A World Cup final that had to be won. until it wasn't

t20 cricker wolrd cup South Africa were in a winning position, but they did not squander it. India were indeed, in Aiden Markram's words, to play well

Jul 1, 2024 - 19:35
Jul 1, 2024 - 19:39

Thirty runs required off 30 balls, six wickets in hand. Twenty-six off 24, still six standing. Twenty-two off 18, five down. Twenty off 12, six gone. Sixteen off six, no further loss. Only eight scored off those last six, and another wicket taken. Defeat by seven runs. How?

"It's not the first game of cricket that's been lost with a team needing 30 off 30. It's more that India are allowed to bowl well, they're allowed to handle well, they're allowed to go from that position to a position of strength."

That's Aiden Markram at his press conference after his team had been beaten by India in the Men's T20 World Cup final at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados on Saturday. Note the term: beaten. They were not disgraced. They didn't gag.

South Africa were in a winning position, but they didn't squander it. The opposition were indeed, in Markram's words, "allowed" to play well. In the event that they play better than you, you lose and they win. That's the means by which sport works. And India were better in the last five overs.

It helped having the genius of Jasprit Bumrah on hand to bowl two of them. Hardik Pandya's two overs unspooled like a redemption song for all he has been through since usurping Rohit Sharma as Mumbai Indians captain. Little wonder Pandya had to clear the tears off his face prior to availing himself for one of those awful interviews conducted when hearts are still beating too fast to their benefit.

It could never have assisted India with getting through those five overs intact knowing they would be the last time giants of the stature of Rohit and Virat Kohli would be in an India T20 shirt. Did the dressingroom know then that Ravindra Jadeja could also resign? Nor would it have helped that, despite everything the IPL has done for the format, it had been 17 years since India won this prize. That's pressure, and it showed in the tears of alleviation that streamed once the challenge had been met.

India deserved to win because they handled the stresses of the situation better and, consequently, played better cricket. Did South Africa deserve to lose? The question was irrelevant for Hashim Amla, who was part of a SuperSport studio panel that featured Russell Domingo and Chris Morris. Domingo and Amla, who are now on the Lions coaching staff, were sat either side of Morris, who said, "This is the reason these two get along nicely at the Lions, because he [pointing at Amla] says you don't deserve anything in this game, that the game owes you nothing. And this one [pointing at Domingo] says the game's inconsiderate."

Even so, Domingo could empathize: "It's going to take them a long chance to move past this. Emotions were harmed, and it takes so much out of you. You've given everything for two or three years leading to this event, and one or two things don't fall into place. To get back up and step into the arena again is going to be a challenge and there may be a drop-off in terms of intensity for a while. They are so desperate to do admirably and they're playing such good cricket, and once again they've fallen short."

Domingo knows the feeling. He was South Africa's head coach at the 2015 World Cup - when clumsy interference by CSA's suits around team selection on the eve of the semifinal against New Zealand at Eden Park knocked the South Africans off kilter and probably cost them the game.

Then, Grant Elliott launched Dale Steyn over his head for the matchwinning six with a ball to spare. This time, Suryakumar Yadav delivered a furiously balletic catch on the boundary to remove David Miller and erase six of what could have been the winning runs.

It was the first ball of the last over, and while the target of 16 was steep, the South Africans would have considered themselves to still have one hand on the prize, albeit not as firmly as four overs previously. But while they had Miller, his face set with the knowledge and resolve that the occupation was his to finish, they had trust. One slipping hand on the prize wasn't enough when Yadav, with a bounce and a skip either side of the boundary, got two hands to the ball, two times, and hung tight, two times.

Photographs and videos suggested that the boundary cushion had moved a few centimeters beyond a line of yellow grass that looked like where the cushion should have been: the actual boundary in terms of this assumption. Meaning that the cushion was closer to the fence than the boundary.

And thus Yadav, who was perilously close to touching the cushion when the ball was in hand but didn't, trod the actual boundary while in contact with the ball. And so the catch should have been overruled, six runs awarded and Miller allowed to continue his attack. Did Richard Kettleborough, the television umpire who ruled the catch fair, get it wrong?

Under what Cricket calls "19.3: Boundary restoration", it states, "If a solid object used to mark a boundary is disturbed for any reason, the boundary shall be deemed to be in its original position. The object shall be returned to its original position as soon as practicable." ; but the faded grass line was only visible on some replays and there was no discussion of whether the cushion was in the wrong place.

can, willa, shoulder. Yadav acted where the mattress was, not where it probably should have been. It's not to say that he was advantaged by where it was, or wouldn't have adjusted his movements accordingly if it had been on the grass line. Also, the umpires' mistakes - if they were - are part of the game, just like those made by the players.

Amla can get into the weeds of hate like this: "I'm quietly optimistic after crossing the semi-final [win] hurdle. Now this final is the reality for this team. Once you see the reality, you've felt it and this team and all teams in South Africa. knows that."

On Tristan Stubbs: "For a young lad playing his first World Cup, he came in without fear, took the game and took us before the game." On the new generation: "The exposure they've had in the IPL, SA20 and our domestic system, you see these youngsters coming in and they're straight into the game. It takes more time before the international game. They're getting into it very quickly, and we're seeing the performance. "

Amla has always seemed far above messy death from another, rarefied planet. The rest of his cricket-minded compatriots are struggling not to feel worse than they did after the mountain of despair collapsed. For them, it is precisely because South Africa seem to have put their past behind them, they have learned how to win tough games, because they reached the final this time, because they came so close to winning it, because they did not panic. Or choking, it hurts so much. They did all that and made all that progress and it still wasn't good enough.

Had South Africa been beaten on Saturday, the part of the country that cares about cricket would have moved on by now. Fair play to India in that case, easily the better team that day. But it wasn't like that. The game was there to win, until it wasn't.

After that, Camilla Miller held her distraught husband for four months with such tenderness that it was hard to watch. Tabrez Shamsi put one arm around Khadija Sharif, his wife, and the other around their three-year-old son. It looked for all the world as if they were his supporting pillars, keeping him upright when he couldn't find a reason to look the world in the eye.

That kind of love is needed right now, and it seems to be around the players a lot. But not all of us will have enough valuables. Some are stuck in the dark, wondering how they'll ever see a team play again. They certainly will, but right here, right now, the tunnel has no end

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