A moment, technically, is 90 seconds. In cricket, where games can go from three hours to five days, moments are measured in micro-units of a second – impromptu, reflexive brilliance that a player produces with under a second of reaction time. And it is these discrete moments – the Kapil Dev catch off Vivian Richards in 1983, the airborne Jonty Rhodes running out Inzamam ul Haq in 1992, the buccaneering upper cut by Sachin Tendulkar off Shoaib Akhtar, the insouciant MS Dhoni lofted six over long in in 2011 – moments that linger in the memory long after the rest of the game is forgotten.
Here are some such magical moments from the recently concluded 2019 World Cup:
#1 Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s Ben Stokes
Once Quinton de Kock was dismissed in the 23rd over of South Africa’s run-chase, the game seemed to be effectively over, though 27 overs, which is a lot of cricket, were still left in the game. The fans settled down to the dull business of watching the last rites – and then Andile Phehlukwayo attempted to clear the mid-wicket boundary with a slog sweep.
He timed it sweetly; the sound of leather on wood was so resonant, you knew as you heard it that it was struck clean, and hard, and would go the distance. Ben Stokes was standing well inside the boundary line, the ball was going well over his head. Cue magic.
The fielder ran a couple of paces to get lift off, then went airborne, his right arm telescoping out to reel in the ball.
A great bit of camerawork added lustre to the moment. You saw Stokes and behind him, you saw the people in the crowd, watching with a relaxed curiosity. And then you saw them half rise out of their chairs as Stokes went airborne – and then they were out of their seats, mouths wide open in a roar in which astonishment and admiration was nicely mingled.
That’s the whole point, the reason we watch sport – for the one moment, out of a game that lasted seven minutes, that you watch, and marvel at, and tell your grandchildren, “You know, I once saw the great Ben Stokes take a catch and….
#2 Take a salute, Sheldon
Ben Stokes’ catch was an early contender for the catch of the tournament, but Sheldon Cottrell didn’t let him bask in that glory for too long.
Steve Smith flicked the ball off his pads targeting the crowd behind the square leg boundary – and he played the shot with the pristine purity that is his trademark. Dimly in the distance, you saw Cottrell sprinting across the turf at full speed and you thought, full marks for commitment, son, but no way you are catching up with that one. Cottrell covered about 20 yards and will still short of where the ball was – and that is when he launched, body in flight, left hand at full stretch. Ridiculous as it sounds, his lower body was moving to the right, and the upper body was slanted across the boundary rope to his left.
“How does he not go over?” asked a perplexed Michael Clarke in the commentary box as he, along with the rest of us, watched the replays that played on loop. And it was not just that Cottrell reached a ball you thought was safely out of reach; it was that even while airborne, he had sufficient positional awareness to realise he was going over; he tossed the ball up while still in full flight, landed outside the rope, stepped back in and completed a catch for the ages. And then the one time army sergeant did what he has had reason to do multiple times through the Cup: He marched forward three steps, snapped into a salute, then threw his chest back, flung his arms wide, and held the pose.
#3 Kohli’s act of sportsmanship
By his standards, Virat Kohli had an underwhelming World Cup with the bat, and his captaincy was nothing to write panegyrics about either – but he left a mark on this edition of the Cup with a moment of pure sportsmanship.
Steve Smith was being deluged with the “Cheater, Cheater’’ chant by Indian fans mimicking the British, while the former Australian captain was fielding near the boundary – and Kohli, interrupting his innings, asked the fans to cease and desist. Applaud him,. Don’t abuse him, Kohli told the fans. He later elaborated in the press conference: Smith has committed a crime and done the time, it’s over, time to move on and let him get back to being what he is, one of the premier batsmen in the world, Kohli told the press.
What made this a shining moment was the backstory. During Australia’s tour of India in 2017, things boiled over when it appeared as if Smith, then captain, was looking for help from the dressing room to decide on a DRS call. Kohli all but openly used the word ‘cheating’ then; he said he could never again be friends with the Australians ever again.
But when a peer found himself the subject of abuse, Kohli forgot all that; he showed what ‘sport’ is about when he stood up for a rival in trouble.
