LONDON: Jason Roy was humming a song and whistling in between tonking the ball to all corners of the net. The England opener looked relaxed and playful, giving the ball a solid whack whenever it was in his range. Roy will be playing the biggest match of his life on Sunday, the World Cup final against New Zealand at the Lord’s.
If the occasion was playing on his mind, then he did a very good job of hiding it. If Roy stays at the wicket for 20-25 overs, England will have a mighty chance of finally winning a trophy they have been pining for 44 years.
If there is one player who symbolises the new England, the England opponents fear in One-day cricket, then it is Roy. The opener, in collusion with partner Jonny Bairstow, has given England the kind of starts teams dream of.
Roy’s demeanour and the power with which he was smacking the leather were intimidating. But he and Bairstow are not the only power hitters in the team. The likes of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan often take advantage of the platform the openers set to decimate bowling attacks, especially on flat tracks which they have been getting in plenty at home.
The key battle in the final could well be the one between England batting and New Zealand bowling. The Kiwis would be looking to do what they did against India in the semis – take out the top order quickly and put the middle order under pressure. For that, pacers Trent Boult and Matt Henry will have to be as precise and incisive as they were against India.
However, the English middle order is not as namby-pamby as India’s was. The biggest strength of this English side is the depth of batting it possesses. The Kiwis will have to carve through the entire line-up.
It’s very likely that the team winning the toss will chose to bat first. Lord’s has been very kind to teams batting first – they have won the last five ODIs played here. The average first innings score over the last 10 ODIs here is 281.4 while it’s only 228.6 for teams batting second. It’s very clear that the team batting first on Sunday will have a distinct advantage.
Unlike many other English pitches, Lord’s has not been amenable to massive scores. England captain Morgan hinted that it won’t be a high-scoring affair. That will suit New Zealand because they are adept at playing scrappy cricket and coming out on top in low-scoring humdingers.
They, along with Afghanistan, are the only team not to get a single 300-plus score in this World Cup. But they are very good at defending low totals.
England and New Zealand (43-41) are almost neck to neck over 90 One-dayers. But will history play a part at a historic venue on a historic day? England are desperate to win so that the hurt of 44 years melts away.
New Zealand would want the tag of the ‘perennial bridesmaids’ finally erased.
The pitch sported a thin grass cover on Saturday but should change into a more brownish tinge come Sunday, thanks to the sunshine.