During the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, sportswear giant Nike had run a conversational “You Don’t Win Silver, You Lose Gold” advertisement. The campaign was pulled down in the face of huge criticism.
While a silver medal, or even bronze for that matter, is celebrated at the Olympics, it is seemingly less so in cricket. The England teams of 1979, 1987 and 1992, who were runners-up in the World Cup, are seldom remembered while the champions in each of those years - be it Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, Allan Border’s Australia or Imran Khan’s Pakistan - are hailed for conquering the summit of ODI cricket.
On the other hand, New Zealand’s run in the 2015 World Cup was a contradiction to the thought that winning gold is everything. Led by the innovative Brendon McCullum, the Kiwis captured the minds of cricketing fans all across the globe. Despite losing the final to Australia, New Zealand are remembered for their brand of aggressive and fearless cricket.
Both England and New Zealand have one thing in common though. At the World Cup, they’ve always been the bridesmaid and never the bride. When the two teams step onto the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood, London on Sunday, July 14, they will be looking to create history by winning the World Cup for the first time.
It’s no secret that England have been the most exciting team in ODI cricket over the last four years. Between the World Cups in 2015 and 2019, their run-rate in ODIs was 6.3, the only team scoring at over a run-a-ball during this period.
England, who were previously ridiculed for their stodgy approach to the ODI game, changed drastically after their group stage exit in 2015. In fact, ahead of the 2019 World Cup, England skipper Eoin Morgan has cited McCullum as an inspiration for this change in approach.
“If you look at his [McCullum’s] body language at any stage of any game it’s extremely positive, he’s always on the front foot and leading from the front regardless of the scoreboard or the situation of the game. I like to pick his brain,” Morgan had told BBC Sport.
“As a pure leader, he’s exceptional. New Zealand cricket had embodied playing fun cricket under McCullum. Playing against them, we were a little bit jealous.
“We weren’t enjoying our cricket and that was something we wanted to change. Transforming your game from an average-scoring side to one who scored 350 or 400 is extremely exciting and fun to be part of.”
Interestingly though, the New Zealand team at this World Cup has been nothing like McCullum’s 2015 side. They have been resolute, dug in deep and persevered. Heading into the final, England have the highest run-rate at this tournament (6.4) while New Zealand have the second least (5.0), only better than Afghanistan who lost every game they played.
New Zealand’s dogged approach has mostly been forced on them, with their openers struggling. Martin Guptill, the top run-scorer in the 2015 edition, has endured a nightmare with the bat. His lone 50+ score came in the Black Caps’ first game of the tournament against Sri Lanka, and he has four single-digit scores in his last five innings besides two golden ducks.
Guptill’s form has impacted New Zealand’s scoring greatly. At 27.1, their batting average is the second worst during the first powerplay at this World Cup. England, on the other hand, are at the top of the charts, averaging 56.8 during this phase of the innings.
England’s excellence has been built on the opening partnership of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow. In their semi-final encounter against Australia, they were set a target of 224. While it seems like a modest target on paper, with the pressure of a knockout game the general feeling was that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk, especially with the opposition possessing Mitchell Starc – the best bowler of the last two World Cups.
Starc started well, bowling six dots to Roy in his first over. The England batsman, who tends to start in fifth gear, even copped a blow on his thigh. A few minutes later, Starc ran in to bowl the second over. And Roy was on strike once again. With the Australian’s reputation and what had happened in his previous over, most batsmen would have been pleased to see him off. But that’s not Roy’s style.
Starc erred by bowling a half-volley and that’s the only invitation Roy needed. A drive through the covers, and the England opener had stated his intent. Five deliveries later, Roy smashed Starc for a boundary through the covers once again. The Aussie pacer never recovered, going for 70 runs off his nine overs.
Roy and Bairstow went on to register their fourth successive century-run stand at the World Cup, three of them coming after the former’s return from injury.
THE MIDDLE-ORDER BATTLE
While there has been a gigantic difference between the performances of the opening batsmen of the two teams, the number three batsmen - Kane Williamson and Joe Root - have both been consistently brilliant. Both batsmen find themselves among the top five run-scorers in the tournament, and have been crucial to their respective team’s routes to the final.
