. He suddenly exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, out of which flew a ball.”
― Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything
You never know how the Gods of sports will let you reach a victory. They usually have fun in mixing things up, scaring the winners and deluding the losers, giving the strong a hard time and letting the weak give fire to the Greek ships, as in the Iliad, and then lose.
Cricket is often regarded as a “strange” game. Outside of the countries where the fans avidly love it, the former Commonwealth ones like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies (the Caribbean islands), and a few other, people struggle to understand it. Maybe they do not dedicate enough time to an intriguing game, even trivial in its basic events, but with a twisted way to count points, which often makes the people wonder who is winning.
The most important item of cricket is the wicket. The wicket is made of three vertical sticks planted in the ground and of two horizontal on the top of them. There are two wickets, one in front of the other, and two hitters stand near them, with a bat in their hand, a mask on the face and big protections on the body, especially on the legs.
The hitter must defend the wicket from the pitcher, or bowler, who throws balls about the size of a tennis one, after a long run. The bowler throws the ball to the ground, often giving spins that make it rebound in an unpredictable way, thus making it difficult for the hitter to get the ball, with the long stick he holds.
If the bowler hits the wicket, he eliminates the hitter. If the batter hits and the ball goes far away enough to let him run to the other wicket, is one point. If the ball goes out after touching the ground makes four points, or four-run. If it goes out without touching the ground, it is 6 point, or six-run.
The bowler’s teammates stand around the wicket area. If the hitter hits, they try to recover the ball and throw it back to the wicket area. If it gets there before the hitter gets to the other side, he’s eliminated.
The bowler throws a over, 6 consecutive pitches, and a game lasts 20 overs per team.
The 20 overs formula, the so called 20-20, is just the last, and maybe final, form the game has taken traditionally, the international games, the so-called test matches, last 5 days (!). The duration depends on how many players each team has eliminated. A very complicated procedure, to which the 20-20 put an end, simplifying and quickening the game.
You love cricket, or you don’t. The essence of the game is a mind exercise, a calculation of how many runs a team scores and how many runs you need to score to reach the others. It’s interesting to see how such an English game translated from the lawns of the English clubs, to the narrows streets of Brisbane in India, or Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, of Lahore in Pakistan, or in Sri Lanka, in Australia, providing a common sports language to all the countries once under the English domination.
As all English things, though, once invented, the others become better at doing them. Therefore, India, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Australia, became the powerhouses of the game, interpreting it and developing it as the depositaries of its philosophy could not do.
England still fights and often wins. As it was the case in the WCC (World Cup of Cricket) 2016 held in India, in front of overwhelmed stadiums of the Indian Cricket League (a 4,13 billion (yes, billion), dollars business, as estimated by the American company Brand Finance). The teams played in two groups, and the final took place in Kolkata on April 3 2016, between England and West Indies.
In the old colonial language, the West Indies are a group of Islands in the Caribbean, comprising Antilles. A paradise, in which young kids play cricket in the streets, making wickets from boughs. The kids grow up instinctive players; their hands stretch and get strong as they play protection-less, expressing a happiness in their gesture, a mix of strength and coordination, that makes them world class players.
The West Indies, had a hard time getting to the 2016 World Cup. A quarrel between the players and the West Indies Cricket board about players compensation, threatened their participation. The captain, Darren Sammy, negotiated with the board, and although the final conditions did not seem to satisfy all the parts, as usual actually, the West Indies players showed up at their best.
In the initial round, they beat England, Sri Lanka and South Africa, losing only against Afghanistan, when they already held the first place.
India opposed a strong resistance in the semifinal, hitting strongly and reaching the end of its twenty overs with 192 runs. But the West Indies batters did wonders in their 20 overs, reaching the final with two balls to spare.
On the other side, England lost against West Indies and won against South Africa, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, beating New Zealand in the Semifinal.
The final took place in Kolkata in front of almost 67.000 people, fans who had absorbed the delusion of India’s loss against the West Indies. The West Indies were heavily favorite, but England played good defense and had good bowlers to create problems to WI’s hitters.
