Chester-le-Street, July 3rd, 2019
England vs New Zealand
0.1 Mitchell Santner to Jason Roy – An arm ball darted in from around the wicket beats Jason Roy’s attempted cut, evades the stumps by a whisker and goes past a clueless Tom Latham behind the stumps for four byes.
A rather queer start to an ODI, with Kane Williamson tossing the ball to a spinner to disturb the English opening duo of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy. It almost fetched New Zealand a big wicket first up, but with luck favoring Roy, the England batsman went on to make 60 in a partnership of 123 for the first wicket. Jonny Bairstow would go on to make a stupendous ton, and England would bat New Zealand out of the contest.
England 1, New Zealand 0.
Round two arrives eleven days later at the home of cricket, Lord’s, and its the World Cup final. Once again, all eyes will be on the England openers and New Zealand’s new ball bowlers. The earlier New Zealand can break through, the better their chances of digging deep into a never-ending batting line-up that has been pivotal in their metamorphosis post the shambolic 2015 World Cup campaign.
It has failed them on a few occasions, but it has also bulldozed them into the semi-finals from a precarious position after losses to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia in the league phase. England, faced with a do or die situation, thumped India and New Zealand in the final two league matches, and then dumped Australia out of the tournament with little mercy in the semi-finals en route the Cup finals. Each time, their batting played a pivotal role.
England’s batting average of 41.67 is the best in this World Cup after India, but combine it with a ferocious strike rate of 103.27 and you see why England are dangerous. They start quick, bat deep, and they relentlessly attack.
What will bother England, though, is that New Zealand are coming off the back of a spectacular dismantling of the best batting team (in terms of averages) in the World Cup – India. Led by Trent Boult and ably backed up by wingmen Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson, New Zealand have been the best bowling unit in the tournament.
New Zealand’s collective bowling average of 27.68 is second to none, while they are also the only team to clock an economy rate of less than five. Three of their bowlers have a presence in the top 12 wicket-takers in this World Cup, a sign that they aren’t overly dependent on one bowler.
They have more than made up for their one-dimensional batting approach – a rigid plan A surrounding Kane Williamson, their only batsmen to make some worthwhile runs – with a potent bowling unit capable of denting teams early.
It manifested in the most dangerous avatar yet in the semi-finals against India where they reduced the opposition to 24/4 within the first powerplay. Their World Cup campaign had begun at Cardiff when they demolished Sri Lanka – bowling them out for 136 – by 10 wickets. Even then, their powerplay performance – 3/51 in the first 10 overs - stood out.
Even though it was only in the semi-finals that they managed more than two wickets since that day in Cardiff, a less spectacular but equally crucial aspect of their bowling with the new ball has been containment: on five occasions they conceded less than 50 in the first 10 overs.
Against England in the league phase, New Zealand had their worst bowling powerplay. They conceded 67 runs and picked up zero wickets as England got off to a rousing start. It is this threat that New Zealand will have to counter to trump England in the finals.
The dangerous opening pair of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have now put on four century partnerships in the six matches they have opened together in this World Cup. When they get going, they hurt opposition sides big, as the onslaught against Australia in the semi-finals showed. The two average 91.33 as a pair at the top.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have had completely opposite starts to that of England. The poor form of Martin Guptill, Colin Munro and Henry Nicholls has meant that none of their opening pairs have put on a sizeable partnership after the unbeaten century stand in the first game against a listless Sri Lankan unit.
Bairstow and Roy have four hundred partnerships in six matches. That the two have 496 and 426 runs respectively in this World Cup at averages in excess of 40 shows how influential they have been.
What New Zealand will like, though, is that the two teams that have had early success against them – South Africa and Pakistan – have both used spinners turning the ball away from them to pick a wicket. If it was Imran Tahir for South Africa dismissing Jonny Bairstow in the first match, it was Shadab Khan getting rid of Jason Roy in Pakistan’s win over England.
It does not necessarily mean New Zealand have to bring in the leg-spinner Ish Sodhi – which might also be disruptive to the rhythm of an in-sync bowling attack. But they could persist with Mitchell Santner at the top, a gamble that nearly paid off at Chester-le-Street. The left-arm spinner bowled just the one over with the new ball in the league fixture, but could be used again in the finals to counter Roy and Bairstow, who are tentative against spin early on.
It is perhaps reductive to suggest that the outcome of a Cup final hinges on one match up – but there is no denying that if the Kiwis can take out the England opening pair early and cheap, as they did against India, the flood gates will be opened, and New Zealand have shown that they have the bowling attack to cash in. But England’s deep batting line-up and relentless counter-attack will prove to be a menace. We have a bloody final, all right.