One dramatic minute, two impostors

Just before 4.30am Australian eastern time on Monday, the world of sport experienced possibly the most drama-packed minute in its history. At Lord's Cricket Ground in London, a new tie-breaking system saw New Zealand lose cricket’s World Cup by a body's length;at the same time, about 15 kilometres away on the other side of the Thames, a new tie-breaking system saw Novak Djokovic crowned Wimbledon men's singles champion for a fifth time, after a twisting, turning match against Roger Federer lasting almost five hours.

Tennis fans with memories of last year's five-set semi-final between Kevin Anderson and John Isner – which ended 26-24 in Anderson's favour but left him facing Djokovic in an utterly spent state – will probably see the change in format as a great success. Federer, the darling of the Wimbledon crowd, made no complaint, though his supporters might have pointed out that his serve had been the less vulnerable all day. They would do well to cast their minds back to the final 10 years ago, when Andy Roddick served so well against Federer that he was broken just once in five sets – and that break ended the match, giving the Swiss champion a 16-14 victory.

Cricket's rule tweak, by contrast, left a bitter taste in many mouths. With total runs for each team tied after 50 overs and even after the tie-breaking "super over", a countback of boundaries hit in the match gave England the prize. As the home side, they enjoyed the same overwhelming support as Federer, and at the crucial moments luck was with them.

Yet as arbitrary and unsatisfactory as the ICC's system of deciding a winner is, can the Black Caps really say it is more unjust than the run-rate rule which gave them a place in the semi-finals ahead of Pakistan – who had soundly beaten them – to begin with?

Perhaps the real winners were the broadcasters who brought all this drama to audiences around the world, reminding us that in an age of declining TV revenue, live sport remains unrivalled in its power to turn heads and outdo any scriptwriter.

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/and treat those two impostors just the same," read the lines above the entrance to Wimbledon's Centre Court. Rudyard Kipling, who wrote them, would have been puzzled at anyone who saw the defeat of Federer – that ageless, balletic figure who has won so many times in so many arenas – in terms of Disaster.

New Zealand's story is another matter. In a team sport with all its moving parts, after being runners-up in successive tournaments and with any hope of redemption four years away, the Black Caps and their supporters may well wonder what might have been. The outrageous accidental boundary off Ben Stokes’ bat in the 50th over of the run chase already has its place alongside Trevor Chappell's underarm delivery in Kiwi sporting infamy. What if that ricochet had taken a slightly different path? What if a single here, a boundary there had been saved or hit? A catch taken? A remaining review that would have overturned a crucial lbw decision?

After his win over Nick Kyrgios in Wimbledon's first week, Rafael Nadal had his own answer to such questions: "If, if, if. If doesn't exist."

It will be up to another New Zealand side on another day to make so many ifs into a when. Perhaps Triumph is an impostor, but watching England celebrate, New Zealand will find that it is also a powerful motivator. And so we move on, in pursuit of the next magic minute.

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