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England win World Cup: Inside team’s journey to top of world

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As England took to the field for the last time in the World Cup, six balls of a super over standing between them and sporting immortality, the players gathered around captain Eoin Morgan.

What might the majority of us have said or done in that situation? How do you reassure your team in the most massive moment of their professional lives, surrounded by a delirious crowd singing Sweet Caroline and watched by millions on free-to-air television for the first time in a generation?

Whatever Morgan said, the players all left the huddle smiling.

“It was such a ridiculous situation,” said Morgan. “I encouraged them to smile, laugh and enjoy.

“Whether we won or lost, we had already done incredible things.”

There spoke a man who had gone through the exact opposite of glory four years earlier, when England were dumped out of a World Cup in the first round on his watch.

Morgan is not the only one of this England team to have been put through the wringer.

Ben Stokes must have wondered if his England career was over when he was charged with affray, some 18 months after he suffered the professional low of being hit for four consecutive sixes in the 2016 World Twenty20 final.

Liam Plunkett spent time in the cricketing wilderness. Mark Wood’s body has threatened to let him down. Joe Root was captain on England’s last, awful Ashes tour.

Yes, the stated aim of this team was to win the World Cup, and they put four years of planning into it, but they are also a group of men who understood, in Morgan’s words, “you can get to the top by being yourself”.

It was a mantra that rung true in those final six balls, delivered by Jofra Archer. The newest member of the England team is Caribbean cool, but even he needed reminding of the ethos. “Ben Stokes told me ‘win or lose, today does not define you’.”

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England’s six-week World Cup journey has taken in Durham, Southampton and everywhere in between.

Those lucky enough to follow them every step of the way have had the opportunity to learn the things that make them human – their lives away from cricket.

On the day of the final warm-up game against Afghanistan, Chris Woakes was the last in the dressing room because he was watching Aston Villa win the Championship play-off final.

Later that week, when Morgan was on his way to Buckingham Palace, he was asked what he would say to the Queen.

“I might ask her about horses,” said the captain, who knew he had a common interest with Her Majesty. (He later revealed there was no horse chat, but that his mum was incredibly excited about his day at the Palace.)

Moeen Ali’s wife gave birth during the World Cup; Wood’s put up with the emotion of it all while pregnant.

They are part of a team that is family oriented. On the day he belted 17 sixes against Afghanistan, Morgan was watched by his nephew, who accompanied Uncle Eoin to the post-match press conference.

Woakes, Jos Buttler and Jason Roy are all relatively new dads and, the day before the Australia semi-final, breakfast at the team hotel felt like a father-and-baby event. After the memorable win over the Aussies, Root played on the outfield with his son.

Thanks to some savvy media management on the part of the England and Wales Cricket Board, the players have been made accessible.

That has led to fascinating cricketing insight, but also lots of useless information. Root’s room is the place to go to play Mario Kart, Wood can tell you which is the best Newcastle pub to watch football, while Morgan likes to take the train on longer journeys from his London home.

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Then there are the glimpses of the work that goes into becoming the best team in the world.

After Afghanistan were dispatched with the minimum of fuss in the last warm-up, Morgan and Root immediately went to the Oval’s indoor nets because they hadn’t had a decent hit.

Two days before the opening game against South Africa, Wood trained alone with nothing but a stump, a ball and bowling coach Chris Silverwood for company. In the rain at Trent Bridge, Buttler did the same with Bruce French to iron out some rustiness in his wicketkeeping.

Stokes, the man who took that outrageous boundary catch against South Africa in the opening game, practised gravity-defying leaps in the outfield with balls launched into orbit by fielding coach Paul Collingwood.

Jonny Bairstow’s range-hitting endangered anyone loitering in the stands the day before the game against New Zealand at Chester-le-Street.

As well as of all that, they gave us the moments – started by Stokes’ catch and followed by Archer sending the ball out of Cardiff via Soumya Sarkar’s off stump. Morgan’s six-hitting assault on the crowd at Old Trafford, Roy’s huge blow in the semi-final that left bowler Steve Smith with a permanent crick in his neck.

All topped by the final, that glorious, ludicrous day at Lord’s, seen by millions on terrestrial television, which is perhaps the greatest achievement of this England team.

After Buttler removed the bails to end a 44-year wait for World Cup glory, some sprinted after the keeper, Archer lay on the ground and beat the hallowed turf, Root leapt into the arms of Bairstow and Wood wheeled off to celebrate in front of the stands.

It was a moment when the nation rekindled its love affair with cricket and also discovered its new heroes, a group of men that fully represents the United Kingdom in 2019.

“I spoke to Adil Rashid and he said Allah was definitely with us,” said Morgan. “I said we had the rub of the green.

“It actually epitomises our team. Quite diverse backgrounds and cultures and guys that grew up in different countries.

“To actually find humour in the situation we were in at times was pretty cool.”

World Cup winners now. Champions forever.

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BBC Sport – Cricket

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