New Zealand’s semi-final win over India today showed just how fine the margins are in knockout cricket.
At the halfway stage not many would have backed them, but Kane Williamson and his side played the situation perfectly to reach Sunday’s final at Lord’s.
Now all the attention turns to Edgbaston, where England face Australia tomorrow for the chance to play New Zealand in their first World Cup final since 1992.
On paper the two teams are pretty similar, although they’ve had different tournaments.
Australia have been consistent and got through the group stages easily, but come into the game on the back of a loss in their last match to South Africa. England, meanwhile, have had a mixed competition, but I feel they’re peaking at the right time after beating India and New Zealand in their final group games to qualify for the knockout stages. They are full of confidence.
At the top of the order England’s Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root are mirrored by David Warner, Aaron Finch and Steve Smith. Both depend on their top three to get them off to solid starts and they’re very evenly matched.
I’d say England’s middle order, with Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, is better than Australia’s Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis who are struggling for form, but perhaps the Aussies’ bowling edges it, with top-wicket taker Mitchell Starc having claimed 26 scalps so far.
Overall England are the better side and if both teams play their best game I think the hosts will win it. But as we saw today it really depends which side copes with the pressure best.
Australia have been in more semi-finals and finals than England in recent times. They have a few guys like Finch, Smith and Maxwell who have been there and won a World Cup final against New Zealand at the MCG four years ago. They’ve got the experience.
It could come down to who gets off to a good start, sets the tone and forces their momentum. Australia managed to do that in the last meeting at Lord’s, where Finch and Warner weathered the pressure to post a strong opening stand.
Early wickets are crucial and that’s why having a strike bowler like Jofra Archer is so important. Every game in which Finch and Warner or Roy and Bairstow have got off to a good start their teams have generally gone on to win. Both sets of openers can put fear into the opposition because if they fire they take the pressure off the middle order and allow them to play freely.
The toss is therefore a big factor. Generally in this tournament we’ve seen the winners bat first, but the weather has fluctuated in the past few days so it might not dry out as we’ve seen before to aid spin and slower balls.
In the other semi-final at Old Trafford I don’t think the toss was crucial. The ball did a bit for both teams early on and, even though it was played over two days, both India and New Zealand had to face similar challenges.
Starc is the obvious danger, but England have played him enough to know not to take too many risks against him. I think they should look to see the left-armer off and target the weaker links.
My gut told me New Zealand would beat India and it’s saying England are going to progress. They have bounced back from poor games already, have their strut back and are carrying forward momentum unlike their opponents.
And if they can turn their nerves into excitement I think England have what it takes to end the long wait for a first World Cup.
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