#4 Aaron Finch’s brave call
The always mercurial Pakistan had made their way back into the game on the back of Wahab Riaz’s courageous batting. He had brought Pakistan within 44 runs of victory with six overs to go, when Mitchell Starc went past his outside edge. Both, Starc and the wicket-keeper Alex Carey appealed half-heartedly. Not convinced, the umpire declined the appeal.
Skipper Aaron Finch considered the review. His mates were no help – no one was clear what had happened, if indeed anything had happened. With just one second left on the 15-second DRS countdown, he called for the review on his own initiative, his poker face as unreadable as that of a gambler going all-in with just a pair in hand.
Ultra Edge spotted a faint edge, and Riaz was gone.
A captain can, and does, get inputs from his mates. But the buck stops with him, and it is the courage of decisions made under pressure that define the good captain. Here Finch, with nothing to rely on except his instantaneous read of the angles and probabilities, took the onus on himself; he made the call, and he was vindicated.
It was not a spectacular moment the way a catch or a shot can be, but it was magic all the same.
#5 3-D Vijay Shankar into the action
Bhuvneshwar Kumar left the field midway through his third over clutching his hamstring. It was a big setback for India, who was playing with only four pure bowlers, with Hardik Pandya as their fifth. Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav constituted the sixth bowling option in case it was required.
Shankar was given the ball to complete Kumar’s unfinished over. It was just a stop gap option as skipper, Virat Kohli wouldn’t have wanted a specialist bowler to miss out on a whole over of his quota for the sake of two balls.
Shankar was marking his run-up, and Imam Ul Haq, the Pakistan opener who was beaten several times by Kumar, was likely feeling relieved as he took his guard.
Shankar ambled in; his first ball in the World Cup curved in the air and struck Imam on his pads, bang in front of the stumps. The key here was the fact that Kumar was beating Imam outside the off stump with balls going across him. Shankar came in and brought the ball back into the left-hander, took him by surprise and trapped him in front.
It was an unexpected moment, and it encapsulated all the uncertainties of sport – a set batsman, a handicapped bowler, an understudy who was yet to bowl a single ball: an uneven match up by any yardstick, but it yielded the unexpected result. Even if he never does anything else in his life, Shankar will have cause to remember the one defining moment when he showed up for his team.
#6 West Indies out, New Zealand in
Playing the innings of his life, Carlos Brathwaite reminded cricket fans of Ian Bishop’s words from the WT20 final in 2016 - “Remember the name”. In a game that was virtually done by the 30th over of the West Indies’ run chase, Brathwaite stepped in and, batting as if from another universe, dragged his team to within six runs of an improbable win.
And then Brathwaite set himself and swung, looking for the maximum over long-on. On any other ground, he could have got the desired result -- but this was Old Trafford, with its bigger acreage. The ball headed in the direction of Trent Boult, who had dropped two catches earlier in the tournament but, with the game on the line, clung onto this one inches inside the boundary line.
Moments ago, Brathwaite had completed his first international hundred. Bishop in the commentary box remarked, “What a day to keep the dream alive.” Barely two minutes later, when Brathwaite was caught on the line, , Bishop had to rephrase to, ”The dream has diminished for Carlos Brathwaite”.
The Kiwis clustered around the stricken Brathwaite, forgetting their moment of triumph and intent on consoling the batsman who had taken them on single-handedly and came within inches of pulling it off.
The result meant that New Zealand remained undefeated – and this was to ramify when, tied on points with Pakistan at the end of the league phase, the Kiwis progressed to the semifinal only on the basis of a better net run rate.
#7 The Invincible Starc yorker
England had just started to breathe again, after being dominated for 86 overs of their match against arch rivals, Australia. Though 109 more runs were required, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes made the England fans believe with their 53-run stand. Stokes was on 89, batting with enviable ease; it looked like he could bat forever.
Then came the last ball of the 37th over, Mitchell Starc went for the yorker – a ball he had not bowled in that game till that point, and it was perfection. It was 145 kph in pace; started from around the fourth stump line, tailed in towards the base of the off stump, and it knocked the surprised Stokes’ legs out from under him.
