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20 July 2019

A Close-Run Thing[i]

Tag(s): Sport
It was the children’s idea. Over the past three years our son and daughter and their partners presented us with three delightful grandchildren in quick succession, now aged three, two and eight months respectively. So their idea was for the three generations to holiday together in a nice beach resort. They chose Portugal because the sun should shine and we all like the Portuguese, our oldest ally. We would have two nannies with us so the grown-ups could relax in the sun or over sardines and Douro white wine.[ii] So we would need a large house.

One was sourced through a website called HomeAway and the booking was made. It promised all the things we were looking for: six well-appointed bedrooms with several bathrooms; all mod cons including TV and good internet access and easy access to the beach. So eight adults, three little children and two dogs gathered on the first Friday in July for ten days of sun and sand in a place called Foz do Arelho.

The first time we knew that all was not well was on the Saturday morning when we woke up, not to bright sunshine but thick cloud. We were on the Atlantic coast, of course, and we gradually realised that Foz do Arelho has what is known as a micro climate. My wife was reminded of some of the Pacific resorts in Chile where the same thing happens. We once owned a seaside apartment there and had to get used to the clouds not clearing until 3pm when finally the sun would break through. The younger set in the biggest resort Viña del Mar treat this as an opportunity to go clubbing well into the night, sleep it off and then wake up for a late breakfast and an afternoon on the beach.

But that is not what we oldies or the little children were looking for.

Then there was the access to the beach. This was a twenty-minute walk down very steep and sometimes uneven roads. The beach itself was wide with a great lagoon in the middle, not an unattractive feature. But walking down was hard work and walking back up was not an option.

The next problem was that the refrigerator did not close properly. We had bought tonnes of produce, and of course the little ones’ food would often be kept in the fridge. We reported this to the owner’s mother, an elegant but fearsome lady in her 70s. Her son lives in Virginia so she looks after the house and checks up on the tenants. She acknowledged that the fridge was faulty and kindly let us know that she had informed her son. So that’s all right then. This was a serious health & safety issue but we dealt with it as best we could.

But what for me was far more serious was that the TV was an ancient model, perhaps from the 1970s. It only received four local channels, none of them suitable for children. My son-in-law has just moved to Spain so he decided to buy a new one which he would then take to their new home at the end of the holiday. Justin is a technical wizard and he soon fixed it up to the internet connection and the children started to watch TV programmes downloaded from Amazon.

But then the internet connection gave up. We also reported this to the mother and she said we were using the internet too much!

So how was I going to watch the Cricket World Cup?

Justin managed to get some kind of connection to Sky and we watched the semi-final between England and Australia. There was a great deal of buffering and the gremlins seemed to ensure that the buffering kicked in just as the bowler ran up to bowl. Then it would freeze and when it returned whatever had happened had happened. We missed wickets falling. We missed glorious cover drives. We missed huge six hits. I then tried getting the BBC radio commentary on my mobile phone. That was clear and rarely cut out. So we watched the sputtering screen and listened to Jonathan Agnew and his chums, the two seldom being in sync. But at least England thrashed Australia and we could all take pleasure in that.

Came the day of the final at Lords against New Zealand. This time the internet connection was quite dead. So I resigned myself to listening to my mobile phone all day. At least I could follow the events. Then Justin thought of another ruse. Perhaps he could reach Sky or Channel 4 on his mobile through his Virtual Private Network. Reader, I assure you that while I can quote the terminology I don’t know what it all means. He succeeded in getting a clear picture and set it up at an angle. He then had to go out with my son Andrew to get some things for their kids and left me to watch his mobile phone.

The minute they had left the coverage stopped. ‘No internet access’ was the helpful message. When they returned many overs later I explained what had happened. Or rather I didn’t because I did not know. I just said it had stopped. Justin then tried the TV again and got that working for a while. But not long. So he went back to his mobile and being Justin got that back working. We watched that for most of the rest of the match.

It was our last night together and I had promised to buy everyone dinner in a good restaurant we had found where we could sit outside. The sun did come out usually for the afternoon and evening. We put back the reservation to 7.15pm ordering a taxi for 7pm.

At 6.30 Channel 4 stopped showing the cricket as they went to the News. The biggest news in the country was breaking at Lords and they had the rights to show it. So we went back to the radio.

