Cricket World Cup final: New Zealand must clip Jason Roy's wings if they are to beat England
The England opener's batting at the top of the order has propelled the hosts to Sunday's final at Lords
England’s last visit to Lord’s on June 25 proved to be the turning point of their Cricket World Cup. An abject display in a 64-run defeat to Australia left Eoin Morgan’s side not just on the back foot but in serious danger of not qualifying for the knockout stages.
They bounced back from that setback with three successive victories, including an eight-wicket victory over Australia in the semi-finals on Thursday, and they return to Lord’s for Sunday's final in a very different frame of mind.
A key factor for that has been the form of opener Jason Roy and his presence at the top of the order will be foremost in the thoughts of Sunday's opponents New Zealand.
Roy’s return is not the only reason for England's transformation - that would be unfair on a bowling attack that has raised its game significantly - but his influence cannot be overstated.
Roy, 28, missed three games with a hamstring injury mid-tournament but since returning has hit three successive half-centuries, with the 85 off 65 against Australia in the semi-finals the best of the lot.
But it is not just that Roy is scoring runs - his presence clearly helps fellow opener Jonny Bairstow, who looks more relaxed with Roy alongside him. England’s past three wins have included century opening stands that has provided the platform for those victories.
Kane Williamson and the rest of the New Zealand squad know that Roy is one of the biggest threats to their hopes of winning the tournament for the first time. He hit 60 off 61 balls in England’s win over the Black Caps in their group game in Durham, putting 123 runs on the board with Bairstow in just 18 overs for the opening wicket. A repeat of that at Lord’s on Sunday could well see England clinch a first World Cup after losing in three previous finals.
Williamson and his bowlers cannot afford to allow Roy to dominate them. The right-hander's shot making ensured Australia’s hopes of defending 223 in the semi-final were effectively over in the first 45 minutes.
Williamson is able to call on the considerable talents of Lockie Ferguson. The team’s leading wicket-taker at the tournament missed the defeat to England at Chester-le-Street with injury but the pace bowler will be crucial to keeping Roy and Bairstow in check.
England have a lot of batting depth with Bairstow, Joe Root, Morgan and Ben Stokes all having had fine individual moments since the tournament began on May 30. But it is Roy who is likley to be the difference maker. If he spends sort of time at the crease he could take the game from New Zealand.
The Black Caps attack has already dealt with one in-form batsman in the knockout stages, though. India’s Rohit Sharma had hit three successive centuries before he came out to bat on Wednesday in their 18-run defeat at Old Trafford. Matt Henry dismissed him with an excellent delivery for just one run and the intensity of the celebration told you just how important getting the prized wicked of Rohit was to the game plan.
Sporting contests are often defined by key duels and that will be the case on Sunday as Ferguson, Henry and Trent Boult work together to try and prevent England from getting off to a strong start that has fuelled their run to the final.
Succeed and it will be a big step towards victory. Fail and a second successive defeat in cricket’s showpiece event is almost certain.
Updated: July 13, 2019 12:11 PM