Eoin Morgan’s England one-day team are already one of the best of any era – according to former Australian captain Steve Waugh.
But to go down in history they need finish off the job on Sunday and claim an historic first ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup crown.
Waugh won two World Cups in his 19-year international career – including lifting the trophy as captain at Lord’s in 1999 – and was blown away by the way England dispatched his compatriots in Thursday’s semi-final.
“This England team play without fear and that is very difficult to do in professional sport,” said Waugh, who was attending the inaugural criiio cup in Trafalgar Square.
“There is no weakness in the side, they field very well, they bat all the way down and have numerous bowling options.
“It is one of the best one-day teams I have seen and would compete against anyone of the previous eras.
“But ultimately they will be judged on their performance on Sunday.
“If they win that they may go down as one of the great one-day sides. If they lose then they are back to being one of the other teams that didn’t quite make it.
“But they have the potential to be a great one-day team.”
The criiio cup sees six social cricket teams from Brazil, Rwanda, Germany, England, Indonesia and India showcase the power and impact of social cricket by playing their own version of the sport in the central London fan park, two days ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup final at Lord’s.
The six teams have been selected from all corners of the world, based on the impact cricket has had on their communities. They hail from a wide variety of community and social cricket initiatives, including women’s empowerment and engagement programs, refugee integration and semi-professional tennis-ball leagues.
Waugh added: “The fundamental aim of criiio is to celebrate street cricket.
“That’s how I started playing the game back in Australia, we had different pitches in the front yard, the back yard, the driveway and we made stumps with garbage bins and drew chalk on the garage door.
“We had bikes and scooters and the swimming pool as imaginary fielders, it is about imagination.
“Street cricket is all about that, if you have the spirt and the willing, you can play a game of cricket anytime and anywhere.
“We want to develop cricket all around the world, it is good that new countries are getting involved. Cricket is spreading its wings.
“Afghanistan have been a success story in the last couple of years, there is potential for other counties to do that.
“There have got to be others who can make that next step so we can globalise that sport.”
Either England or New Zealand will make history on Sunday as first-time winners of the game’s ultimate prize.
And Waugh urged the players to rise to the occasion.
He added: “World Cup finals are about not relying on other people to do the job for you. You have got to step up to the plate. To win World Cups you have to be street-smart
“It would be very important for New Zealand, it’s a great rugby country with the greatest team in the world in the All Blacks.
“Cricket is always hoping to get a foothold so for them to make the final and potentially win would be game-changing for New Zealand.
“England have been to three World Cup finals, and it’s a passionate country. Either side wins, it’s going to be great for their country.
“It’s exciting, the people get behind it and feel they are a part of it.”
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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