New Zealand vs England, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Final: Band of nice guys and a group of transformers enter Lord’s to claim their share of cricketing history

One team has taken 9,969 days to reach this stage again. The other has just 1570. The dream, however, remains yet unfulfilled for both. The wait has been equally long and agonising. After years of pain, heartbreak, hopes, failures and renewed hopes, one will finally end that painful wait as England take on New Zealand in the World Cup final at Lord's.

Jigar Mehta, Jul 14, 2019 13:33:54 IST

One team has taken 9,969 days to reach this stage again. The other has just 1570. The dream, however, remains unfulfilled for both. The wait has been equally long and agonising. After years of pain, heartbreak, hopes, failures, and renewed hopes, one team will finally end that seemingly never-ending wait.

England and New Zealand have been there but never done that.

Four years since reaching their first World Cup final, the band of nice guys is having the time of their lives once again and are in search of that final push that eluded them at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

27 years since making it to their last World Cup final, a band of transformers are in search of redemption, pride, and vindication as they enter the hallowed Lord's in search of history.

New Zealand vs England, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Final: Band of nice guys and a group of transformers enter Lord’s to claim their share of cricketing history

Eoin Morgan and Kane Williamson pose with the World Cup trophy ahead of the World Cup final at Lord's. ICC

Ever since Brendon McCullum's army changed the face of New Zealand cricket, they have been one of the most loveable teams in the world. The unassuming humble guys go about their business with a no-nonsense approach and a permanently engraved smile. They even offer a helping hand and pat on the back with words of consolation in times of pain, heartbreak and despair — ask Dale Steyn or Carlos Brathwaite. It's not easy to not like these humble torchbearers of the spirit of cricket.

Some of that simplicity was on display at Old Trafford after the win against India. No exuberant celebrations, just the handshakes, smiles, pat on the backs and family photographs on the field. Man, they had just reached a freaking World Cup final!

They are happy to fly under the radar and be the underdogs. That's what they have done this World Cup and quietly made it to the finals for the second time in a row, without losing sleep. That's how calm they have been.

This is not the ultra-aggressive New Zealand of four years ago, this is a gritty New Zealand that has carved its own niche through their captain Kane Williamson whose phlegmatic and unflinching solidity has rubbed onto the team. The philosophy might have changed but they are still the nice guys.

The general consensus was that playing New Zealand in the semis was an easy route to the final. Not just the calmness, they mixed that solidity with smarts, which has been a constant theme in Williamson's post-match comments, to prove everyone wrong.

Yes, the road has been rocky but they have found a way out, wading through the troubled waves.

England, on the other hand, were on the brink before they scripted a turnaround in the typical 'England way' that has defined them for the last four years. There was criticism of their style of play but they were never going to take a backward step. By giving Australia their own treatment in the semi-final, they again reminded the world why they are such a feared white-ball side in the world.

This aggressive brand of cricket which has brought them so much success was in a way influenced by McCullum's army. The thrashing in Wellington at the hands of New Zealand four years ago, even before the lights were turned on in the day and night match, was a seminal moment in England's cricketing history. The day when English cricket was close to rock-bottom and left humiliated turned out to be one of the worst days of Morgan's life.

"Those moments in my career that will stand out forever in my life as a day where I was devastated not only with the way we performed but also the way we carried ourselves,” Morgan had recalled ahead of the league stage game against New Zealand.

"But the influence of New Zealand throughout that whole World Cup on all the other teams around the world was quite extreme. New Zealand proved a point that you can actually be really good humans and grow the game and play cricket in your own way and win at the same time. It was incredibly eye-opening for a lot of countries around the world. I thought that rubbed off on everybody at the World Cup."

"Tough times don't last, tough blokes do" was McCullum’s message to Morgan ahead of that match.

The tough bloke not just lasted, he brought about a staggering transformation after that World Cup. A fearless England was born. Since that World Cup Down Under, England have won 66 percent of their ODIs and possess the best Win/Loss ratio in world cricket: 2.50.

It is this aggression that has made the Powerplay battle vital as they enter Lord's.

Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow have been ripping the bowlers to shreds and the Kiwis will need to find a way to stop them. England have had the best batting average (59.78) and second-best strike rate (89.67) and run rate (5.38), in the Powerplay. Overall, they have scored the most 300-plus totals - six. They have the second-best batting average (43.26) and best run rate (6.43).

