How umpiring errors, controversial law sealed NZ's fate in World Cup final

Umpiring errors and a controversial law sealed the fate of the cricket WC final

CRICKET-WC-2019-ENG-NZL-FINAL-PODIUM Winner, but not quite: New Zealand captain Kane Williamson walks past the World Cup trophy, towards the presentation area, after the loss in the final at Lord’s | AFP

The match was over, the stands had emptied, the sun had set on an unbelievable game of cricket. There was not much light around the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Outside, cameramen, technicians and ground staff were finishing their work. The media centre had finally shut down, and the last stories had been filed.

I would put it in the laws of the game that if a ball is deflected off a batsman’s bat, [it would be] a dead ball. —Dickie Bird, former ICC umpire
Making the winner the team that had the most boundaries is like saying 100 pounds made up of five 20s is more valuable than 100 pounds made up of ten 10s. [It is] totally illogical. —Michael Holding, West Indies bowling great

The home and away dressing rooms, however, were still inhabited. In England’s room, there was laughter, tears and dancing. Thanks to the celebrations that continued till 5am at the team hotel, there were quite a few sore heads at the felicitation at the Oval around noon the following day.

In the other dressing room, the New Zealanders could not wrap their heads around what had happened. They sat, drank some pints, tweeted, and thought about it some more. As a headline the next morning proclaimed, New Zealand had lost the World Cup by zero runs. The teams were tied in the regulation overs, and even in the Super Over. There was nothing to separate the two sides on that night. Nothing but a controversial law. “It hits you in waves,” captain Kane Williamson said the next morning. “For ten minutes you forget about it, and you make little jokes. And then it comes back to you and you go: ‘Did that just happen? Did it just happen?”

England captain Eoin Morgan had popped into the Kiwi dressing room, but words could offer scant cheer. The New Zealand team had left for their hotel much before the Englishmen and had slept for a few hours. At least that is what they said. “It was a real shame that the tournament was decided in the way it was after two teams went at it,” Williamson said the next day.

After four years of planning, nearly two months of cricket, and 600 balls played in the final at Lord’s, the cup was decided by an overthrow, an umpiring error, a Super Over and a count-back rule. The team that hit more boundaries—England—lifted the cup.

Granted, it was the most exciting final in World Cup history. But the aftermath, after the math, was not pretty. England, expectedly, were over the moon; but supporters of New Zealand wanted a review of the law.

The International Cricket Council has been tightlipped, not commenting on the umpiring blunder that saw six and not five runs being awarded because of an overthrow by New Zealand fielder Martin Guptill.

A dive in vain: Jos Buttler runs out Martin Guptill in the Super Over to tie the match. England won the title because they had hit more boundaries | AFP A dive in vain: Jos Buttler runs out Martin Guptill in the Super Over to tie the match. England won the title because they had hit more boundaries | AFP

“As far as a television spectacle was concerned, I doubt anyone could say it was not full of entertainment and drama,” Michael Holding, the West Indies fast bowling great, told THE WEEK. “But I am not sure the way they arrived at a winner made much sense or was logical. If the determination was to have a winner and to not share the trophy, then why not continue with another Super Over with different batsmen and bowlers until you have a definitive result? Making the winner the team that had the most boundaries is like saying 100 pounds made up of five 20s is more valuable than 100 pounds made up of ten 10s. [It is] totally illogical.”

More than the count-back law, though, the outrage was directed at the umpires for their overthrow miscount. Simon Taufel, one of the most respected umpires in cricket history, set the cat among the pigeons when he said that the umpires had made a mistake. “They (England) should have been awarded five runs, not six,” he told Australian dailies. “The act of the overthrow starts when the fielder releases the ball. That is the act. It becomes an overthrow from the instant of the throw.” Television replays showed that, at the moment Guptill released the ball, Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid had not yet crossed over for the second run. They had completed only one. And this meant that Rashid should have faced the next ball. Given the final result, that one run could have decided the game.

The on-field umpires—Kumar Dharmasena and Marais Erasmus—did the right thing and consulted the third umpire. But Rod Tucker failed to spot whether the batsmen had crossed or not, and gave six runs. Taufel, however, was sympathetic to the officials. “It is unfair on England, New Zealand and the umpires involved to say (the overthrow) decided the outcome,” he said.

Former ICC umpire Dickie Bird targeted the law. “What I would do to stop this controversy about the overthrows—I would put it in the laws of the game that if a ball is deflected off a batsman’s bat, [it would be] a dead ball,” he told THE WEEK. “I would change the rule. It will stop the matter there itself.”

Stumped by umps: Umpires Kumar Dharmasena and Marais Erasmus drew flak for the overthrow decision that led to an extra run for England | Getty Images Stumped by umps: Umpires Kumar Dharmasena and Marais Erasmus drew flak for the overthrow decision that led to an extra run for England | Getty Images

Regarding the count-back rule, he said, “The team which loses fewer wickets, which in this case was New Zealand, would win the match. It used to be this rule earlier.”

