By Kieran Wellington

  • Eoin Morganwill lead his England side into a first World Cup final since 1992
  • Neither side has ever won the Cricket World Cup in its 11 previous editions
  • Around 40% of tickets for the final at Lord’s are said to have been bought by India fans, throwing doubt on whether the Home of Cricket will be anywhere near capacity

LONDON, UK – Whatever happens tomorrow at Lord’s, Cricket World Cup history will be made. When either Eoin Morgan or Kane Williamson hold the trophy aloft, a whole new generation of cricketers from one side of the globe will be inspired to play cricket. But which team will have that honour?

 

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England sides never make it easy on the heart rate, but Eoin Morgan‘s men have done it. They have risen to the pressure, survived a mid-tournament blip and won three out of three must-win games to reach their first World Cup final since 1992, and their first on home soil since 1979.

To put it simply, this is a once in a generation moment. Four years ago, England cricket fans east, west, north and south of Lord’s would never have envisaged this. England played a tired, outdated, nervous, defensive brand of one-day cricket. Now, thanks predominately to Andrew StraussTrevor Bayliss and Morgan, the opposite is true.

In a strange sort of way, England have replicated the style of New Zealand in the way Brendon McCullum, Black Caps’ captain for the 2015 World Cup, played a no holds barred, ultra-aggressive brand of cricket that culminated in the country’s first ever World Cup final appearance four years ago where along the way they absolutely embarrassed England by eight wickets, winning with more than 37 overs to spare.

The two men not out for the Kiwis that day, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, are still crucial to the New Zealand set-up and England will not settle until both men are trudging back down the famous Lord’s long room.

One of the most decisive battles may actually be the toss, of course a system completely decided by luck. If the team who wins it decides to bat, as has been the trend of the tournament, scoreboard pressure could prove crucial in a final. But New Zealand will be painfully aware of the dangers of batting first in a final – they were bundled out for just 183 by Australia in 2015. You feel Williamson’s side will need at least 100 more to pose any threat to England’s in-form batting outfit.

 

Set the tone early

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It is crucial in any big match, especially in a World Cup final, to make an early statement of intent. It is exactly what Australia did to New Zealand four years ago when McCullum, one of the most destructive limited-overs batsmen ever, was bowled for a third-ball duck by Mitchell Starc. It would’ve sent shockwaves through the Black Caps’ dressing room and, without the contribution of Grant Elliott, New Zealand would’ve only made 100 runs.

New Zealand will of course have learnt lessons from the way they approached that final, but are not necessarily in a strong enough position to do much about it, which is a strange thing to say for a country with the best win-rate in the entire tournament.

A lot of that is down to the way captain Williamson has practically had to play as an opener, despite the fact he is slated as a no.3. Opener Martin Guptill, who scored the most runs of anyone in 2015 at a strike-rate of more than a run-a-ball has, since New Zealand’s opening game of this tournament, managed just 94 runs in eight innings – that’s an average of 11.75.

Guptill can be so dangerous, as proven by his unbeaten 73 off just 51 balls against Sri Lanka, but has failed to get New Zealand off to the platforms that Williamson and Taylor so desire. If their two best batsmen were coming in with a significant total already on the board, New Zealand would be such a dangerous side with the bat with the explosive all-rounders Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme also able to impose themselves.

As it is currently, the platform the Kiwi openers have been setting is more like a trench that Williamson and co have to dig themselves out of. In their last three matches, the first New Zealand wicket has fallen at 29 against Australia, 2 against England and 1 against India.

Conversely, so much has been made of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow‘s perfect partnership at the top of the order. Unrivalled in terms of average and strike-rate, Roy’s swashbuckling confidence and Bairstow’s gritty, in-your-face determination and punchiness have guided England to four century partnerships in just six innings together.

England in the opening 10 overs with Roy average over 100 with a run-rate of more than six-an-over. When his injury forced him to miss four games, England averaged 30.8 in the power play with a run-rate of 4.6.

The numbers are startling, and show what one man being in or out of form can do to an entire side’s game plan. New Zealand have had to almost move back to the old style of one-day cricket, defending a score of around 250 with some canny bowling, in order to get this far. Meanwhile, England’s modus operandi, barring the strangest of games against Sri Lanka, has been to impose themselves upon the opposition early with bat and with ball and have never relinquished any early advantage they have gained through their early-overs performances.

 

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Captains fantastic

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So much scrutiny will be put upon captains Williamson and Morgan and how they lead their teams tomorrow. What will they do if they win the toss? How will they set their fields to the key batsmen? Who will they throw the ball to to break a key partnership?

Whatever happens in the final, these two fairly diminutive cricketers are the best captains in the world, without question. Their ability to lead from the front, have total confidence in their team and remain level-headed, even when it looks like things are working against them, has meant they have found themselves leading their countries out at the Home of Cricket for the biggest match in one-day cricket.

It is no coincidence to me that the two best leaders have ended up in the final. In the one-day format, where momentum can shift numerous times between teams throughout the match, it is so important to have a captain who will have a clear mind.

Despite Virat Kohli‘s unquestionable ability – he is the best batsmen in world cricket, for my money – his emotional, expressive style of captaincy hasn’t always paid off, and his prickly comments in post-match interviews, like those suggesting the boundaries were too small in the game vs England, means too much media chat focuses on him and not on his team’s strengths.

This is in stark contrast to Morgan and Williamson who manage to keep everyone grounded with slightly predictable answers in press conferences (while still being friendly enough to appear genuine) and allows the focus to be directed towards why their teams are so good.

They are quick to praise any great performance publicly but in private, you know they remain calm – until they are able to lift a trophy above their head. Williamson or Morgan will make cricketing history at the end of play tomorrow, weather permitting, by being the first ever captain of their respective countries to hold the Cricket World Cup trophy aloft.

But will that potential opportunity get the better of them? Of course not. Expect England and New Zealand to perform exactly as they have done all tournament – and if that is the case, then (and whisper it quietly) it may be coming home.

Whatever the final result is tomorrow, I am delighted Sky have agreed a deal with Channel 4 to show the final on free-to-air TV. Cricket being on terrestrial telly is what inspired me to get into the sport as a youngster thanks to the magnificence of the 2005 Ashes. Although the TV rights for this home World Cup has been restricted to just one game on free-to-air, it is the biggest match of many of these cricketers’ lives. And that sense of occasion alone should mean it inspires the next generation, wherever they watch the final tomorrow. I for one cannot wait.

 

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