Quite literally inseparable in their last ICC Final, there is again no clear favourite as England and New Zealand prepare to lock horns on Thursday morning (AEST); having both finished the group stage with four victories.
Though New Zealand lost their first match and England their last, both countries have flexed their muscle at different times, as squad depth and a willingness to adapt has typified their respective success thus far in the UAE.
England won in the warm-up game, what about this time around (Image: Gareth Copley-ICC/ICC/Getty Images, The Guardian)
The Kiwis, who cruised through the group stage after their initial hiccup against a red-hot Pakistan, are staking a claim at being the best multi-format team in the world. Runners-up at the last two 50 over World Cups, they reached the semis of the World T20 in 2016, and most recently claimed the inaugural World Test Championship.
A dominance underpinned by their typical Blackcap humility, it is also driven by a consistency of leadership and the presence of reliable all-stars. Williamson – who has hit 126 runs at an average of 42 this tournament – leads New Zealand in all three formats, while the likes of Guptill (176 runs), Trent Boult (11 wickets) and Tim Southee (5) continue to deliver on the biggest stage.
That said, it has been New Zealand’s versatility that has allowed them to flourish. Consider Devon Conway; the man who made his name with a stunning debut Test series against England earlier this year, the thirty-year-old has played a dynamic and invaluable role in the World Cup. Taking the gloves after the first match to allow for the selection of another quick bowler, Conway has enjoyed the challenge.
“It has been really good,” he said. “I do enjoy keeping – it keeps me engaged in the game.”
Equally, Ish Sodhi, who was not New Zealand’s selection preference at the outset of the tournament, has made the most of his good fortune, claiming eight wickets to date. A late inclusion after Adam Milne was not cleared for selection to replace Lockie Ferguson, Sodhi has used craft and guile to help bowl the Kiwis into the pointy end of the tournament.
Sodhi has been valuable throughout the World Cup (© ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020)
Perhaps indicative of the New Zealand side more broadly, Sodhi is acutely self-aware. A trait that has allowed his game to develop after a horror series against England two years ago (he took 3 wickets from 15 overs at an economy of 11.73 across 5 matches), he knows what he needs to do to succeed in the shortest format.
“These days anyone from number 1 to 8 or 9 can hit sixes,” he said. “Being a spinner, it means you have to be really clinical with your lengths.” Of course, it helps that he can spin it both ways to add to the confusion.
If Sodhi and his teammates are to progress, however, they will need to overcome a rampant England side. Though they lost their last match to South Africa, Eoin Morgan’s team has enjoyed a World Cup characterised by power hitting at the top and a level of dominance with the ball that has – for the most part – ensured they have been chasing small totals when batting second.
It is a testament to the depth of England’s white ball set up that they have played with such assuredness considering the quality of players on the sidelines; Archer, Stokes and Sam Curran would all have been walk-up starts to the XI had they been available. Nevertheless, England have managed to cover their respective absences seamlessly, sharing the load particularly well with the ball as Rashid (8 wickets) along with Ali and Mills (7 apiece) have been impressive.
The challenge only grows, however, with Mills (thigh) and hard-hitting opener Jason Roy (calf) both ruled out of the remainder of the tournament. Both big blows, Morgan lamented their loss.
How will England rally without Jason Roy? (Via England Cricket Twitter)
“We are guttered for them,” he said. “It hurts the dressing room particularly when it’s two guys in two games.”
Though they might be missing some fire-power, plenty remains, significantly in the form of Jos Buttler. Arguably his country’s best-ever T20 player, Buttler is in the conversation for England’s best white-ball cricketer of all time. With unrivalled power, timing and confidence, he has 240 blistering runs to his name at this World Cup – including 101* against Sri Lanka. Such has his dominance been at the top of the order, that he is the only player with over 200 runs to boast a strike rate in excess of 150.
Full of praise for his opening batter, captain Eoin Morgan only hopes it can continue.
“When it comes off, it’s very difficult to stop him,” he laughed.
The same is true for England on the whole, and should they get going against New Zealand, there is every chance they will progress and get the opportunity to go one better than 2016, where they finished runners-up to West Indies.
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