England's World Cup win proves they can handle pressure
By David Currie
Last Updated: 15/07/19 4:45pm
Even with the immense talent, skill and power present in the ranks of both finalists at Lord's on Sunday, the deciding factor was always likely to be who could best handle the pressure.
Neither England nor New Zealand had won a World Cup, the Black Caps defeated in the final four years ago and England three times before, the most recent of which came way back when in 1992.
In the intervening decades, England's white-ball form had been nothing short of disastrous, that was until their group-stage exit in 2015 signalled a change in approach and a remarkable, and rapid, rise to No 1 in the world.
But, with such an ascent up the rankings came greater expectations and, as a result, greater pressure. It was the one variable Eoin Morgan's men had yet to prove they had overcome on the eve of the tournament.
"Can we put up with that pressure of being on home soil? Of being favourites? Having to win knockout games? That's going to be the challenge," said Andrew Strauss, England's former director of cricket, who assisted Morgan in ushering in this bright new dawn in England's white-ball cricket.
In reaching the final, England had, on the whole, answered Strauss' questions, overcoming a mid-tournament wobble - back-to-back defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia that only served to crank up the pressure - to batter the Aussies in a semi-final rematch at Edgbaston.
But, at 86-4 on Sunday, following the wicket of their captain to the first ball of the 24th over, those questions over England's ability to handle pressure began to resurface, while any doubts over New Zealand's started to dissipate as Lockie Ferguson pulled off a stunning diving catch to do for Morgan.
Enter Jos Buttler, complete with a simple two-word prompt - the first an expletive - scribbled atop his bat handle, words that have helped him make a career out of thriving in the most pressure-fuelled moments.
There to greet him, Ben Stokes, arguably England's player of the tournament, with four high-pressure half-centuries struck - soon to add a fifth of the upmost importance - and one truly unforgettable catch made in the opening game of the tournament.
The pair put on 110 for the fifth wicket, both registering fifties in the toughest of circumstances - the pitch at its trickiest to bat on in the second innings - and the pressure at its highest, to drag England back into the contest.
With six overs to go, the equation had been reduced to 53 needed, well within their wheelhouse. But there would be another, no, multiple twists still to come.
Buttler fell five balls later, to another fine catch in the deep, and it was seemingly left to Stokes and the tail to finish the job.
"Courage is grace under pressure," Ernest Hemmingway once said, a quote that quite prophetically featured in a Sky Sports promo for Sunday's final. And Stokes showed immense courage in the thrilling finish that was to play out at Lord's.
This, a man who in England's last major final - against the West Indies at the 2016 World T20 - sank to his knees, utterly defeated, after being smashed for four sixes in a row by Carlos Brathwaite in the final over.
As wickets tumbled around him, Stokes remained, striking two fours and two sixes to take England close, earning his fair share of good fortune along the way.
Trent Boult stepped on the boundary rope for the first of those sixes when taking the catch that would have seen Stokes dismissed, while a third six was scored in the final over - a throw from the deep incredibly deflecting off Stokes' bat and to the boundary as he scampered back for two.
A Super Over would decide it, with Stokes and Buttler again at the heart of things, as well as a 24-year-old Jofra Archer, appearing in only the 28th 50-over game of his fledgling career, more than half of those coming in the last two months during a rapid ascent in international cricket since making his England debut.
After Stokes and Buttler set New Zealand 16 to win, it was Archer entrusted with the ball. Not Chris Woakes and his 99 ODI caps, not 34-year-old Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood nor Stokes - keen to avoid the same fate that befell him three years ago, and having emphatically already done his job.
Archer's first ball a wide. His second legal delivery smashed for six by Jimmy Neesham. A Jason Roy misfield off the third. Pressure.
But with two needed to win for New Zealand off the last ball, this time Archer would nail his yorker, this time Roy would collect cleanly in the deep - sending a rocket of a throw to Buttler, who'd smash the stumps - and this time England would handle the pressure.
Cricket World Cup winners for the very first time.