Williamson has almost single-handedly held the New Zealand batting together, scoring 30.9% of his team’s runs, the highest for any batsman at the tournament. The Black Caps skipper’s performances have been especially impressive when you consider the situations he has come into bat at: 35/1 vs Bangladesh, 0/1 vs Afghanistan, 12/1 vs South Africa, 0/1 vs West Indies, 5/1 vs Pakistan, 29/1 vs Australia, 2/1 vs England and 1/1 vs India.
England haven’t been as dependent on Root, since the batsmen around him are in good form. Morgan and Ben Stokes, England’s number four and five, both average above 40 at strike rates of 116 and 95 respectively. New Zealand, meanwhile, have Ross Taylor, who averages 41.9 at a strike rate of 77.2.
The wicket-keepers haven’t been in great touch. Jos Buttler, who came into the tournament as England’s biggest match-winner, has seen his form dip after hitting a century against Pakistan. In his last five innings, he averages 13.6. In New Zealand’s corner, there’s Tom Latham who has scored above 20 just once in the tournament.
Ahead of the 2015 World Cup, New Zealand’s selectors had decided to pick the experienced Grant Elliott in the squad ahead of promising all-rounder James Neesham. It proved to be a masterstroke, with Elliott playing a stunning knock in the semi-final of that tournament to guide the Kiwis to the final. Just after Elliott’s winning six against Dale Steyn, Neesham had tweeted: “Holy f***ing sh*tballs, this is the best day of my life.” Incredibly, the player who had taken his place in the team had given Neesham the best day of his life.
This World Cup, it is Neesham who has contributed in a big way to New Zealand cricket fans having great days. The 28-year-old has scored 213 runs at an average of 35.5 with the bat, but it has been his bowling that has come of age. 12 wickets in eight innings at an average of 20.7 are stats frontline bowlers would be proud of. Williamson’s faith in Neesham’s bowling has been immense, bowling him during crucial moments, and the all-rounder has responded well. A case in point: dismissing Carlos Brathwaite when the West Indies needed six runs to win in the penultimate over of a league stage game.
ALL EYES ON THE BOWLERS
On the bowling front, both teams have been among the best in the tournament. Matt Henry and Trent Boult have been magnificent at the start of the innings, and this has resulted in New Zealand having the best bowling average (30) in the first 10 overs of an innings. While Henry and Boult have formed a formidable partnership with the new ball, we shouldn’t be surprised if Mitchell Santner opens the bowling.
It’s a strategy teams have used against England with success during this World Cup. In fact, in the league stage match between these two sides, it was Santner who opened the bowling for the Black Caps. The left-arm spinner has taken just six wickets during the tournament, but it’s his economy rate (4.9) that has been key to New Zealand’s success. In the semi-final, he conceded just seven runs in his first six overs to choke India’s scoring in the middle overs.
In the middle overs, along with Santner, Lockie Ferguson has been instrumental in gaining an advantage for Williamson’s side. No one has taken more wickets (12) than Ferguson between overs 11-40 at the World Cup. The New Zealander has been bowling at rapid speeds, and will definitely test England captain Morgan who has a visible weakness against the short delivery.
England have their own stars in the middle overs with the ball. Since the 2015 World Cup, no spinner and no pacer has taken more wickets than Adil Rashid (108) and Liam Plunkett (54) respectively between overs 11-40. With New Zealand’s gun batsmen Williamson and Taylor likely to be batting during this phase of the match, the battle between the Kiwi duo and Rashid, Plunkett and Mark Wood could be decisive.
Roy and Bairstow’s blitz might have eased England during their semi-final win. But it was the opening spell of bowling by Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer that won them the game. Three wickets in the first seven overs - a situation the Aussies never recovered from. Up against an opening pair that is short of confidence, Morgan will be looking at the pace duo to get the early breakthroughs once again.
GROUND AND WEATHER CONDITIONS
At this World Cup, bowlers have enjoyed more success at Lord’s than most other grounds. The bowling average and strike rate at the famous old ground have been 22.3 and 25.4 respectively, the best among all grounds used at the tournament. 300 has been breached just twice in eight innings, with 71 wickets falling from a maximum of 80. So, expect an even battle between bat and ball.
There’s no forecast of rain, so we should get a full game on Sunday.
Both teams are unlikely to change their playing line-ups for the final.
Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson.
Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood.