On July 14 2019, England won the Cricket World Cup, beating New Zealand in a remarkable final at Lord’s.
Not just beating them, but doing so in the most thrilling fashion it is possible to imagine, by virtue of having scored more boundaries after the contest itself – and the Super Over that followed it – ended in a tie.
Even now, just thinking about those incredible events sends shivers down the spine, events that feel like a lifetime ago given the current pandemic.
For it was the summer of Ben Stokes, of Eoin Morgan, and all the England players who contributed to a thrilling success; the summer of an equally unforgettable Headingley Ashes Test, and when everything and anything seemed possible for the game.
Now, as cricket emerges blinking and disorientated after four months of lockdown, with international and recreational cricket back and the county game about to resume, it seems both opportune and poignant to remember the highs of July 14 last year and also to examine how England got to that point.
As luck would have it, Nick Hoult and Steve James have done the job for us, writing a magnificent new book entitled Morgan’s Men: The Inside Story of England’s Rise from Cricket World Cup Humiliation to Glory, which tells you everything you need to know as to how it came about.
For humiliation it was when you cast your mind back to the previous World Cup in Australasia in 2015, when England were knocked out in the group stages and utterly annihilated by New Zealand in Wellington, losing by eight wickets with 226 balls to spare.
Brendon McCullum’s team were mesmerising that day and Morgan vowed that England would have to adopt a similar style of attacking play after a defeat that the book terms “English ODI cricket’s watershed moment”.
Morgan told the authors: “The way his New Zealand team played, the way they did it their own way, was important.
“It’s important for any team to get their own identity and stick with it.
“New Zealand proved a point that you can actually be really good humans and grow the game, and play cricket in your own way and win at the same time.
“The New Zealand game in Wellington was the big contribution to us making steps forward and good decisions.”
Having reached rock-bottom, England dragged themselves up from the doldrums.
They appointed a new coach in Trevor Bayliss, a man with an impressive white-ball CV.
They started to pick more specialist white-ball players, men who could implement Morgan’s aggressive philosophy.
Taking the positive option during games was not so much encouraged of players as positively demanded.
Morgan led from the front and the effect was transformative; the team even developed their own mantra – “courage, unity, respect”.
The authors examine the strategies and tactics that helped England go from World Cup flops to World Cup winners, as well as the various issues surrounding the side such as the Ben Stokes court case and the sacking of Alex Hales.
They are certainly well-placed to give readers the inside track – Hoult in his capacity as The Daily Telegraph’s chief cricket correspondent, and James in his capacity as a former England batsman who writes on cricket and rugby for The Times.
They write with great style, talent and affection for the subject, and they have followed the journey every step of the way.
All the right people have been interviewed and England’s inspirational journey put into context.
It was a journey that culminated one year ago tomorrow – or at least that part of the journey – amid unforgettable scenes at the home of cricket.
Who can forget the ball flying off Stokes’s bat for four overthrows as he dived to make his ground as the match went down to the dreaded Super Over?
And what about the Super Over itself, when the action became even more unbearably and impossibly tense?
Ultimately, it all came down to this: New Zealand needed two runs off the last ball, with a tie good enough for England on the boundary countback rule.
Jofra Archer bowled the vital delivery, and Martin Guptill played it out towards deep mid-wicket.
As the batsmen charged back for a second run, Jason Roy fizzed the ball in to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, who broke the stumps with a diving Guptill short of his ground.
On the television commentary, Ian Smith, the former New Zealand wicketkeeper, captured the moment.
“England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins. By the barest of margins. Absolute ecstasy for England. Agony, agony for New Zealand. (Pause). Wow.”
As the authors concluded: “The four-year project had worked. England were world champions on a gloriously sunny evening at Lord’s.
“It was the 193rd time Lord’s had hosted an England match, but it had never seen anything like this before.
“Indeed cricket had never seen a game like this before.”
* Morgan’s Men: The Inside Story of England’s Rise from Cricket World Cup Humiliation to Glory by Nick Hoult and Steve James is published by Allen & Unwin, priced £18.99.
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