They suffered heartbreak, but New Zealand and their captain were symbols of class.
‘One of those things, eh?’
Even by Kane Williamson’s standards, it was spectacular understatement.
New Zealand’s captain was wry in the face of a defeat that would have left lesser souls an angry, puddly mess.
But as he watched Eoin Morgan’s merry men yahooing around a delirious Lord’s, Williamson must have wondered what his side had done to anger the cricketing gods.
"There were so many small parts in that match which could have gone either way," he mused.
If Trent Boult hadn’t taken half a step back onto the boundary foam when catching Ben Stokes in the penultimate over.
If Martin Guptill’s attempted run out an over later hadn’t collided with Stokes’ bat, streaking away to the boundary to give England six runs.
If Henry Nicholls hadn’t been blinded by the late evening sun, allowing Jos Buttler to scramble two from the penultimate delivery of the super over.
If. If. If.
Such bilious ponderings are bound to churn after defeat by boundary count in a Super Over. Especially when your side has done everything right.
New Zealand were masters of detail.
On a niggly, unobliging pitch, each recognised batsman reached double figures. They ran hard, sold their wickets dear, and gritted out the fifty overs.
Their 241/8 was impressive given Williamson, the Black Caps’ eternal run-spring, who had gushed forth more than a third of their runs in this tournament, was dismissed for just 30.
The skipper had as usual been batting in his own space-time bubble. Confronted with the face-melting pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, he seemed to have time to do a quick crossword before deigning to select each stroke.
So it came as a surprise when he feathered a Plunkett cross-seamer through to Buttler. This most unhurried of batsman, playing always late, always close to the body, swooshed at a ball that dithered a fraction on a pedestrian pitch. The edge was so faint that umpire Kumar Dharmasena did not detect it. But Eoin Morgan did, and ultra-edge confirmed it.
New Zealand knew, though, that they didn’t need a mountainous score to give themselves a chance. They had showed it against India. Just get something. So they dug in, scraping and edging their way past 200, 215, 230. The ball plunked and clonked off the bat, only rarely sounding the sweet ringing ‘pock’ of the middle. It didn’t matter.
The bowlers were relentless, unyielding.
Boult’s pad-seeking missiles had England’s top order hopping. Matt Henry was even better than his new-ball partner, hooping away swingers past the outside edge and jagging cutters up the slope past the inside edge.
Then came Colin de Grandhomme. Bowling with a noose of five offside fielders, the 32-year-old grunted in his medium pacers with unerring accuracy. Ten overs cost a strangulating 25 runs. England gasped for breath.
Wing-commanders Lockie Ferguson and Jimmy Neesham were at their snarling best at the death, snagging six scalps between them as England began to panic.
But it was in the field that New Zealand’s clear-eyed grasp of detail really showed. The howitzer throws, the full length stops, and the two sprinting, sprawling boundary catches, ball plucked from the air inches off the ground.
England had run up against an anti-England. Eoin Morgan’s men had blasted all comers into oblivion over the previous four years, crushing opponents by 100 runs, 150 runs, 8 wickets, 10 wickets, drunk on their surfeit of batting power.
In the Black Caps they met a side that strove not to destroy but to grind down, that won not by overwhelming, but by edging out. New Zealand embraced the pressure, the constriction, the thinning of the air.
When four overthrows left England needing three from two balls, the Boult held them to a pair of singles.
When Stokes and Buttler scrambled 15 from their super over, Neesham replied by rustling 14 from 5.
It wasn’t enough.
Reflecting on the overthrows, Williamson grinned.
‘That was a little bit of a shame, wasn’t it?' he said, 'Those things happen. You just hope they’re not going to happen in moments like that.’
England were brilliant. But the quiet captain and his meticulous, defeated team were beautiful.
By Harry Normanton