The second pitch of the game, Badree from the West Indies threw a poisonous ball to Roy. It touched ground just in front of Roy’s knee, who missed it. The ball found its way to the wicket. In the general surprise, England had lost the first batter.
This seemed to seal the West Indies’ status of favorite. But “resilience” is an English word. And resilient the English were, carving up points from the dirt, holding up to one run here, one run there, and scoring some sixes that helped them get more points.
The gods of sports don’t like when somebody cheers too early. They punish arrogance; they humiliate somebody who does not wait to see what happens. Were the West Indies arrogant? No, certainly, but something in their head told them they had won. The certainty of victory is a poison. It injects itself in the muscles like lactic acid and makes your movements a bit slower, makes you think you can let some balls slip away, that you will be able to come up, anyway.
England got to 156 runs, a number that seemed impossible after the first overs..
At the first over of the West Indies batting, Charles was eliminated because he hit the ball too high and it just did not make it to the outside. At the second over, Gayle did the same and the West Indies found themselves down, unable to hit, struck by early eliminations. Hurry chased the West Indies. They wanted to come back quick, and this made them hit when they should not have done it.
They had to wait for Samuels to get to the field to get some points. Samuels, a tall, thin player who seemed to have not expression, came to the wicket showing tranquility, and hit slowly, amassing runs that helped the West Indies to keep their hopes alive. Samuels suffered a 2-year ban in 2008 for passing information to a bookmaker, then came back and feuded with Shane Warne, Australia’s legendary bowler, for his supposedly unfair behavior, Warne said.
Samuels is a quiet man. Having passed a lot of issues in his career, he learnt to keep going on. Nobody could be better to lift the West Indie’s hopes than him.
The turning point came in the 11th inning, when Stokes threw to Bravo, who hit the ball in the direction of Billings. It was an easy catch, something he’d have done thousands of times. Anyway, THAT time, the ball took a strange spin and Billings couldn’t keep it, letting it go to the ground and losing the chance to eliminate Bravo.
That was a sign.
England kept bowling well, the West Indies tried their best to keep their hopes alive until the last over, England leading by 19 runs and Carlos Braithwaite of the West Indies facing Stokes of England.
You must not see those two men as athletes. In that moment, they were simply the tools of fate, which looked at the gods of sports lifting one eyelid and telling them that, though they liked the weaker, the English, the fate is one, and could not be changed.
So, Stokes threw the first bowl of the last over. The ball landed in front of Braithwaite, it seemed a good bowl, but Braithwaite hit perfectly and sent it to the stands on his left. 13 runs of advantage for England.
Stokes walked back to restart his run. The second ball he tried something slightly different, but Braithwaite still hit perfectly, letting the ball go to the stands in front of him.
The English side began to feel nervous. They lead by 7 with a hitter full of confidence in front of them.
The third one went on the right in front of Braithwaite, hitting his third consecutive 6, and making it a one point game.
Who can say how Stokes felt in that moment? Braithwaite’s confidence, after bad hitting brought the West Indies on the edge of defeat, was at its peak. Stokes walked keeping his eyes down, a few bowls from the end, just one point ahead.
In that moment, anybody would ask the gods a bit of relief. Let him throw a good one, let him face the destiny afterwards.
But, when fate comes in, there is no relief, it shows itself all in one.
And this came in that pitch. Stokes threw well, but Braithwaite could hit a fly on the wall. The ball went on the left, while the West Indies’ bench exploded and invaded the field.
Stokes shook his head in despair. The English did not understand how victory could slip from their hands. The West Indies did not believe they could make it.
This is how it happened. In the end, all went as foreseen, but the path to the obvious took some deviation and the result was unclear until the end.
England played a great match. The West Indies had to fight to come back.
All came down to those four bowls, though it began much earlier: at the first English elimination, at a wicket left somewhere in the game, some error, some illusion, some delusion. Samuels hitting with modesty, seriously, coming back into the game showing the spirit it took.
But Stokes shouldn’t feel too bad. It’s pretty sure that, whoever bowled, the result would have been the same. Unfortunately, victory and defeat are strictly related. You never know how they happen. In the end the names of the players who win or lose for all are just a combination, a result of fortune, the end of a process that involves a lot of agents.
It’s the fascination of cricket.