The World Cup final between England and New Zealand went down to the wire. Not once but twice. There was nothing to separate the teams at the end of 100 overs. There was nothing to separate them at the end of the Super Over. Nothing except a few fours and luck.
World-class athletes will tell you that they don’t deal in luck. Most embrace the philosophy that you make your own luck through hard work but then there are days like these; days that make one believe that sometimes luck can override everything else just because it chooses to.
What did New Zealand do wrong? What did England do right? Why did England have the rub of the green? Why did New Zealand deserve to have their heads in their hands?
Both teams worked incredibly hard to get to this point. They played their hearts, they prepared like there was no tomorrow but clearly luck matters more than most athletes care to admit.
Sometimes it is a sudden gust of wind, sometimes it is the sun in your eyes, sometimes (in that one in a million chance) it is the four overthrows off a diving Ben Stokes’ bat. Hard work can override luck? Good luck proving that.
It clearly was going to be England’s day. The Roy leg-before appeal that was turned down in the first over. England’s day. Those missed edges at the start of their innings. England’s day. The dropped catch that gave Jonny Bairstow a life. England’s day. Trent Boult, a brilliant fielder on the boundary line on most days, misjudging the catch of Stokes in the penultimate over that went for six. England’s day. The overthrow in the final over that went for four. England’s day. The Super Over also getting tied. England’s day.
The day was all about luck or as Kane Williamson put it, the ‘uncontrollables’.
“Yeah, obviously, just gutted,” said Williamson at the end of the day. “You know, the guys put in a huge amount of work to get this opportunity, to come here and play in another World Cup final and to pretty much do all you could and still not perhaps get across the line with some small margins and I think throughout this whole campaign in a lot of my press conferences I have spoken about ‘uncontrollables’ and there were a couple today that were pretty hard to swallow.”
Williamson added: “Laugh or cry, it’s your choice, isn’t it? It’s not anger. There’s a lot of disappointment, I suppose. Yeah, the guys are really feeling it and I think it’s probably more down to some of the uncontrollables that go on when they have put in such a huge amount of effort and we know in this game it can be fickle in its nature and there are parts that, as hard as you try, sometimes those cards don’t fall your way and today it ebbed and flowed.”
There is a thin line between luck and an ill-gotten break. Sometimes you work for it. Sometimes it just falls in your lap. And perhaps England were lucky to have Ed Smith, as selector, in their corner too.
As an aspiring cricketer, Smith believed luck was for other people… will power, elimination of error, and the relentless pursuit of excellence mattered more. But when a freak accident at the crease at Lord’s prematurely ended Smith’s international cricketing career, it changed everything. He even ended up writing a book on luck – ‘Luck: What It Means and Why It Matters’.
“Luck also has a moral dimension. Michael Young, the sociologist who coined the term ‘meritocracy,’ described the danger of thinking that success must be deserved just because it has happened: ‘If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits . . . they can be insufferably smug.’ It is a mistake to think that luck is a primitive, backward-looking concept. In fact, recognising luck as a factor in success is inherently civilising,” wrote Smith while arguing that success is sometimes the result of sheer good fortune.
If he ever wanted confirmation of his theories and beliefs, he got it on a mad, mad day at Lord’s. The luck may not have mattered without England doing all the hard work earlier in the day but there is no denying that all the hard work may not have mattered without that dollop of luck at the end.
So the next time, you see someone pocket the lucky handkerchief or put the right foot into the stadium first or even don a crusty old stinking cap, don’t scoff at them, for luck clearly works in mysterious ways that we are yet to understand.
New Zealand would like a better understanding but then perhaps so would we all. After all, as England showed, who on earth can’t use a little good luck.