England are going into the ICC World Cup final full of confidence. They have backed up their pre-tournament favourites tag with some brilliant cricket in their last three must-win matches. They have played their best cricket under pressure and buoyed by home support, they look the strongest team.
New Zealand can be very proud of their semi-final performance against India, inflicting a massive upset with some exceptional fast bowling. However, if England play to their current top form, the Black Caps will be hard-pressed to find ways to beat them. To spring another upset, they will need to recover from that emotional and physically draining semi-final and take more inspiration from their excellent leader Kane Williamson.
New Zealand had limped through qualification and going into semi-finals, they looked far from the well-drilled unit that started the tournament so efficiently. But they regrouped to play a well-planned and restrained brand of cricket that harked back to their pre-McCullum days. Back in the 2015 World Cup, New Zealand were in their prime, playing red-hot cricket under Brendon McCullum’s buccaneering leadership and they were expected to reach the final. In this edition, they were not so highly tipped, but they have battled their way through, nonetheless.
Much credit for that is due to Williamson for his shrewd and calm leadership. He has absorbed the twin pressures of being New Zealand’s leading run-scorer and captain so well. His contribution on Sunday will be critical and England will be concerned about his big-match pedigree.
Most of us expected India to be finalists and I presume England fans are quite happy they are not facing Virat Kohli’s team. For India, though, it was a heartbreaking exit given the sky-high expectations of them getting to Lord’s. Those expectations were raised by some outstanding cricket in the past six weeks. Powered by Rohit Sharma’s superlative form and inspired by Kohli’s invigorating leadership, they were a very good team and could easily have won this World Cup.
Unfortunately for them, as Kohli admitted afterwards, the Matt Henry and Trent Boult new ball combination just proved too much after stalwart Ross Taylor had steered them to a competitive total. New Zealand had to take early wickets and both Henry and Boult rose to the occasion with a clinical display that decapitated the Indian top order.
For me, it was a little surprising that India did not think about sending in M.S. Dhoni in after the fall of Kohli’s wicket. It would have allowed Dhoni to settle in play the measured innings he so often now plays on ODI matches. With Pandya, Karthik and Jadeja to follow, a Dhoni-Pant partnership may have got India over the line. I feel Dhoni would have kept Pant focused, shepherding him through crucial stages, to take the game deep with wickets in hand.
Jadeja played almost a solo hand in dragging India to the brink of a comeback, but the constant pressure of having to look for boundaries on his own with Dhoni being so measured brought about his demise. The brilliant run-out of Dhoni then sealed India’s fate.
The England-Australia game promised much. Even though Australia had injury replacements, led by the incisive form of Mitchell Starc, they looked the more equipped side to win the second semi-final. England though have played their best form under pressure. The return of Jason Roy and his sublime form has been critical to their revival after a shaky middle-tournament. He has allowed Johnny Bairstow to play with great freedom and confidence.
I was surprised that Australia decided to go with Philip Handscomb over the left-handed Matt Wade, who has been in excellent form for Australia A. He is confident free-flowing player with a focus on run accumulation rather than technique. Handscomb needs a lot of things to fall into place mentally and technically. Australia won what we thought was an important toss, but England’s bowlers responded brilliantly, executing their plans with precision and ruthlessness.
Joffra Archer has been a revelation for England. He has learned quickly and developed so much during this tournament. His talent and pace was never in doubt, but his temperament and maturity has been outstanding. His accuracy, subtle variations and extreme pace has been fantastic to watch.
The first-ball inswinger to Aaron Finch to exploit his leg before weakness, the sharp bouncer that hit Carey, and the slower knuckleball to get rid of Maxwell, emphatically encapsulated the match-winning ability and mentality of a superstar fast bowler. With Woakes supporting Archer brilliantly, England on the day were dominant with a complete performance.
They will be hoping for a repeat effort today.