Anyone who has been subjected to the witless betting adverts that punctuate the cricket coverage in the UK will know, subconsciously at the very least, about “smarts”. Those are the little nuggets of internal wisdom that smooth off the rough edges between your “hunches” and your “no-brainers” … and deliver you the value to beat the odds and be a God among your peers. Or, at the very least, enough small change to buy a pint to drown your sorrows.
So, if the no-brainer states that winning the toss and batting on a certain deck is a guaranteed 350-plus score, but the hunch is that, actually, there’s a bit of grass still on that wicket, and so-and-so’s a handy bowler, and actually, we’d do well to scrape past 200, then the smarts are the means by which you split the difference, and grope your way to a 250-ish total that will win some, lose some, but keep you competitive where others would be doomed to fail.
You can probably see where this one is going by now. England versus New Zealand at Chester-le-Street has become an unlikely clash of ideologies, bearing in mind that it was the hiding that New Zealand handed out to England at the 2015 World Cup that encouraged Eoin Morgan’s men to change their craven ways and start handing out hidings of their own to all and sundry.
And yet, where one team has played with more brawn than brain and found itself scrambling to break even at the end of the group stages, the other has tucked itself into a savvy, canny accumulative mindset, grateful for the small gains here and there that have kept its own campaign coasting along, in spite of a couple of bad beats in the last two games.
The upshot is that, while New Zealand’s progression is not yet secure, it will take a drastic turn of events to unseat them from the top four, starting with a heavy loss here, and finishing with a similarly one-sided win for Pakistan over Bangladesh. England on the other hand need nothing less than victory, but as they’ve discovered already in this tournament, going for broke in their habitual manner has tended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But to go back to those “smarts” – they were Kane Williamson’s words, not mine (or even Ray Winstone’s for that matter). Uttered in the aftermath of a heavy loss to Australia at Lord’s, but delivered with the clarity that he has brought to his batting all tournament long. “I think cricket smarts throughout this tournament has been perhaps the most important thing,” he said. “Even perhaps more than something like the word ‘freedom’, which everybody wants to be able to achieve day-in, day-out.”
“Oh burn!”, as Williamson would doubtless never add.
And so it all comes down to this. On the one level, England have no option but to trust their hunches as they are unlikely to save their tournament if they don’t play their way. A side that had been scoring 300-plus scores for fun in the lead-up to the World Cup did not become a bad team overnight, in spite of their intermittent wobbles. But on the other hand, Trent Boult has been one of the bowlers of the tournament, Lockie Ferguson breathes fire every time he unleashes the ball, and Mitchell Santner’s angular left-arm spin has been quietly impressive. Get too pushy against this lot, they’ll have the quality and poise to punish you.
But England will know too that New Zealand’s batting is a one-and-a-half man show – and the half is made up mostly of their allrounders, Colin de Grandhomme and Jimmy Neesham. Put simply, Williamson has been the alpha and the omega of their fortunes. When he scores big, they win – as they did in two tight finishes against West Indies and South Africa – but when he scores less than 50 – as he has done in both of their defeats, plus their near-miss against Bangladesh – it’s all up for grabs.
No wonder New Zealand are willing to grind it deep, test their opponent’s patience, wait for errors and pounce when they come. It’s served them perfectly well so far, and they don’t look like budging. England, on the other hand, are obliged to find an edge somewhere, somehow. Will they play it smart or loose? Or even, shockingly, with an amalgam of the two, the method they displayed in putting 337 on the board against India. Perhaps those smarts are seeping through after all.
England WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand LLWWW
In the spotlight
He’s been England’s missing link in their times of duress in this tournament – all three defeats have come when he’s been missing from the line-up – but there’s no danger of Liam Plunkett missing out again on what used to be his Durham home ground. For all the talk of England’s macho approach with the bat, it’s possible that their biggest mistake has been to underestimate the importance of his bouncing bombs on a back of a length, in those crucial middle overs. To be caught in the deep off a top-edge might look like batsman error, but the number of times Plunkett forces that error with his hard-to-line-up cross-seamers is remarkable. With him in their ranks, England feel more secure in their belief that the key partnerships can be broken.