The day after the final, New Zealand coach Gary Stead called for a review of the rules, but added that it was best to let tempers cool first. “Perhaps when you play over a seven-week period and cannot be separated on the final day, that (sharing the trophy) is something that should be considered as well,” he said. “But again, that is one [of the] considerations about a whole lot of things that went on. Everything will be reviewed, and I think that it is a good time to do it now. But probably just let the dust settle for a while.”

The Super Over rule has been applicable to ICC events since 2008. Just that it never had to be used before the July 14 final. Trophies, on the other hand, have been shared before, most notably between India and Sri Lanka after a washed out Champions Trophy final in 2002.

Speaking of the law, the Super Over, too, has been getting a lot of flak. The concept comes from Twenty20 cricket, which leads to questions about its efficacy in the 50-over format. ODI innings are built over a longer period and the approach is different. Meanwhile, in T20s, the ICC has brought in the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method, which is arguably more suited to the longer format. As per the method, the number of wickets in hand plays a crucial role in deciding the final score. But, in T20s, holding on to wickets is not top priority; the batting strike rate is more important.

“You cannot look at that (overthrow) and think that perhaps that decided the match,” said Williamson. “There were so many other bits and pieces to that game that were so important. When it comes down to a tie, you start looking at every single delivery, don’t you? It was a pretty tough pill to swallow.”

Interestingly, England were quite aware of all the rules going into the final overs and seemed mentally prepared. More so than New Zealand, perhaps. The day after the final, Ben Stokes revealed that his team was aware of the count-back rule, and wanted to take the match into the Super Over. “All I was thinking was: ‘Don’t get caught. Try and get one and get it to a Super Over at least’,” he said. “Then if I hit it into a gap, maybe we could get two. That was my process. Just don’t hit it in the air and get caught. I was thinking, ‘Don’t try and be a hero and do it with a six.”

Williamson, on the other hand, spoke about the “uncontrollables” his team had to face in the final. “While the emotions are raw, it is pretty hard to swallow that when two teams have worked really, really hard to get to this moment and [after] two attempts to separate them, it still does not perhaps shine with one side coming through,” he said. “It is what it is, really. The rules are there at the start. No one probably thought they would have to resort to some of that stuff.”

Said former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori: “These moments happen; wish they did not happen in World Cup finals. The little moments went against us.”

Such little moments have gone against other teams, too. Most notably in the 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa. The match was tied because of Allan Donald’s clumsy run-out in the last over, and Australia advanced to the final because they finished higher in the Super Sixes stage. “Look, we did not win that match,” said Steve Waugh, the captain of that Australian side. “We tied it after making a lot of mistakes.”

Then there was the 2007 final between Australia and Sri Lanka, which farcically ended with Australia winning in the dark, in a match affected by weather and the DL method. The match officials had made a mistake in interpreting the laws, and match referee Jeff Crowe later admitted that he was embarrassed with the way the match was conducted.

And at Lord’s this time, the pressure, it appears, got to the three best umpires on the ICC panel. Liam Plunkett, England’s best bowler in the final, admitted that, “When the overthrow went for four, it changed the tide [of the match].”

Though the means that justified the end were clearly in question, what was not up for debate was the importance of the victory for England. The television ratings for the final were better than those for the epic Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, which was played at the same time, a few miles away. Sky TV, which holds the cricket telecasting rights in England, even allowed the match to be shown on a free-to-air channel. And, the morning after the final, cricket was everywhere—on the front pages of newspapers, on hoardings and even inside the London Underground.

Given the celebrations, English cricket is hoping that the win gives the sport a new lease on life in the country, where it has been struggling to survive.

The team had a public celebration at the Oval, where schoolchildren and members of the Surrey County Cricket Club turned up to meet them. Though there was no meeting with Queen Elizabeth (she was on holiday), there was one with Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street.

Curiously though, the England and Wales Cricket Board had not planned a ticker tape open-bus parade for the team. The ECB, it is reliably learnt, did not want to go overboard with the Ashes starting in two weeks. This raised many eyebrows, as most experts acknowledged that winning the World Cup was far bigger than winning the bilateral Test series.

Especially for a team that is a melting pot of different cultures, religions and identities. For players such as Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer and the Irishman Morgan, the victory is an enduring symbol of their unity. Especially at a time when Britain, with Brexit, seems to be scrapping inclusivity for exclusivity.

“We had Allah with us as well,” Morgan said after the match. “I spoke to Adil, he said Allah was definitely with us. I said we had the rub of the green. It actually epitomises our team. [We have players from] quite diverse backgrounds and cultures, and to actually find humour in the situation we were in at times was pretty cool.”

Morgan is himself quite the leader—soft spoken, brave and loved by his teammates. Four years ago, he saw his team go down badly against New Zealand in a World Cup match. They were bowled out for 123, which New Zealand chased in 12.2 overs. It was a low for English cricket and an eye-opener for Morgan. “I was devastated not only with the way we performed, but also with the way we carried ourselves,” he said. “The influence of New Zealand on all the other teams throughout that whole World Cup was extreme. New Zealand proved 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. I thought that rubbed off on everybody at the World Cup.”

Yes, the nice guys did not win. But they may have made a few nice guys out of the others.