You asked for a World Cup thriller. You got three in a row.
England, world number ones and hosts, fell to a shock 20-run defeat by a Sri Lanka side that had struggled in previous matches.
India, another of the tournament favourites, scraped to an 11-run win over minnows Afghanistan, ended by Mohammad Shami’s hat-trick.
New Zealand and West Indies saw that. And raised it.
In front of a delirious Old Trafford on Saturday night, West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite smashed an astonishing century to take his side to the brink of victory from seemingly certain defeat.
They needed six to win, Brathwaite tried to end it in one hit and was caught by the nerveless Trent Boult on the very edge of the boundary.
These were the finest of margins to end an enthralling two days at the World Cup.
- World Cup table
- Fixtures results
Why did the World Cup need this?
The tournament had already had plenty of stand-out moments – Ben Stokes’ catch, and West Indies dismantling Pakistan, who then shocked England.
It had even had a final-over nail-biter, with New Zealand edging to a four-wicket win over South Africa on Wednesday following Kane Williamson’s majestic century.
But the tournament had still been beset by criticism over the format, the lack of close finishes, even the rain – and there was a sense it was drifting towards an inevitable semi-final line-up of Australia, England, India and New Zealand.
That might still be the final four but these two absorbing and crucially sunny days have helped answer those critics.
Agony and ecstasy
New Zealand’s stunning five-run win over West Indies provided what will surely prove one of the most enduring images in World Cup history.
Brathwaite, realising he has fallen centimetres shot, slumped to the ground in tears while New Zealand players streamed in jubilation towards each other before going over to the West Indies all-rounder, evoking memories of Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee in the 2005 Ashes.
It is still barely comprehensible it got this close. West Indies had slipped to 164-7 chasing 292 and do not have a strong lower order.
But Brathwaite – who started the match with a comedic misfield – believed, hitting nine fours and five sixes, plundering Matt Henry for 25 runs off the 48th over alone en route to his first one-day international century only to fall just short of victory.
The West Indies fans, making up the majority of the crowd, moved from appreciation of Brathwaite’s defiance to euphoria to heartbreak, New Zealand fans from nausea to joy and relief.
Afterwards, Brathwaite apologised to West Indies fans for not getting his side over the line. No need, Carlos.
India scrape home
This was a game that ebbed, flowed and came close to delivering one of the biggest shocks in the history of the World Cup.
As Afghanistan drew closer to a historic victory over the mighty India, led by Virat Kohli, comparisons were drawn with Bangladesh’s win over Pakistan at the 1999 World Cup and Ireland’s victory over England 12 years later.
Afghanistan were 106-2 with just over 21 overs remaining, and then needed 12 from five balls when Mohammad Nabi hit the first delivery of the last over for four.
The unthinkable was about to happen. The Indian superstars – said to be bigger in profile than Premier League footballers are in England – were about to be toppled by a nation playing in only their second World Cup.
But Nabi picked out long on off Shami and the India fast bowler delivered two searing yorkers in a row to end a dramatic match in a hat-trick.
“This has been the game of the tournament so far,” enthused former England captain Alec Stewart on Test Match Special. He was right. For a few hours.
England lose ground
Brathwaite’s previously most memorable act in cricket was smacking Stokes for four straight sixes to win the 2016 World Twenty20 final and fittingly his stunning individual effort against New Zealand recalled Stokes against Sri Lanka.
The England all-rounder was left stranded on 87 not out at Edgbaston on Friday as last man Mark Wood fell, denting the hosts’ semi-final hopes.
Sri Lanka fast bowler Lasith Malinga had proven England’s nemesis once again, taking four wickets to help ensure Eoin Morgan’s side failed to chase 233 on a tricky, slow pitch.
Watching India and New Zealand labour at times on Saturday, England may have afforded themselves a wry smile – the World Cup is never easy.
But those sides ultimately found a way to win and England are now the only one of the favourites with two defeats and still have Australia, India and New Zealand left to face.
Forget dead rubbers. This World Cup still has plenty more intrigue to offer.