Cricket World Cup picks up where it left off, with England against New Zealand

AHMEDABAD (Agencies): After combining to produce the most dramatic finish ever to a Cricket World Cup, England and New Zealand will meet again this time to open the 2023 edition in India.

England was awarded its first title four years ago at Lord’s on a contentious countback against the New Zealanders after the final finished tied and a so-called Super Over also failed to separate the teams.

The tiebreaker was a heavily derided and subsequently dumped countback of boundaries, giving England the narrowest of victories as it hosted the pinnacle competition in cricket’s one-day format for the fifth time. The defending champions and runners-up will get the six-week tournament started Thursday at the 134,000-seater Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

This same venue will host the highly anticipated India-Pakistan showdown on Oct. 14 and the final on Nov. 19. Top-ranked England arrived in India aiming to be just the third team — following West Indies (1975 and ‘79) and Australia (1999, 2003 and ‘07) — to win back-to- back ODI World Cups. Jos Buttler has taken over from 2019 skipper Eoin Morgan, but England’s attacking approach – high risk, high reward – remains the same.

Ben Stokes returned from his short-lived ODI retirement to rejoin the likes of Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes – all players who can play multiple rules, thus allowing the batting to run deep. England is coming off a series win over New Zealand at home last month, and a four-wicket win over Bangladesh in an unofficial warmup at Guwahati on Monday.

“We had a valuable outing in terms of bowlers getting to bowl and some batters getting time in the middle,” Ali said after the win over Bangladesh. “We are ready. It’s going to be a massive game (against New Zealand) … They’re a dangerous side.” Stokes is back as a specialist batter. Slotting in at No. 4, Stokes scored 182 from 124 balls in the series-clinching third game against New Zealand last month at The Oval, where England won by a thumping 181 runs.

Stokes was the key player in England’s victory in the 2019 final and his return to ODI duty only bolsters his team’s chances of back-to-back titles. However, he is not certain to play against New Zealand because of a sore hip.

Buttler, speaking ahead of his side’s final training session, said: “He’s got a slight niggle with his hip, but fingers crossed that it’ll be good news for us. We’ll see.” England is spoilt for choices in terms of batting power, with Harry Brook’s chances of breaking into the starting XI linked to Joe Root’s form. The veteran Root has been a long-term leader in the England lineup but has posted only one half-century in his last nine ODI innings. In its last ODI outing in India, back in March 2021, England lost a three-match series 2-1.

It posted totals of 251, 337-4 and 322-9 in those three games at Pune, and Buttler’s lineup will be aiming to replicate those last two scores on a regular basis in this tournament. For New Zealand, this tournament presents a chance to go one step further, without worrying about the boundary countback. A simpler rule has replaced it: this time tied finalists will keep contesting Super Overs until there is a clear winner. But it’s too early for the Black Caps to be thinking about that, particularly after a run of injuries.

Veteran pace bowler Tim Southee’s thumb injury is likely to keep him on the sidelines until later in the tournament. Kane Williamson, who scored 54 and 37 in the two warmup games, also won’t play the opener against England because he needs more time to recover from a long-term knee injury. “I’m really fortunate to be a part of this World Cup. Five months ago, that didn’t seem a possibility,” he said after New Zealand’s warmup win over Pakistan.

“There is still some time to go (to full fitness), and it is great to get through some batting in the middle.” Tom Latham will lead the Black Caps in Williamson’s absence which, in turn, will allow both Glenn Phillips and Mark Chapman to feature in the game. The middle-order duo has become a vital cog for New Zealand in ODI cricket over the last two years, as they make good use of the last 20 overs with some impressive power hitting.

New Zealand also has Devon Conway to share Williamson’s run-scoring burden. The 32-year-old left-handed opener made his ODI debut in 2021 and averages 46 in 22 matches since. Conway also has extensive experience of Indian conditions, given he is a vital batsman for the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings.

New Zealand is also well rounded in the bowling department, with spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner expected to perform will in the conditions. Left-arm pacer Trent Boult is part of the mix, despite relinquishing his full national contract, and it is surely to be his last World Cup for the Black Caps. Since 2015, New Zealand has qualified for the semifinals of every ICC white-ball tournament, and reaching the last four would again be a minimum expectation for its golden generation of cricketers.