The ICC World Cup awaits its Sunday climax with England taking on New Zealand in the final at Lord’s. However, closer home, disappointment lingers over India’s exit at the last-four stage . It is a conclusion that has shadowed the Men in Blue for a while as even in the 2015 edition when Australia and New Zealand were the co-hosts, India lost to the former. In the latest championship, it was New Zealand that stunned Virat Kohli’s men at Manchester’s Old Trafford in the semifinal. India was one among the title favourites and it enjoyed a red-hot streak studded with seven wins besides a loss to England and a washed-out fixture involving New Zealand. The league was topped with 15 points, and its top order led by opener Rohit Sharma, who amassed 648 runs, and a pace attack featuring Jasprit Bumrah, were in form. But there were flaws, primary among them being a flickering middle order. The top troika contributed 69% of the runs while the central core yielded a mere 30%. And once New Zealand seamers Trent Boult and Matt Henry dismissed Rohit, K.L. Rahul and Kohli to leave India hobbling at five for three in five overs, chasing 239 proved incredibly tough. The efforts of Ravindra Jadeja and M.S. Dhoni at best delayed the inevitable 18-run loss. Still, this is a squad that has the right ingredients and it will be able to cope with Dhoni’s eventual retirement.
The stage is now set for England and New Zealand to correct some historical deficiencies. One thing is certain: the World Cup will have a fresh champion as neither team has ever won the title since its inception in 1975. The Old Blighty last played a World Cup summit clash at Melbourne in 1992, and at the same venue, New Zealand lost the 2015 final to Australia. Being the host, England is playing on familiar terrain and has the backing of its enthusiastic fans. Skipper Eoin Morgan, himself an attacking player, has a strong top order in openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow with Joe Root stepping in at three. Ever since recovering from a sore hamstring, Roy with a strike rate of 117.03, has been sensational and he demolished Australia with a 65-ball 85 . There is all-rounder Ben Stokes in the mix and speedsters Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes head-line a probing attack. From the opposition, New Zealand is expected to mount a strong counter. It has a supreme batsman and crafty leader in Kane Williamson. He and senior Ross Taylor have to shepherd the innings while a clutch of astute seam and swing bowlers helmed by Boult can test the very best. England has the edge but New Zealand, as it showed against India, can punch above its weight.