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ICC World Cup 2019 - The final: Bringing it all back home

After the Australia demolition job, the English will roll into the final on a monster high. They will face a Kiwi side that revels in calm, steely resistance

cricket Updated: Jul 14, 2019 11:04 IST
England vs New Zealand,Eng vs NZ,England vs New Zealand World Cup 2019
England captain Eoin Morgan (centre) and Jonny Bairstow (right) head for a net session at Lord’s on Saturday on the eve of the World Cup final against New Zealand.(Getty Images)

Can I just start with a WOW?! It is a huge relief to all of England, or at least those that have followed its cricket team through thick and thin, that their team has made it to the final. The tag of favourites is not easy to wear, and by all that is holy the team gave itself and its supporters a nasty scare when it left itself having to win against India and New Zealand to ensure a place in the semi final. But those two must-win games gave them all the incentive they needed to start playing at the level that had taken them to number one in the ODI rankings and had earned the favourites’ tag in the first place.

To raise that level again in demolishing the Aussies in the semi was awesome to watch, not just because of the long rivalry between the two countries. It was a demolition, a trouncing or, to use one of the favourite words of the great man himself—Richie Benaud—a “shellacking”.

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PERFECT SHOW

It was a day when all the pieces fell into place pretty much perfectly, with the only element untested being all those batsmen in the order below number four. I wrote before the game how it might be decided in the first ten overs, but I had not anticipated quite how dramatically that would come to pass, with Woakes and Archer bowling so much better than they had in the group stage encounter against the same batsmen. You know it’s your day when your first ball, as in Archer’s case, is straight enough and good enough to take out the opposition captain, and as a moment to set the tone for the rest of the day it does not get any better.

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The trick now is to achieve the same level of planning and execution for this era-defining match at Lord’s.

Everything that happened against Australia was very much according to a plan. The lengths and lines bowled at the top of the game were exemplary and the response with the bat, again led and inspired by Jason Roy, was very much of the school of thought “this is how we do it at the top of the innings” and a relatively modest target wasn’t going to change that.

It reminds me of all those pre-match team meetings over the years. In my day there were some very erudite dissertations from Mike Brearley on how to bowl to our various oppositions; then came an era when every batsman would be dealt with by Ian Botham, whose usual contribution to the discussion was along the lines of “leave him to me”, and so on.

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The gist of all such meetings was a strategy by which we would win each and every game by a distance, but seldom has such a strategy been put into practice in such fashion as it was the other day.

In essence the plan will be the same today with suitable adjustments for the Black Caps. It would be easy to dismiss Martin Guptill, who on his form has been, er, easy to dismiss.

I suspect the England analysts will look at him as a potentially destructive force and will have a dossier on him, on his 178 matches in which he has a decent average of over 42. Who knows? There will be an air of ‘it might just come right on the day’ for him, maybe a psychological boost from the Dhoni run out, and from England’s point of view, it is better to be prepared than simply dismissive.

KIWI LEADERS

The big two are of course Williamson and Taylor, whose collaboration at Old Trafford kept New Zealand in the game. A lot of England’s planning will be on how to keep them in control. In that respect, and depending on what sort of pitch they all get to work with at Lord’s, I would keep things as simple as possible. If Woakes and Archer can replicate their opening bursts from the semi-final then, even if wickets do not fall quite so quickly, runs will be hard to come by.

It is one of those times when focus on one’s strengths is as or more relevant than appreciation of those of your opponents. The truth is that even the best batsmen can, and will be, troubled by great bowling. The evidence from both semi-finals, which plainly shows that Sharma, Kohli, Finch and Warner managed 11 runs between them, proves the point. One that England’s top four will be aware of too, having seen the way Boult and Henry used their new ball the other day.

Not thinking about lifting trophy: England captain Eoin Morgan

I mentioned ahead of the semis how New Zealand have consistently made the whole greater than the sum of their parts through assiduous team work, and that is exactly what they achieved again at Old Trafford.

Look at the scorecard and even the lower scores add something in a close game. The fielding was dramatically good, the Neesham catch, the Guptill run out both brilliant, and one cannot plan moments like those.

Eoin Morgan and his team, both the players and those assisting in the broader sense behind the scenes, will be fully aware of all the possible pitfalls, but he and they have built this machine on the back of four years of very positive thinking and hugely positive execution. The semi-final was the embodiment of all that and the mood in the camp must be to see it through in the same way.

If it goes the same way as the semi then there will be little to worry about and I will be there in the stands toasting a historic victory along with the other 28,000 at Lord’s.

TAKING OWNERSHIP

Where Morgan and his men might have to be rather cleverer is obvious enough if they find themselves somehow up against it, a very realistic proposition given the circumstances. It is all very well and very lovely not to trouble the middle order, but as and when you need them to step up then we have seen before in this self-same World Cup, against Sri Lanka in particular, that pressure can do strange things to even the most confident of teams.

The mantra, neither new nor complicated, is that each and every player assumes that he must take responsibility for his and the team’s success and not leave the task for someone else to take on.

So, from the captain, coach, psychologist, analyst, even the bloke who wheels the tea into the dressing room in the morning, the England view has to be to look at the men involved and say who would you rather have in your middle order? Is it Neesham, de Grandhomme, Latham, Santner or is it Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Plunkett? I know my preference and it is another reason to back England in this match.

I am confident that England have the talent, the mentality and maybe even the sense of destiny that will make them champions of the world by the end of the day. I am equally confident that New Zealand will not make it easy for them.

First Published: Jul 14, 2019 10:45 IST