England and New Zealand are all set to face each other on Sunday at the twelfth edition of the cricket world cup final. If you’re reading this, it is highly probable that you are a neutral cricket fan and/or your favorite side is out of the world cup already. Cricket matches - or for that matter any sporting contest - almost always seem to be a lot more engaging if one has a vested interest in one or both the competing sides. That interest could manifest itself in wanting one side to do - or not do - well, and vice versa for the other side in the contest.
And so, if you are not a fan of England or New Zealand, following is a breakdown of how you could persuade yourselves to attach temporary allegiance to either of these teams to make the watching of the final match of the long-and-winding tournament entertaining.
Reasons to root for England
- ODI on Steroids: Ever since England got their butts kicked by none other than New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup, there has been a concerted effort to transform England’s approach to ODIs. Ironically, the English cricket board and their captain Eoin Morgan identified the aggressive approach to batting and bowling espoused by Brendon McCullum as the one that they could model their side on, and went about identifying players that fit that design, only that they distilled and refined it further to the essence of relentless power hitting. While only New Zealand’s talisman ex-skipper (and to an extent Martin Guptill) went for broke, England stacked their side with hitting muscle down to No. 10, with even their bowlers capable of tonking the hapless leather ball. This approach of pulverising the opposition led to England setting records for totals and run rates hitherto unseen and duly saw them ranked as the No. 1 ODI team in the world. If you are a fan of belligerent limited overs batting, England is your side to watch in the final.
- Jofra Archer: Cricket has had its speed merchants throughout its existence. In this tournament alone, Jasprit Bumrah, Mitchell Starc, Lockie Ferguson, Oshane Thomas and Mark Wood have all put the 150 kph mark in their rearview mirror but none of them seem to be able to crank the pace as normally and casually as the Barbados-born Jofra Archer. If the ball could go for a six after hitting the top of off-stump, that really is something to watch and treasure. It’s not just the pace of Archer but the sharp bounce he extracts that batsmen never seem to be ready for. And add to that the cleverest changes of speed, all have made him the highest wicket taker for England in the World Cup. In addition, some of the invidious remarks about team culture and camaraderie from ex-England cricketers questioning the inclusion of Archer in the England side as soon as he was eligible, have now been trashed to the bin. Every single time Archer puts on the England uniform and bounds in to deliver another cracker, he is detonating the vice grip of the old establishment types on the sport in England. And of course, his Twitter game is just as good, with seemingly a Tweet for every moment in the World Cup!
- Most Loaded side in the Tournament: In addition to Archer, England is blessed with more once-in-a-generation cricketing talents: Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jason Roy. Most teams in the tournament would give an arm and a leg to have Jonny Bairstow and Wood. Morgan is only the leading six hitter, and Adil Rashid is the second highest wicket taking spinner, in the tournament. Chris Woakes’ all round abilities and Liam Plunkett’s control in the middle overs are nothing to scoff at either.
- Odds-on Favorite: England were tabbed the pre-tournament favorites as they hammered the Pakistanis in a bilateral series prior to World Cup. After a couple of demolition jobs at the start of the tournament, they did suffer hiccups losing three games to Australia, and unfancied sides in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, as they negotiated with injury to Roy and figuring out a way to include Plunkett in the playing XI. Once they returned to the eleven that was fit and in form, they have blown away the oppositions, riding high to the final. England are 2-7 favorites at the bookmakers while the Kiwis are at 11-4. So, if you like to support a team that is likely to dominate the entire game, or are a fan of front runners, England is the side you want to support.
Reasons to support New Zealand
- Nice Guys: In a dramatic and strategic PR shift in how they were perceived, New Zealand moved away from the side that was on display, needling, sledging and abusing the South Africans in the 2011 Quarter Final, to becoming the nicest guys in the cricket world, so much that it made Brad “uncomfortable” with the niceness that he felt compelled to sledge the Kiwis in the 2015 Final. With Kane Williamson taking over from McCullum, the soft exterior of their captain has further permeated into its players; so soft and genial in their dealings with other teams, that you have to have a black soul - or be Haddin - to not like this Black Caps side. Assuming you have some humanity in you, you will cheer for them on Sunday.
- Kane Williamson and 10 other guys: Sure New Zealand have Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and an ODI double centurion in Guptill, but it all begins and ends with their skipper. If they are to put up any resistance to the English juggernaut, it has to come from Williamson the batsman and Williamson the captain. With artists-formerly-known-as-batsmen for openers, Williamson has essentially been the opener, pivotal No. 3, the bulwark upon which New Zealand have rode to the final. Williamson, clubbed with Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Root as the Fab Four of this generation, is the most technically correct and therefore, the most exquisite batsman to watch. His ability to carry the burden of run scoring, and being the duct tape that holds the side together, has to factor in your calculation in whom to barrack for in the final. Just think of how many from this Kiwi side could make the England XI, and that should tell you the disparity.
- For 1992 and Martin Crowe: Before Williamson, it was the late Martin Crowe that was considered the greatest batsman from that country. He led a team of dibbly-dobby-wibbly-wobbly cricketers to the semi final in 1992, with his bat, and tactical nous - remember Mark Greatbatch and Dipak Patel? - only to be ambushed by Inzamam ul-Haq. Crowe penned a beautiful column prior to the 2015 World Cup final, but his wishes to see New Zealand win it remained unfulfilled. He passed away less than a year later. So, for Martin’s sake, won’t you root the Kiwis on?
- Anyone But England: It is always fun to watch England lose, especially in sports that originated in that rain-sodden island. It is even more joyful if it happens at the hands of nations that were colonised by them. The English cricket establishment is still steeped in its Victorian moralities and quintessentially British hypocrisies, and of course, still reaping the benefits of the long-gone Empire. [For more, read “Anyone But England”, by the late American author Mike Marqusee, an essential for every cricket fan.] Revenge is a dish best served on a summer afternoon in NW London. It provided great mirth to cricket fans everywhere when England’s campaign stuttered and were on the brink of elimination, as their players became tetchy in press conferences, and their media took their gloves off - only for a short while. Now imagine this: England recover from having their tournament life hanging by a thread to playing the final but get outplayed by a team that is under-resourced, under-talented, underestimated and are the underdogs. Can you imagine the apocalyptic reactions in England? Can you?
Look, if you are strictly looking at a collection of cricketing skills and/or are a front runner, England is your choice. However, if you are a human being with morals and a sense of right and wrong, or just a sucker for the story of underdogs overcoming the odds, you can’t go wrong with New Zealand. Either way, here’s to hoping the game is not a runaway and you will be watching.
(C’mon New Zealand.)