So, if Williamson is The One, who among New Zealand’s faltering batting can be his No.2? It’s time, surely, for Ross Taylor to step forward again. New Zealand’s senior batsman has not been out of form in this tournament, but his returns have been less stellar than his golden form of the past nine months suggested they could be. An important 82 anchored the win over Bangladesh, and his other half-century helped Williamson rebuild against West Indies after the loss of both openers for golden ducks. But he was becalmed to the point of self-destruction in Saturday’s loss to Australia, having also failed in the Pakistan defeat. His record against England, however, is stellar, including two hundreds on the 2015 ODI tour, and an incredible one-legged 181 not out in his last outing at Dunedin last year.
Despite putting so much faith in two spinners in the lead-up to the World Cup, the advent of Jofra Archer and the loss of confidence of Moeen Ali has tilted the balance of their attack, with a greater belief now in blasting mid-innings wickets with the return of raw pace, especially now that Adil Rashid has mislaid his own wicket-taking threat in the midst of a long-term shoulder niggle. Roy did not field against India after an apparent blow to the hand, but that probably had as much to do with resting his hamstring than any real concerns.
England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Liam Plunkett, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Mark Wood
Henry Nicholls’ introduction as a new opening partner to Martin Guptill was not a rip-roaring success, but it’s likely that he’ll get a second outing given how Colin Munro’s form has tailed off in this tournament. There’s scope for Ish Sodhi to be retained as the second spinner – not least to target the openers (see below) – but seam is often the way to go in Durham, and Matt Henry and Tim Southee are waiting in the wings, eager for their chance.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Henry Nicholls, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Tom Latham (wk), 6 James Neesham, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Tim Southee/Matt Henry/Ish Sodhi, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Trent Boult
Pitch and conditions
The sun has had its hat on, and the pitch is full of runs. That’s the long-lens prediction after the first sighting of the fresh straw-coloured strip that has been prepared for this contest, which will no doubt please England immensely as they look to back up their biffing at Edgbaston last week. There are long boundaries too for this one, which may cause Virat Kohli to raise a quizzical eyebrow after his comments on Sunday. Those may test Jason Roy’s hamstrings if England have to push the twos and threes, but the broader acreage won’t daunt a team that runs between the wickets better than most. New Zealand’s running, on the other hand, has left much to be desired – not least when Williamson and Taylor have been paired at the crease.
- They would not be the first side to try it this tournament – remember Imran Tahir and Shadab Khan all those weeks ago? – but New Zealand’s best bet against Roy early on may be the spin of either Santner or Sodhi. Roy demonstrated his importance to England by helping put on a belligerent century stand against India on his return from injury. He currently has few weaknesses, but of the three occasions he has been dismissed inside his first 20 balls in home ODIs, one each came against legspin and slow left-arm.
- A man who New Zealand might have more success targeting is England captain Eoin Morgan. Despite a career-best 148 against Afghanistan four games ago, he has since made scores of 21, 4 and 1, which includes being bounced out in each of his last two innings. Morgan recovered from a previous tough patch against the short ball, in 2013-15, but has relapsed this year – dismissed five times by such deliveries in 2019, at a rate of once every 6.6 balls. In Ferguson and Boult, New Zealand have two bowlers to have used the bouncer effectively at this World Cup, with five and four wickets respectively. And Morgan doesn’t have a good record against left-arm pace either, averaging 14.1 since 2017.
Stats that matter
- England have not beaten New Zealand at a World Cup since 1983, when they won by 106 runs at The Oval.
- The eight-wicket thrashing New Zealand handed out at the last tournament was so comprehensive that the floodlights did not need to be turned on for their day-night match; the teams went off for dinner with New Zealand 112 for 1, needing 12 more to win.
- Williamson’s ODI average of 74.64 in England is his highest in any country where he has played at least five innings.