Commentators use the words “comprehensively beaten”. This is what it looks like – Stokes tripped over the ball, losing his grip on the bat, looking back to find off stump pegged back.
Stokes kicked his bat in frustration; but later, he would like everyone watching acknowledge that it was a magic ball from a supremely talented bowler.
#8 Guptill’s act of redemption
It raised a few eyebrows when Martin Guptill started his day at Lord’s against Australia by dropping two catches in the outfield -- fairly easy ones given his usually high standards.
And then, in the 12th over, he found himself in the unusual – for him, position of leg gully. Steve Smith was on strike, and Kane Williamson set his field for a typical Smith shot, the pull that he plays late to get it behind square.
The trap was laid, but Williamson needed someone who could make it work – and he picked Guptill, despite his earlier mishaps.
Sure enough, the ball was back of length on middle and leg – right in Smith’s wheelhouse. The batsman pulled, turned his head to follow the flight of the ball – and then his jaw dropped in sheer disbelief.
A scant 17 meters away, with less than half a second to react to a shot hit firmly off the middle, Guptill reflexively lunged at the ball flying towards his wrong side, timed the lunge perfectly, and held on.
The official clock later estimated that the ball had taken 0.29th of a second to reach Guptill.
#9 Guptill hitting bull’s eye
Given how badly his form with the bat impacted on the Kiwis, it is surprising that Guptill finds himself in this list twice. Or maybe not – maybe it is a testament to the strength of mind that allowed him to keep his head in the game even despite his worrying personal form.
In the first semifinal, which thanks to rain spanned two days, Guptill did nothing of significance on the first day – he was out for one. A day later, it was he who put his team in the final with an amazing display of fielding.
MS Dhoni who, despite his 38 years, is still among the fastest runners between the wickets, was steering the closing stages of the chase. With only the tail for company, Dhoni was intent on turning ones into twos, and it looked like he had done it again here.
Dhoni played the ball down behind square. There was no one in the ring to cut it down, so wicket-keeper Tom Latham had to run from behind the stumps and chase it down. This in turn meant there was no one at the stumps to take the throw in.
That was when Guptill came into the frame, sprinting in from the square leg boundary, picking up one handed and, with the sliver of a single stump to aim at on the run, threw it down. Replays showed that Dhoni was less than two inches out of his ground when the bails came off and the stumps lit up – if the keeper was up at the stumps, if the throw was into the gloves, Dhoni would have made it with ease.
“Is this the World Cup? Is this the final?” screamed the 62-year old Ian Smith from the commentary box. It was.
* The Ultimate Heartbreak
It is tough to keep count of the memorable moments provided to this World Cup by New Zealand. The last one includes Martin Guptill again but unlike the occasions discussed before, this one went against him and his side.
After a thrilling contest of 100 overs was not enough to decide the World Cup winners of 2019, the game went into the first ever super over in ODI cricket. Blackcaps were already hard done by the loopholes in the rules mandated by ICC when Ben Stokes got four extra runs off a throw which was redirected inadvertently to the boundary line by him. Now they have to make sure they win the super over since a tie was not enough for them.
It came down to two runs off the last ball for the Kiwis like it did for England during the regular course of play. Completely out of form with the bat and a little overwhelmed by the situation, Martin Guptill mistimed the ball to the deep mid-wicket. He ran for his life but the short boundary on the leg side allowed Jason Roy to reach the ball in time.
So much could have gone wrong in those few seconds between Roy and the wicket-keeper, Jos Buttler. The throw could have been awry, Buttler could have fumbled and all you know, he could have dislodged the stumps without the ball in his hands. History will give you enough examples of such goof ups that has led to heartbreaks.
For England, in the final on Sunday, it wasn’t the case. The throw was perfect skidding off the grass straight into Buttler’s gloves who grabbed the ball cleanly and dislodged the stumps. Guptill was way short of his ground.
After levelled scores in both, the 100-over contest and the 2-over contest, England was awarded the cup on the basis of hitting more boundaries on the day. England won but New Zealand didn’t get the trophy despite not losing the game.
Ian Smith, once again summed up the situation perfectly, “England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins.”