The trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and Australia have always thrown up exciting matches, and the June 29 match-up will be no different.
Australia has an opportunity to further consolidate their position at the top of the table, having already booked their place in the semi-final, while New Zealand has to win to book their semifinal berth.
The last time these two teams met in a World Cup was the 2015 final, when New Zealand, having made it to the last two for the first time, suffered a crushing defeat. Though this is not a final, there is still a death-match feel to it, because the Kiwis only have one more game after this, against hosts and favourites England – a defeat here could put their semifinal berth in serious doubt.
*As on June 25 2015, after the conclusion of England vs Australia, Match 32
The Kiwis, currently placed third on the table, have certain areas to address, and a major one is the lack of form of the openers. The Kiwis openers have contributed the least number of runs of all teams in this tournament – and, to add a cutting edge to that statistic, the Aussie openers have contributed the most.
Barring the match-winning unbeaten 137-run opening stand in their first match against Sri Lanka, Martin Guptill and Colin Munro have been way below par. In the 2015 edition, a major reason the Kiwis made the finals was their opening blitz, powered by Brendon McCullum, but this World Cup has been the polar opposite with the Kiwis winning despite their openers, not because of them.
A change the Kiwis might contemplate is to bring Henry Nicholls into the lineup. While Nicholls might not be a good option to open – his strike-rate in the first powerplay is just 57.3 – he could be a good middle-order option with Tom Latham moved up to open alongside Guptill. At numbers 5 and 6 combined, Nicholls has five 50-plus scores from 26 innings at a healthy strike-rate of 93.1, and averages close to 35.
Colin Munro should logically be the one to sit out, since Guptill has a terrific strike-rate against most of Australia’s bowlers barring Marcus Stoinis, against whom he scores 52.9 runs every 100 balls. Crucially, against Mitchell Starc who has been in destructive form in the opening overs, Guptill strikes at 84.4; he has a strike-rate of over 100 against the other bowlers.
Australian openers, on the other hand, just have to continue what they have been doing so far. They have lost just four wickets in the powerplays across seven matches – and all those came in one game against West Indies. Since that match, Australia’s score after the first powerplay has read 48-0, 56-0, 53-0, 53-0 and 43-0, which has given the defending champions a great platform to build on in the middle overs. David Warner and Aaron Finch have between them contributed almost 1,000 runs – a large part of the reason they are sitting pretty at the top.
The key to the contest could be between the Kiwi openers and Aussie quick Mitchell Starc who, thus far in the tournament, has dismissed six batsmen from the top three of their various oppositions. Only Sheldon Cottrell (7) and Mohammad Amir (7) have been more prolific in taking wickets early.
New Zealand has its middle order to thank for having come as far as they have. In 2019, New Zealand’s middle-order has an average of 45.95, which is the second best. In this World Cup alone, they average 37.20, which indicates how well the likes of Ross Taylor, James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme have batted.
For Australia, the major task is to get rid of Kane Williamson, who has looked near invincible in not just this tournament, but across the year. The Kiwi captain has the best average (65.33) among the top 10 run-getters in 2019.
The key will be to bowl in the channel outside off and lure him forward, frustrating him by denying singles and forcing him to try the more expansive drives that open up the edge. Bangladesh managed to execute this successfully and as a result, Williamson played a reckless shot and holed out in the deep.
Spin could play a vital role at Lord’s, where tweakers don’t pick up many wickets but will be key in keeping the runs down and building pressure. In the two matches held here during the Cup, spinners have picked up just 7 wickets from 63 overs, while the pacers have taken 27 wickets from 131 overs. The quick bowlers take a wicket every 31.6 deliveries at a cost of 29.40 runs, while spin costs 45.85 runs per wicket, at a strike-rate of 54.
New Zealand missed the services of Ish Sodhi on a spin-friendly Edgbaston wicket, and will look to remedy the error this time round. If Sodhi makes the lineup, it will be at the expense of Matt Henry, who has picked up just one wicket in his previous four matches.
Australia’s selections have been on horses for courses lines, and it will not be surprising if they accommodate both spinners – Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa – in the XI. Despite a good show in the previous match, Jason Behrendorff could be the one to make way for Zampa.
The slope at Lord’s could also play a pivotal role. When bowling from the Nursery End, the slope takes the ball away from the batsman, and bowling down the slope from the other end the ball tends to come back in sharply, leaving the batsman vulnerable to LBWs and also opens up the gate between bat and pad. Regardless of the ends, judging the length of the ball can be extremely difficult, and that is enough to induce error from the batsman. It looks to be advantageous to the bowlers, but batsmen who have gotten their eye in have gone on to score big in the past.
The weather in London is expected to be bright and sunny with no sign of rain – which is exactly what the doctor ordered for a game with so much riding on it.