The taxi arrived and it was not the six-seater we had requested but just big enough for four so Justin and I stayed behind waiting for the taxi to deliver its load and come back for us. By now the game had finished in a tie and so the stage was set for the rare event of a Super Over.

Just as this was about to start the taxi returned so I grabbed my mobile and took it with me still listening to the cricket. We explained what was happening to the driver. It was still going on when we got to the restaurant so we sat at a different table for the last few balls. This was one of the most exciting sporting events in history and we were not going to miss it.

We were outside but so were other diners who all looked a bit awkwardly at us. I would have done the same. But it was just a few minutes and I could not tear myself away. When the commentator described that last run out and that the scores for the Super Over had again finished level, but that England had won by scoring more boundaries in their innings than New Zealand, we all roared. Justin ordered a bottle of Portuguese sparkling wine and we celebrated this great victory, if not perhaps such a great holiday.

The Cricket World Cup Final has been described as the greatest international cricket match in history. It was certainly the greatest one-day match and because there are as yet no matches to decide which is the best overall Test match team this perhaps was the greatest of all because it did decide which is the best team.

Since England failed so miserably in the last World Cup in 2015 when they did not make the knock out stages they have made considerable efforts to change their playing style as well as some of the personnel and have reached a level of consistency that establishes them as the best in the world. But they did not have things all their own way in this competition and seemed to rely too much on one or two of the batsmen.  But here they excelled because over the competition England had the second highest batting strike rate in phase one from overs one through ten; the highest in the second phase from overs eleven through forty;  and the highest in the tough final phase from overs forty-one through fifty. By contrast New Zealand, their opponents in the final, were bottom in the first phase, second from bottom in the second phase and third from bottom in the third phase.

There were many-close-run things in the final. New Zealand’s opener Guptil called for a review of the umpire’s decision to give him out Leg Before Wicket when it was plumb. The review confirmed it. So New Zealand lost their right to review and when one of their better batsmen Ross Taylor was wrongly given out Leg Before Wicket they could not overturn the Umpire’s incorrect decision. Earlier Guptil could have been given out caught behind. The umpire did not give it. England’s captain Eoin Morgan decided not to review despite a noise and was proven right when TV replays showed it was the batsman’s shirt, not his bat. Saving that review meant that when New Zealand's best batsman Kane Williamson played at a ball but was given not out, Morgan had the courage to review and the technology showed there had been a faint touch. Why in such circumstances the umpire cannot review his own decision as happens in Rugby Union and now in Football is beyond me.  But Morgan may have won the game with those two decisions and Guptil may have lost it with his mistake.

Then there was the big hit caught on the boundary but the fielder trod on the ropes so it was six runs rather than a wicket. But there was nothing like the drama of the final run chase. With just three balls left England needed nine to win. Stokes hit the fourth ball of the over and ran hard for two. The fielder hurled the ball to try and run Stokes out. Stokes dived for the crease holding his bat out as you can. The ball hit his bat and ran away to the boundary. The Umpires gave two runs ran and four for the overthrow. Law 19.8 is little known and less used. It says:

19.8 Overthrow or wilful act of fielder.
If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be:
  • Any runs for penalties awarded to either side
  • And the allowance for the boundary
  • And the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.
But they had not crossed when Guptil threw the ball. And so some experts are saying that it should have been five runs not six. But that does not mean that England would not have won because if Stokes had needed four not three off those last two balls who’s to say that he would not have done it with one shot to the ropes?

That is the beauty of cricket. Its almost infinite variety of bowling, batting and fielding;  its complexity assists this rather than detracting from it. This win by England will resound through time and should, if properly followed up by the authorities, lead to a massive increase in interest and participation in the game. But we have seen before how this does not always happen. Our victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup led to a short term increase but the lack of investment in extra infrastructure and coaching meant this soon fell away. Contrast cycling where huge success in the Olympics and the Tour de France has led to a quadrupling of involvement in the sport.

And bring on the next Cricket World Cup in India in 2023!

[i]  After the Battle of Waterloo the Duke of Wellington said “It has been a damned serious business… Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”  ‘Nice’ here means ‘uncertain’ and the phrase a damned nice thing has sometimes been paraphrased as “a damn close-run thing”
[ii] Except when they get behind the wheel of a car and drive at high speed with one hand loosely on the wheel and the other draped languidly on their knee; with one eye on the road and the other on a mobile phone.

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