New Zealand  have been the best bowling side in this tournament with the best average (27.68), economy rate (4.91) and strike rate (33.7). And a repeat of the bowling performance against India where they decimated the Indian top-order inside first four overs through the skill of Trent Boult and Matt Henry would be crucial as well as ideal. The Kiwis have taken joint-most wickets (14) in first 10 overs with second best average (31) and strike rate (38.6).

Or maybe, the possibility of Mitchell Santner opening the bowling could prove to be a masterstroke. Remember, he nearly had Roy first ball of the match at Leeds with an arm ball that whizzed over the stumps.

England bat deep and the Kiwis will need to maintain sustained pressure throughout just like they did against India.

What's vital for the Kiwi's is that their support-system in the batting unit to fire. The guys around the Williamson-Taylor pivot. Martin Guptill and Henry Nicholls/Colin Munro (if he plays) need to desperately come out of their slumber which will be a challenge against the fire and ice combo of Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer.

New Zealand haven't had a single 300-plus total in the tournament but they have had the best Win/Loss ratio while chasing (2.000) with four wins from six games batting second. Having said that, their fielding could be a really key component as well. Their catching, ground fielding have been immaculate and one moment of brilliance, just like the Guptill run out of MS Dhoni, could change the course.

It hasn't been a straightforward journey for the two teams. New Zealand peaked early and slowly tapered off before sneaking into the semis via NRR. England, on the other hand, left it late and have been playing must-win games since. They have reignited that fear factor again with those three wins in a row. They do go into the final as favourites along with the support of the home crowd. The Kiwis will again be the underdogs and they don't mind it. They are the second favourite team of everyone because of their endearing image and gameplay.

"England rightly deserve to be favourites, but whatever dog we are, it's just important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play and we have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody regardless of the breed of dog," Williamson said in the pre-match conference ahead of the final.

Williamson was all smiles and looked relaxed at the press conference ahead of the game and acknowledged England's transformation while Morgan lauded Williamson's style of captaincy and the progress the team has made over the last four years. The mutual respect and admiration between the two sides was palpable.

The Lord's pitch wore a green look on the eve of the match but Morgan didn't look too much concerned.

"From afar, it looks greener than it is," Morgan said in the pre-match conference. "There isn't a lot of grass on the wicket. So it probably exaggerates how it will look. I think it will look different  if the sun comes out for a few hours, it will look different in a few hours, and it’ll go whiter and burn it off."

It could, nevertheless, be a tricky decision at the toss with the green tinge on the surface. Right through the tournament, the pitches have got slower very quickly as the match has progressed. And with pressure playing a big part in big games, the teams have looked to bat first and use scoreboard pressure.

Seven out of the eleven finals have been won by the team batting first but the last two editions have seen a change in that trend — India chased down 275 in 2011 against Sri Lanka and Australia chased down 184 against New Zealand in 2015 World Cup.

The average score batting first at Lord's this World Cup is 288. It won’t be a high-scoring game.

Irrespective of the pitch, England might go unchanged while New Zealand might bring in Colin Munro in place of the misfiring Nicholls.

The two teams met earlier in the tournament at Chester-lee-Street where England thumped the Kiwis by 119 runs. The England openers added 123, the Kiwis fought back to restrict them to 305 but the English bowlers applied the choke from which Williamson's boys couldn't recover.

In World Cups, New Zealand have a slight upper hand over England with five wins from nine.

They have won both their encounters at Lord's against the hosts.

It's a new day though and a special occasion for both the teams when they walk out on that hallowed field. Will the Kiwi boys swat away the sporting truism (that nice guys always finish last) and finish first? Or is it finally coming home for the transformers? Whatever happens, it's been one helluva ride for the two teams to savour, be proud of and inspire future generations.

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2019 13:33:54 IST

World Cup 2019 Points Table

Team p w l nr pts
India 9 7 1 1 15
Australia 9 7 2 0 14
England 9 6 3 0 12
New Zealand 9 5 3 1 11
Pakistan 9 5 3 1 11
Sri Lanka 9 3 4 2 8
South Africa 9 3 5 1 7
Bangladesh 9 3 5 1 7
West Indies 9 2 6 1 5
Afghanistan 9 0 9 0 0

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3462 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
6 New Zealand 4056 254