14th July 2019. A highlight in regards to what was a phenomenal summer of sports, with three of the biggest events in Cricket, Tennis and Motorsport running at pretty much exactly the same time and all on British soil.
The ICC Cricket World Cup final comes once every four years. England, the host nation, had focused on making this occasion since 2015; everything they had worked on targeted towards lifting the Cup. In their way stood New Zealand. But England felt like favourites.
The Wimbledon final was an annual event, but No 1 Novak Djokovic vs No 2 Roger Federer wasn’t. This was their first Major final match-up since the 2015 US Open. Their 2014 Wimbledon final went to five sets, their 2015 went to four sets. Federer had the tougher draw, having to play 8th seed Kei Nishikori and 3rd seed Rafael Nadal to the final. The Serb felt the favourite. Only just.
The Formula 1 season had 21 races in 2019, but there was only one British Grand Prix. There were three Brits racing, but Lewis Hamilton’s teammate had the pole, not him. Hamilton generally feels like a favourite to win any race, but in Formula 1 there is no guarantee.
Three major sporting events, three venues, but in one country. Silverstone is 80 miles away from London, where both the cricket and tennis were held. It felt counterproductive to have all three practically simultaneously, if mainly for the fans either at the grounds, toggling the remote at home or watching on multi-screens.
New Zealand’s first innings kicked off the day, and it was clear this game did not play to England’s attacking strengths. It was compelling cricket, a balanced fight on the biggest stage even if the entertainment was drawn from the intangibles. It set the stage for England’s effort. 241 runs were on the board. New Zealand defended 239 in the semi-final.
Djokovic started the Wimbledon final strong, winning the first set 7-6 (7-5), but then Federer came back strong in the second, taking it 6-1. The tennis, like cricket, was compelling viewing at the start. After two sets, it felt the final would go on to five sets. On a regular day, this would be main screen viewing, but this was a day of three. It was the Formula One that brought the day the turbo boost.
The race, in the grand scheme of things, was the third wheel of the day. But it provided the turn-by-turn excitement. Lewis Hamilton took the race comfortably even without being on pole, his sixth win British GP victory. Red Bull’s struggling Pierre Gasly had his highest finish of the season to that point, finishing 4th. And four-time champion Sebastian Vettel finished out of the points. By the time the race finished, we turned our focus back on the cricket and tennis, and wow. It was getting tight.
As three became two, the wavering focus started to settle. England’s Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler provided resistance to New Zealand’s early inroads. We wondered: could this final go to the final moments, a rarity in the competition’s history? Djokovic took the third set, but then Federer took the fourth. This was going to a fifth set. England had a chance at four down, but then Buttler got out. And Woakes. England needed 34 from 18 balls.
It was then 24 from 12 balls. 22 from nine. Stokes hit a six that Boult caught and parried but whose foot was on the boundary line. This already seemed extraordinary. But England still needed 15 from the last over. Two dots, and it was 15 from four. England fans may have given up at this point, and then Stokes hit a six. 9 from three. And then four overthrows off the next ball. Unintentional from Stokes, and yet it was done. Guptill’s throw ricocheted off his bat, went towards the boundary. Is this legal? Is this happening? What’s happening?
By this point, the fifth set was as madcap as the cricket. This was the crescendo of pressure, of absolute chaos. As fans, there is nothing we could do, and yet there’s so much we wanted to do. To pause the madness, and yet keep it going forever. The fifth set went back and forth, all the way to 12-all. There was incredible returns, incredible rallies. Djokovic saved two Championship points at 7-8 down.
The cricket finished in a tie: two run-outs off the last two balls. Stokes finished on 84. There was now a Super Over. In a final. England mustered 15 off that, the same number they hit in the final over. New Zealand took nine off the first two balls, and now it was England’s turn to defend runs. Seven runs in four balls became three in two, two in one. This was the ultimate end to all games. New Zealand could only manage one, tying the super over, but ‘losing’ the final on the arbitrary boundary count. Cruel, cruel fate.
Federer had his chances, but he couldn’t hold on forever, and eventually lost the tiebreak 7-3. Djokovic held on. England held on. New Zealand, ever the nice guys, lost by the barest of margins, and so did Federer. But they were all part of something greater: the longest Wimbledon men’s final and a World Cup final that could be the greatest game in cricket ever.
Just think about it. A hugely unlikely tie within a tie in a World Cup final taking place almost simultaneously with a Wimbledon final that had its own tie. Both games had their own share of incredible, incredulous sporting moments. Fans were left gaping, out of breathe at the sheer pace. This was sport for the gods, a convergence of numerous highly unlikely multi-sport moments.
It is unlikely any day will ever match 14th July 2019. It was a slow-burner that ebbed and, flowed before simply crashing back and forth towards something special. It’s a day that fans will never forget, a day that we would simple be grateful for being there to watch. Nothing made sense, and yet you didn’t want it to. England and Djokovic won, but sport was the real victor that summer Sunday.