England’s men can win the World Cup for the first time on Sunday. Standing in their way at Lord’s will be New Zealand, runners-up in 2015 and surprise finalists this time around. England will start as big favourites, but that is to not discount the Black Caps, who stunned India in the semi-finals.
Where will the final be won and lost?
The flick of the coin has probably lost a little of its significance since England won their semi-final against Australia batting second, but it is still true that almost two-thirds of the completed games in this World Cup have been won by the team batting first.
And, even then, the hosts’ win wasn’t a run chase per se, more a canter after their bowlers took advantage of some early movement to restrict the Aussies to 223. On that occasion, it can actually be argued it was a good toss to lose.
Lord’s is likely to be different and will probably be at its best for batting early. In the four games hosted here so far at this World Cup, not one has been won by the team batting second.
If England get the opportunity to bat and bully New Zealand from the off, like they did when the two sides met in the group stage, the final could be over before it has begun. However, Eoin Morgan’s men will also back themselves whatever they do first, especially given their pre-tournament reputation as a side that can chase any score.
The toss seems more important to New Zealand’s chances. In the semis, they battled to a score against India, then squeezed with the ball and in the field. That may well be their best hope here. It is no coincidence England got back to their best in this tournament when Jason Roy returned from a hamstring injury to reprise his spectacular opening partnership with Jonny Bairstow.
In fact, the difference between the opening pairs in this final is as vast as the distance between London and Auckland. On the one hand, Roy and Bairstow can lay claim to be the best of all time. Of every opening pair to have added 2,000 runs in ODIs, no partnership has a higher average than the Roy-Bairstow mark of 69.46.
In this tournament, they are averaging of 91.33, with four century stands at a rate of almost seven runs per over. On the other, New Zealand’s first-wicket average of 27.62 is better than only West Indies and Afghanistan. In the three games England have lost, one of their openers has been out in the first three overs and twice it has been within two balls (one of which was James Vince, who played when Roy was injured).
In fact, on each occasion that Roy and Bairstow have opened together and survived the first three overs, they have gone on to add more than 100. If they are still together after 10 overs on Sunday, New Zealand are in trouble.
However, England must still beware of Martin Guptill in particular. Though he has had a miserable tournament – passing 35 only once – he was the leading runscorer four years ago and his 237 in the quarter-final against West Indies in 2015 is the highest World Cup score of all time. If he can get a start, he could match anything Roy and Bairstow do.
England have a batting line-up oozing runs. Five of their top six have made centuries in this World Cup and the only one who hasn’t, Ben Stokes, has three scores in excess of 80 and another of 79.
Even though Ross Taylor is ranked fifth in the world ODI batting rankings, the class act in the New Zealand team (and arguably the tournament) is skipper Kane Williamson, with his gossamer touch, command of geometry and absolute-zero temperament. If Roger Federer played cricket, he would bat like Kane Williamson.
The Black Caps might have shown tenacity, character and togetherness to get to the final, but they have also relied heavily on Williamson’s runs. His average of 91.33 is higher than every other batsman in the tournament and, in terms of runs off the bat, Williamson has been responsible for nearly a third of everything New Zealand have scored.
It is likely someone else will have to chip in for New Zealand on Sunday but even if they do, it is hard to imagine Williamson lifting the trophy without also doing some heavy lifting with that bat.