July 14, 2019. The mere mention of this day raises the heart rate of some sports fans in sheer joy and pushes up the anxiety levels of some others, while everyone wonders just how on earth did all that happen on one day, in one city.
A year on from perhaps the greatest ever ICC World Cup final and the craziest Wimbledon final to date, the tension of a close finish or the excitement of a championship point can still be felt as strongly as one felt on THAT day. There was nothing quite like THAT day ever before and perhaps there never will be.
THAT day will remain immortal in the hearts of sports fans, the undoubted zenith moment of being one.
The two battles at two venues separated by just a few London miles were contrasting ones.
England and New Zealand, the forever nearly men of world cricket, met at Lord’s... one win away from ending an agonising wait for their first ODI world title.
At Wimbledon, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, two men who had won it all and repeated it a few times for good measure, were out to further extend their glorious runs.
In a way, it was David vs David and Goliath vs Goliath.
A cricket/tennis match like no other
New Zealand won the toss, batted first, and began well. Henry Nicholls and Kane Williamson guided the Kiwis past hundred with the loss of just one wicket in fairly quick time.
Federer, the ultimate king of grass was on his game, strong on his backhand and forcing Djokovic to come to the net. The Serbian, though, hung in there and weathered the storm before taking full advantage of six unforced errors by Federer in the tiebreak to take the first set 7-6.
It was game on at Lord’s but at Wimbledon, it appeared that the Swiss had blown his chance to put Djokovic under pressure. The first set, as it always is, was extremely important.
Back to Lord’s, the hosts were storming back into the game through old warhorse Liam Plunkett who dismissed Williamson and Nicholls while Mark Wood sent Ross Taylor back to the hut.
New Zealand never recovered from the blows as wickets kept tumbling at regular intervals. The Kiwis finished with 241/8. Advantage England but New Zealand had runs on the board.
At SW19, the tide was turning. Federer, strong on his serve, blew away Djokovic whose intensity dropped after the marathon first set as the Swiss levelled matters taking the second set 6-1. Vintage Federer at Wimbledon. At 37, would he reign supreme on grass again?
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For England’s strong batting line-up, the target of 242 was well within reach. New Zealand, though, knew their strength was always their bowling. Their reduced hopes rested on it. The bowlers delivered. Despite their spearhead Trent Boult having an off day, Lockie Ferguson and James Neesham stepped up. England had lost four wickets at a score of 86. Game on again.
At Wimbledon, normal service resumed after an unexpected Federer blitz. It was a tight battle again; nothing could separate the two men as the third set went into a tiebreak. Once again, the Serb prevailed. The match had all the makings of a classic.
At the home of cricket, as England’s hopes were dented by early Kiwi blows, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, two of England’s most explosive batsmen and expert finishers, were out in the middle much earlier than they would have liked. They put England back on track with a 110-run partnership. England needed 46 runs from 31 deliveries, but then Buttler perished. The game was going to go down to the wire.
At the All England Club, the match followed a similar path. Federer began to rush Djokovic, a ploy he had used effectively in the semi-final win over Nadal. It paid dividends in the final as he broke Djokovic twice. The Serb pulled a break back but the Swiss held on to take the fourth set. It was two sets each. Another five-set affair between two modern greats at Wimbledon.
We had been there before, hadn’t we?
At Lord’s, the Kiwi fightback suffered a bitter blow. With England seven down and still 22 runs away from the target, Stokes heaved one in the air and Boult was under it inches away from the boundary line. He fluffed it and the ball fell on the other side of the rope. Six runs! England were very much alive. Had Boult just dropped the World Cup?
Djokovic called the early shots in the decider and broke Federer to lead 4-2. But the Swiss regained his composure and reverted to moving Djokovic all around the court with his deft slices. He broke back and it was 4-4. An epic, already, even if the quality of tennis was not consistently at the heights these two were capable of.
Back at the ‘Home of Cricket’, there was more drama. England had it all to do needing nine runs off three deliveries. But then something extraordinary happened. Stokes ran two runs before a throw from the deep hit his bat and raced to the boundary. Two runs became six and the match swung England’s way again. The stars appeared to be aligning for the home side. New Zealand, though, were not having any of that. They gave away just two runs of the last two balls as the game ended in a tie. Wow! Where do we go from here?
Wimbledon was the answer. With both players exchanging breaks, the decider had turned into a marathon. Into the 15th game of the fifth set, with the score at 7-7, Federer slowed it down in an attempt to draw errors from the Serb. Djokovic cracked and his serve was broken. Serving for the match, Federer raced to a 40-15 lead. History beckoned for the Swiss. But then, again, something extraordinary happened. Djokovic saved two championship points to break Federer again as the set went back on serve. It was tiring just to watch the two athletes go at each other. It was surreal.
Meanwhile, it was Super Over time at Lord’s. England batted first. Stokes stayed in there and was joined by Buttler. The duo managed to get England 15 runs in the six balls. New Zealand needed 16 and they had to ensure they got it as another tie would crown England as champions on the boundary-count rule. Surely not?
Back with tennis. At 12-12, the Wimbledon final was to be decided by a Super tiebreak. Never before had this happened. Djokovic once again upped the ante and Federer finally gave in. A volley error on the third point of the tiebreak gave Djokovic the advantage which he managed to preserve. Djokovic had defeated the king of grass once again in a match that deserved no loser.
Back with the cricket, Jofra Archer started off with a wide in the Super Over before the Kiwis picked up a couple. Neesham then heaved one on the leg side for six. New Zealand now needed just five from three balls. England did well to not give away any more boundaries as New Zealand needed two runs off the last ball. But sadly for the Kiwis, Martin Guptill was run out while trying to complete the second run and England won the World Cup on boundary count. Yes, another match that did not deserve a loser.
As unfair it seemed, the crazy final was decided on a technicality that was too bizarre even for cricket and yet, that’s what the rulebook said (since changed). It was ecstasy for England who had succeeded in a World Cup final after three failed attempts; for New Zealand, it was another heartbreak.
Loyalties divided sports fans in the way they received the two results, but the overwhelming feeling was one of awe for the sheer treat that was served to them. Most were united in appreciation of their passionate love for something so special: sport. Despite there being winners and losers, it is a day sports lovers will never forget. July 14, 2019, will always be a day made in sporting heaven.