After almost a month-and-a-half of mostly top-notch cricket, the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 beckons at the home of cricket - Lord’s - between hosts and tournament favourites England, and last World Cup’s finalists New Zealand on Sunday.
Both teams entered the tournament as potential semi-finalists, but they have gone one step further, and history awaits one of the two teams, as they will be crowned World Champions for the first time.
For the hosts, the inventors of the game, it has been a four year process of reinventing the way they play white-ball cricket, especially after the ignominy of being eliminated in the group stages of the 2015 World Cup by Bangladesh. The Kiwis on the other hand could be credited with helping Eoin Morgan and his men find this new fire and attacking brand of cricket, something they displayed with aplomb in 2015 when they were led by Brendon McCullum. England, based on the stacked team and home conditions, should be considered favourites but New Zealand have shown that they have the grit and determination to take advantage of any mistakes or lapses from the opposition. Given the way New Zealand have played in pressure moments so well and how they have reached finals in back-to-back World Cups, the experience might give them the edge.
The journey so far
For England, they started the tournament as one of the favourites defeating South Africa with ease but were defeated by Pakistan in the second game, although they came close to chasing down a big total. A few more wins against Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan followed as they had semi-final qualification in sight, but then the shock of the tournament happened as Sri Lanka defeated them. That shock was followed by another loss to arch-rivals Australia, and their semi-hopes were under threat with India and New Zealand up next. But against India, they once again found form with the bat, and the return of Jason Roy from injury helped matters, as India just didn’t show enough intent in the final overs to chase down the total and England had a lifeline. In their last group stage match, they thrashed New Zealand to make the semis, but their best performance came in the semi against Australia, where the bowling dominated an in-form Australia top order and then the batsmen chased it down with chutzpah.
New Zealand’s success, meanwhile can be attributed to a good set of fixtures up first, and some luck as they defeated Sri Lanka with ease, almost stumbled against Bangladesh but won, and again won easy against Afghanistan. In their first big challenge against India, rain came in and the match didn’t happen, giving them a vital point, as they went on to hold their nerve in back-to-back thrillers against South Africa and the West Indies. It was more down to the opposition making errors under pressure and New Zealand keeping cool, with a bit of help from lady luck, but that ran out as they lost a thrilling encounter against a resurgent Pakistan. Stuck on 11 points and qualification not yet guaranteed, they went on to collapse against Australia and England, as their batting weaknesses were exposed, but they still managed to qualify because of a better net run rate than Pakistan. In the semis, which was played over two days against India due to rain, they once again roared back to life with the new ball to dismantle the Indian top order, and fielded excellently to defend a modest total.
It’s almost a given that the team that wins the toss will want to bat first especially since chasing a big total under the pressure of the final might not be what England want, and New Zealand have shown they can defend modest totals. New Zealand have been excellent with their bowling and fielding for most parts of the tournament, even though their batting has been extremely reliant on Kane Williamson and they remain the only side, other than Afghanistan, to not have a 300-plus team total this tournament. If the England openers can once again start well, they could have control of the match and once again it will depend on how well Roy and Jonny Bairstow do, although Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Morgan have been in good nick with the bat. For New Zealand, the game will be decided by how well Williamson plays, and how the batsmen around him play, as their top order, especially with Martin Guptill out of form, has been a weakness