Big battle for first coronation

England's Eoin Morgan (left) and Jonny Bairstow during a training session at the Lord's on Saturday. Reuters

After one and half months of non-stop action, the cricket carnival reaches its climax with the Eoin Morgan-led England meeting New Zealand in the summit clash here at the hallowed Lord’s on Sunday, 27 years after Graham Gooch’s men went down to Imran Khan-inspired Pakistan in the 1992 final at Melbourne.

Not since or before Kevin Pietersen guided the team to World T20 title in 2010 with a victory over arch-rivals Australia, have England won an ICC silverware. Starved for global success across team sports, this looks England’s best chance at ending that drought even if more than half the country remains blissfully unaware of a global sporting event in its own backyard. To call this World Cup a carnival, therefore, would be quite misleading because it’s been anything but that.

Of course, it’s unfair to compare the excitement that cricket generates in India to that of England. If anything, it should be compared to the frenzy that the football World Cup creates. But a World Cup should mean something, especially when England have been doing so well. The World Cup final will also be fighting for eyeballs on Sunday what with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic going head-to-head in the men’s Wimbledon final and Britain’s defending Formula One champion, Lewis Hamilton, set to attract thousands to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

While the competition from other sports has obviously hurt cricket’s popularity, one of the other main reasons for the public indifference has been its non-availability on free to air channel. The rights-holders’ subscription fee is so high that it has driven away cricket spectators from TVs. Towards that end, the decision to make the final available on free-to-air channel is a welcome step in spreading the game that desperately needs some attention in this country.

“I think it presents another opportunity for both teams and the ICC to sell the game on a huge platform, two very strong sides, hopefully produce a really good game of cricket,” felt Morgan. “It's on terrestrial television around the country and obviously various outlets online. It presents a huge opportunity for us to sell this great game.”

It took eight editions, spread over 32 years, for a country hosting the final to make it to the summit clash of a World Cup with India bucking the trend in 2011. The M S Dhoni-led side made it even more special by annexing the title as a nation of over billion people went nuts.

Australia followed suit in the next edition, beating co-hosts New Zealand in the final in Melbourne for their record fifth title. The world cricket order has changed drastically since then. Australia are no longer the force they were four years ago, and England aren’t the whipping boys among the big cricket countries. In fact, they are the only team among pre-tournament title favourites to have moved into the final. It, therefore, appears a distinct possibility that the Englishmen will make it three in a row for a host nation.

That said, if there is one side that can defy odds and turn predictions wrong, it is New Zealand. The Kiwis don’t build castles in the air, but they sure know how to bring your world down. They don’t have the batting depth or the firepower that England do nor can they match effectiveness and variety of home attack in these conditions. New Zealand, however, haven’t reached two successive finals for nothing. They do have some world class players in their ranks, but Kane Williamson’s side is a perfect example of sum is greater than parts. If each individual plays his part well, like they did so wonderfully well against India, they can be a tough side to beat.       

It’s also going to be an interesting battle between a side that almost bullies opponents with its intimidating batting and a team that backs its attack to defend even modest totals. Whichever way the result goes, Sunday will see new champion.

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