England’s meeting with New Zealand in the 2015 Cricket World Cup was also epic.
What was epic about it was the chasm between the two teams. A belligerent, forward-thinking one (New Zealand) hammered a timid, behind-the-times one (England) in an ODI that lasted just 45.4 overs.
Eoin Morgan’s England skittled for 123 in 33.2. New Zealand, thanks principally to Brendon McCullum’s brutal 25-ball 77, reaching their target in 12.2 to canter home by eight wickets.
Morgan, speaking to Sky Sports ahead of Sunday’s final, admitted that game was “humiliating” and “rammed home how far we were behind,” but it also acted as a turning point. Enough was enough. England had to change and embrace the dynamic direction in which white-ball cricket had headed.
Boy, did they do that!
Fast-forward four years, and their Lord’s showdown with the Black Caps was epic for the right reasons. There was a gulf between the teams in 2015 but barely a cigarette paper in 2019 as England won a game that was tied twice by dint of hitting more boundaries than the opposition.
Quite fitting really – hitting more boundaries then the opposition has been a key trait of why a side that flunked in the previous World Cup have flourished since and now hold the 50-over game’s ultimate prize.
Morgan has been there for the lowest of lows and now the highest of highs. Retained by incoming director of cricket Andrew Strauss in the wake of the 2015 debacle, Morgan set about altering a mindset and constructing a side that could carry that new attacking ethos through.
England have since racked up the two highest scores in the history of ODI cricket – 444 against Pakistan and 481 against Australia – and twice broken the record for the most sixes in an innings – carting 24 against West Indies in February and 25 against Afghanistan at the World Cup. Morgan nailing an individual record of 17 during the latter onslaught.
But savvy has also been added to their swashbuckling style, evident on Sunday when on a sticky pitch – something that proved England’s undoing in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan – Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler battled to get England up to parity with the Black Caps.
Morgan has been the chief architect of England’s revolution and the images of him at the last World Cup and this one couldn’t be more stark.
He trudged off the Adelaide Oval field in 2015 after England were knocked out by Bangladesh with the weight of the world on his shoulders. On Sunday, he paraded around Lord’s with the World Cup title in his grasp. Some journey, eh?
Stokes’ has been even more remarkable. In fact, it has elements of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Sunday’s match-winner was not even selected for the World Cup four years ago but has been a cornerstone of England’s white-ball outfit since. A personification of the thrusting, front-foot style Morgan has implored of his team. But it sure hasn’t been without incident.
In 2016, he was blasted for four consecutive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite in the final over of the World T20 final in Kolkata as West Indies pulled off a remarkable comeback win.
In 2017, there was that incident outside a Bristol nightclub, the ramifications of which stretched into 2018 before he was acquitted of affray having wondered whether his life and cricketing career would come crashing down.
Lord’s, though, was his redemption story. Stokes may forever be linked to that Bristol episode but he should now be defined by his heroics at cricketing HQ as England broke their World Cup duck after 44 years.
On and off the field, Stokes has matured, with his gritty innings in the final one of five fine knocks he played in the World Cup – his 89 on the opening day against South Africa lifted England up to a winnable total, while his 79 in the crunch clash with India did the same.
There were also dogged knocks of 82 and 89 in back-to-back run chases against Sri Lanka and Australia. On those occasions, England lost as none of his team-mates could stick with him. On Sunday, England won as they did stick with him – just.
Stokes remains capable of those talismanic moments – take his mind-bending, reverse-cup catch to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo against South Africa on day one – and with consistency now in his game, he will remain a focal point as England begin their next four year-cycle, which will include back-to-back T20 World Cups in Australia in 2020 and India in 2021 and then the 50-over World Cup, also in India, in 2023.
When England head to India, they could do so with a similar squad to the one they have now. Liam Plunkett, who would be 38 by then, is unlikely to be around, while Morgan, who would be 36, has remained non-committal on his future.
But batting mainstays Stokes, Buttler – who may well be captaining the side if Morgan isn’t – Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root will only be in their early to mid-thirties, while seamer Jofra Archer will be just 28.
There will obviously be some changes but there are players who look capable of stepping up.
Batting-wise, Ben Duckett is seemingly back on the radar after the beer-pouring incident during the 2017-18 Ashes, while Somerset’s Tom Banton, who has been compared to both Buttler and Kevin Pietersen, looks to have tons of promise as a top-order option.
Sam Curran will hope to make an all-rounder berth his own, while in Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood and Warwickshire’s Henry Brookes there are seamers with pace to burn.