The days when the ODI World Cup represented the pinnacle of the sport, the highest form of cricket, are long gone. Now, it is a snapshot of where the game stands.
This World Cup opener, at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Thursday, pits the world’s deepest batting lineup, reflecting modernity, against a side with a philosophy rooted in a can-do attitude.
For England, New Zealand has joined Australia as the most determined competitor. Sans the political and historic subtexts in the sport, it offers, in many ways, a more wholesome, less fraught rivalry than its Ashes rival.
Chastised for getting caught in a defensive mindset at the 2015 World Cup, on its first outing since, England took on New Zealand and amassed 408, smashing 38 fours and a record 14 sixes. Joe Root made a hundred, and Jos Buttler scored 129 off 77 balls. It was with this game that the Three Lions decided to wed their new-found pragmatism to the players’ panache.
England is currently sweating on all-rounder Ben Stokes’ fitness as he is nursing a hip niggle. Harry Brook could bat at No. 4 if Stokes is sidelined. England’s middle-order boasts a cluster of left-handers, but Liam Livingstone and Brook can provide variety. Employing off-cutters during the middle-overs could be an effective strategy against the right-hand/left-hand combination.
Although England typically boasts explosive opening partnerships, it has had issues with the moving ball. This year, England’s PowerPlay batting average is just 28.95. Jonny Bairstow’s knack for playing with hard hands has sometimes caused difficulties against balls that shape back in. He will be wary of Trent Boult’s full, aggressive lengths with the new ball.
New Zealand will be aware of the strategic considerations that this middle-order composition might impose on its bowling plans. Root’s No. 3 position is crucial, given his spin-handling expertise, despite limited recent game time (19 ODIs since 2019, three half-centuries). In fact, England too has been plagued by paucity of ODIs, having played only 42 since 2019.
England’s death bowling strength is evident in 2023, boasting a remarkable economy rate of 6.73 in the last 10 overs, unrivaled among Full Member nations. Mark Wood’s mid-90 mph pace will test New Zealand upfront and at the back end.
With Kane Williamson ruled out of the opening match, Tom Latham takes charge, having played 39 ODIs and amassed 1,247 runs since the 2019 World Cup. However, concerns arise about team cohesion due to limited ODI game time during this phase for key players, including Boult (15 caps).
The focus will also be on opener Devon Conway, known for his power-hitting against spin. He will be assisted by the depth of his experience in the Indian Premier League. Conway’s face-off with Livingstone will be interesting; the all-rounder’s bowling is also becoming important.
Everything about these two teams is full of contrast. The Englishmen, on the field, can be gregarious and extroverted, while the Black Caps are, of course, the opposite, projecting humility to the point of insecurity.
“Kiwis fly under the radar a little bit and go about our business in the way that we want to. Every team has a different brand that they like to play in, a style that they like to play in, and we have ours,” Latham told the media on match eve.
And yet, these two antitheses collided four years ago in cricket’s answer to cold fusion—the 2019 ODI World Cup final at Lord’s, which felt like the match that the format needed at the time.
If Thursday night is anywhere close to as thrilling as July 14, then the average spectator would have had value for money. Anything less would perhaps be a dereliction of the euphoria that this rivalry has laid on.
/ 3 years ago
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