England’s cricketers are ready to put the finishing touches to their World Cup final preparations at Lord’s, with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at hand and the biggest audience in a generation waiting.
One last training session awaits on Saturday morning and 24 hours later Eoin Morgan and his side will battle New Zealand for the right to call themselves world champions.
Neither nation has ever won the men’s World Cup before, guaranteeing a slice of history at HQ, and the hosts have the added incentive of playing in front of a bumper, free-to-air audience for the first time in 14 years.
Lift the silverware and Morgan would secure his place in the canon of England’s greatest sporting captains.
Assistant coach Paul Collingwood is the only man who has ever led the side to glory in a global tournament – triumphing in the 2010 edition of the World T20 – and cannot think of a better person to share the honour with.
“I don’t want to have that tag, I don’t want to be the only England captain to do it,” he told PA.
“There’d be no greater feeling for me than to see Eoin with that trophy. Nobody deserves it more. It would be a perfect ending to this journey.
“His legacy will last for a lot longer than this World Cup. These lads have grabbed the imagination of the public, particularly with the tournament on home soil.
“I’m not taking anything away from what we achieved in Barbados nine years ago but the enormity of a World Cup final at the home of cricket, with a game on free-to-air, it’s almost a perfect storm.”
Reaching the widest possible demographic was also on the mind of Trevor Bayliss, the England head coach.
He will leave his post after four years in September but knows how important Collingwood’s Ashes-winning 2005 team-mates were in inspiring the sport’s future followers and players.
“Any more fans we can get watching the game is fantastic for our sport,” he told BBC 5 Live.
“I think we have got the chance here in England to influence another generation of young cricketers.
“There’s a number of players in this team who were fairly young when 2005 was happening. It inspired those guys to greater things, so hopefully this can do a similar thing for the next generation.”
Adil Rashid, the Bradford-born leg-spinner who dreams of twirling his country to victory in front of millions, picked up the theme.
“People who have not been watching will have their eyes glued on the TV,” he said.
“It’s nice to know the whole of England is watching it and hopefully a lot of people around the world. It’s an exciting time.”
Black Caps coach Gary Stead – a former member of the MCC groundstaff returning to his former workplace as a World Cup hopeful – will be doing his best to spoil the hosts’ party.
He has supporters of his own to satisfy and is eager to keep them watching through the night, with the game beginning at 9.30pm in New Zealand.
“Many people will stay up late and I know a lot of them will be spending some late hours watching,” he said.
“I think Monday might be a public holiday back home because most of New Zealand will be staying up watching the game.
“We’ve had a lot of supportive messages from home and we’re really excited about what’s ahead.”
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Ross Taylor believes New Zealand are better placed to capitalise on being in a World Cup final than they were four years ago.
New Zealand won eight matches in a row on home soil in reaching the tournament showpiece for the first time in 2015, only to come unstuck when they travelled to Australia, where they were comprehensively beaten by their Antipodean rivals.
The seven-wicket defeat is still seared into the mind of Taylor, who pointed out the Kiwis’ flight across the Tasman Sea from Auckland to Melbourne was ill-suited to their preparation.
And the veteran batsman, who is set to earn his 228th one-day international cap when the Kiwis take on Eoin Morgan’s England at Lord’s on Sunday, insists a more tranquil travel schedule will benefit the Black Caps.
He said: “It’s a proud moment for the team and it’s nice for us to make the final two times in a row.
“It’s also nice for us to jump on a bus instead of having to jump on a plane and fly from Auckland to Melbourne like we did last time.
“It was strange in 2015. We played so well throughout the whole tournament, but then jumped on a plane and played in a country we hadn’t played in for the whole tournament.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t think we were a little bit overawed by the change of scenery.
“But we know what to expect, we know the pressures that come with it, we’ve been there before. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to enjoy it, the home of cricket, you can’t think of a better place to play a final.”
New Zealand scraped into the semi-finals of this edition, finishing fourth in the table ahead of Pakistan by virtue of net run-rate alone after the teams could not be separated on points.
They defied a three-game losing streak to shock India earlier this week and though England are favourites to win the tournament for the first time, New Zealand’s unheralded status suits Taylor fine.
