14th July, 2019, the stage is perfectly set for the finale of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup; the entire cricketing community has tuned in to watch England – the seemingly indomitable pre-tournament force, clash against New Zealand – a side that has almost always found ways to punch above its weight in ICC events.
This wasn’t the final people would’ve dreamt of, considering how strong Australia and India were looking at different points in the competition. Yet, as the game dawned upon everyone, this suddenly became the final everybody wanted. Not because the ICC Cricket World Cup was going to be guaranteed a new winner but also because of the richness of the rivalry in the past few years.
Both England and New Zealand slugged it out at the Lord’s Cricket Ground under uncharacteristically clear skies. England, though, started feeling the pinch during their run-chase. They very nearly lost their way too. Well, at least until a fortuitous deflection and an incredibly ludicrous rule meant that the Kiwis were consigned to another “so near yet so far” moment.
Prior to that, the game had seen everything.
England huffing and puffing in a run-chase that was routine by their standards. New Zealand trembling under pressure just a tad. Ben Stokes burying the ghosts of his past. Jofra Archer approaching the World Cup final like a game in his backyard. Colin de Grandhomme accounting for Joe Root. And a Super Over in a World Cup final, for goodness’ sake.
At the end, though, there was at least one set of supporters who felt they’d been robbed of glory. Rightly so as well. The rules were changed thereafter to ensure that no one had to tempt fate as much as England and New Zealand did at Lord’s.
But that game, more than anything else, illustrated that the England-New Zealand confrontation – a confrontation that hasn’t been splashed across the back pages historically – was growing into the game in international cricket.
Over the years, there can be no denying that the India-Pakistan feud or the England-Australia rivalry has been painted as the ultimate litmus test for both sides. To an extent, the vast history attached has made that assumption tenable.
The England-New Zealand clash, from that perspective, doesn’t quite fit the billing. When considering what has transpired in the past few years, though, it becomes clear that these matches have had much more of a bearing on international cricket than any in recent memory.
Apart from the ground-breaking 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup final, which has largely been heralded as the best game of cricket ever, England and New Zealand have produced plenty of other defining moments.
In the T20 World Cup in 2016, England and the Kiwis engaged in an engrossing encounter in the semi-final at Delhi – a game England eventually won but was again indicative of how New Zealand, despite being written off, had managed to defy expectations.
The victory England achieved didn’t just seal a place in the final of that edition. It also portrayed that their firebrand approach, which had just begun taking shape, was the right way forward, especially considering the personnel they had acquired along the way.
Just a year earlier, England were dumped out of the 2015 World Cup in acrimonious fashion. The lasting image from that debacle is of Eoin Morgan and the rest of the England team being outclassed by Bangladesh at Adelaide.
A few weeks before, though, in that very tournament, the Kiwis and Brendon McCullum in particular, had annihilated England – an annihilation that reverberated across the globe and perhaps told England how far they were from cracking the ODI code.
New Zealand went on to make the final of the 2015 World Cup and England, well, let’s say they don’t really want to revisit what happened.
Interestingly enough, in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup, a series against New Zealand was the breeding ground for England’s new philosophy. That particular rubber saw batting records being plundered.
At the time, it wasn’t much. It didn’t even evoke lots of opinions around the world, considering it found itself in the World Cup shadow. As the years have passed, though, you begin to understand how crucial that series was for both teams.
For England, it was the most glowing assessment that their style could work against top-quality opposition. For New Zealand, it was an illustration that they had the wherewithal to adapt to the needs of ODI cricket – two tales that intertwined at the 2019 World Cup final.
England and New Zealand will contest the semi-final of the T20 World Cup
As far as this T20 World Cup is concerned, it is eerie that England and New Zealand are somehow coming into this game like they did at the 2019 World Cup final.
For large parts, England have been the team to beat. But they have been just scythed enough to offer New Zealand a glimmer of hope. The Kiwis, meanwhile, are the underdogs (surprise…surprise) and emerged from a group that also comprised India and Pakistan. They defeated India at an ICC event again, by the way.
Most tellingly, though, these nations find themselves on a collision course with both entitled a shot at unprecedented history. Remember, England are vying to become the first team ever to hold both white-ball crowns simultaneously.
New Zealand, on the other hand, are the reigning ICC World Test Championship champions, the current 50-over World Cup runners-up and of course, the only team (apart from England) to have made the final four in the past two editions of the T20 World Cup.
There will be casualties when these two behemoths clash at Abu Dhabi on the 10th of November, make no mistake about it. It will be a spectacle that both sets of fans would not be able to forget in a hurry (for different reasons obviously).
As always, though, it will also have a tinge of the enigmatic sprinkled all over it because, well, that is what happens when the England-New Zealand rivalry takes centre stage. And, of course, have far-reaching implications.
It hasn’t historically been the rivalry people have marked out on their calendars. But in the current era, it is perhaps the narrative people want to catch a glimpse of, especially in the theatre of World Cup cricket.
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Another Super Over, anyone?