Cricket World Cup 2023 | New Zealand meets explosive England in opener

Absence of Williamson, injury cloud over Stokes have taken the gloss off the WC opener, Brook likely to replace the talismanic all-rounder, Bairstow against Boult should be a fascinating duel=

October 05, 2023 12:24 am | Updated 07:28 am IST - Ahmedabad

Limited game time: Boult has played only 15 ODIs since the 2019 World Cup.

Limited game time: Boult has played only 15 ODIs since the 2019 World Cup. | Photo Credit: VIJAY SONEJI

 The days when the ODI World Cup represented the pinnacle of the sport are long gone. Now, it is a snapshot of where the game stands. The 2023 World Cup opener, at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Thursday, pitches the world’s deepest batting line-up, reflecting modern times, against a side with a can-do attitude.

For England, New Zealand has joined Australia as the most determined competitor. Sans the political and historic subtexts in the sport, it offers, in many ways, a more wholesome, less fraught rivalry than its Ashes rival.

England is currently sweating on all-rounder Ben Stokes’ fitness as he is nursing a hip niggle. Harry Brook could bat at No. 4 if Stokes is sidelined. England’s middle order boasts a cluster of left-handers, but Liam Livingstone and Brook can provide variety. Employing off-cutters during the middle overs could be an effective strategy against the right-hand/left-hand combination.

Although England boasts explosive opening partnerships, it has had issues with the moving ball. Jonny Bairstow’s knack for playing with hard hands has sometimes caused difficulties with in-swinging deliveries. He will be wary of Trent Boult’s full, aggressive lengths.

Meanwhile, Tom Latham will lead New Zealand in the absence of Kane Williamson, who will miss the opener. Concerns linger over team cohesion, with key players such as Boult (15 caps) having limited one-day game time since the 2019 World Cup. England suffers from a similar paucity.

That said, everything on the field about these two teams is full of contrast. The Englishmen can be gregarious and extroverted, while the Black Caps are the opposite, projecting humility to the point of insecurity. Yet, these two antitheses collided four years ago in cricket’s answer to cold fusion—the 2019 ODI World Cup final at Lord’s, which felt like a match that the sport needed at the time.

If Thursday night is anywhere close to as thrilling, then the average spectator would have had value for money. Anything less would perhaps be a dereliction of the euphoria that this rivalry has laid on.

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