“Apart from the All Blacks, most New Zealand sides are the underdogs, regardless of what sport they play,” added Taylor, who top-scored with 74 off 90 balls in the 18-run win over India at Old Trafford.
“It’s something we have embraced. It doesn’t sit well when we are the favourites. We try and talk it down as much as possible. We are a proud team and hopefully we have done our nation proud.”
The 35-year-old is almost certainly set for his final World Cup innings but he did not entirely rule out the prospect of turning out in India in 2023, despite admitting it is an improbable aim.
He said with a smile: “Chris Gayle is my inspiration and he is 39 and still playing. It’s probably a little too far-fetched for me to still be playing (but) never say never.”
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England’s one-day renaissance in the last four years owes a debt of gratitude to New Zealand so, in a way, it is fitting these sides will contest the World Cup final at Lord’s this Sunday.
Following their embarrassing group stage elimination in 2015, England captain Eoin Morgan decided to adopt the Blackcaps’ brand of fearless, attacking cricket, under Brendon McCullum, as his own.
Here PA looks at some of the pivotal meetings between the sides in recent years ahead of this weekend’s showpiece.
New Zealand v England – Wellington, February 2015
An eight-wicket victory for New Zealand in the embryonic group stages of the World Cup barely describes how emphatic this defeat was for England – one with far-reaching consequences.
Morgan’s side were thoroughly outclassed, Tim Southee taking a career-best seven for 33 as England were skittled for 123. The meagre total was overhauled in just 12.2 overs in a day-night fixture that ended before the floodlights were needed.
The experience remains a haunting one for Morgan, who recently described it as “close to rock-bottom as I’ve been”.
England v New Zealand – Edgbaston, June 2015
The revolution was televised. Three months on from their World Cup humiliation, Morgan, armed with a new philosophy and several talents from county cricket unburdened by past failures, continued as England leader into a series against a side they were hoping to emulate.
Even Morgan may have been taken aback by how quickly his blueprint was implemented, Joe Root and Jos Buttler amassing centuries as England surged to 408 for nine, at the time their highest one-day international total.
Steven Finn and Adil Rashid then each took four wickets, New Zealand rolled for 198 to lose by a jarring 210 runs.
England v New Zealand – Trent Bridge, June 2015
England were ripping up any preconceptions of them as a team in an enthralling series that spanned only 12 days but demonstrably set the tone for the following four years.
The Kiwis had brushed off their heavy Birmingham defeat to win at The Oval and the Ageas Bowl before posting a mammoth 349 for seven in Nottingham, future captain Kane Williamson top-scoring with 90.
England, though, bolstered by rapid hundreds from Root and Morgan, and a swashbuckling 67 from Alex Hales, knocked off the total with seven wickets and six overs to spare – their highest successful ODI chase. They would seal a thrilling series win at Chester-le-Street.
New Zealand v England – Dunedin, March 2018
By this stage, England’s transformation from also-rans to world beaters was complete. However, New Zealand, by now led by Williamson, were still worthy foes and they levelled another gripping series at 2-2, despite losing both openers inside three overs.
Centuries from Jonny Bairstow, who had recently ousted Hales as opener, and Root lifted England to 335 for nine but Williamson and Ross Taylor steadied proceedings after the early losses of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro.
Taylor then went to a career-best ODI score of 181 not out as New Zealand sealed a five-wicket win, achieved with three balls left. Another Bairstow century would give the tourists victory in the decider, England once again prevailing 3-2 in the bilateral series.
England v New Zealand – Chester-le-Street, July 2019
Back-to-back defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia had left England’s World Cup in disarray. The hosts overcame India but still needed to beat the Blackcaps to guarantee progression to the knockout stages.
The toss went in their favour before Bairstow registered his third successive ODI century against New Zealand. An increasingly sluggish pitch saw Morgan’s side just about get past 300, a total which was beyond New Zealand once Williamson was ran out backing up, Mark Wood getting his fingertips to a Taylor drive which clattered into the stumps at the non-striker’s end. England therefore advanced with a 119-run win